repentance

Clearing the Way for Fruit

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By Linda Rex

March 20, 2022, 3rd Sunday in LENT—Today our neighbor is having her fence replaced. One of the blessings that came with it was the removal of a small tree next to our shed which had been holding up her fence. It is amazing how the removal of this one misplaced tree enabled us to clean up some things next to the shed we hadn’t been able to reach, while at the same time facilitated the installation of something new which our neighbor was needing done.

As I was studying the readings for this Sunday, I was struck with how this little event in my day coincided with the Word of God for today. The gospel reading tells us about people coming to Jesus with a couple of stories of how several people lost their lives—some in a Roman bloodbath within the temple grounds, and some when a tower fell on them. The common thought of the day was that if something bad like this happened to you, it was because you were a horrific sinner and you were getting what you deserved.

Jesus told them that this wasn’t the case at all—that’s not how his Father works. Instead of worrying about the spiritual condition of the people who died in these events, Jesus’ listeners were admonished to consider their own spiritual condition. He pointed out that they needed to be sure they were right with God themselves rather than focusing on the sinfulness of others.

Isn’t this typical of us, though? I remember years ago when God woke me up to the reality that I needed to quit focusing on the faults of my spouse and others, and start looking at my own issues. You and I are unable to change another person or fix them. The only person we have any control over is ourself, and there is extreme doubt that we can even regulate ourself—we are utterly dependent upon God making us what we need to be by his Holy Spirit. For that reason, we need to do what Jesus was telling these people here to do—repent. We need to experience a change of mind and heart as well as action—a turning away from ourselves to Christ in faith.

After reminding his listeners of their need to repent, Jesus told a story about a vineyard owner who had a fig tree that, after three years, still hadn’t borne any fruit. The owner told the vineyard keeper to cut it away, removing it because it was occupying space needed for production. It was hindering the growth of everything else by blocking the sun, and was taking up resources that were needed for the other plants and trees to be fruitful. The vineyard keeper, like Christ did for all of us by the way, interceded on behalf of the fig tree. He said he would dig around the tree, fertilize it and give it another year to see if it would finally bear fruit.

The point is, there are things in our lives which may simply not be fruit-bearing. Sometimes the things we believe about God or ourselves are inaccurate, misplaced, or even toxic, and they need to be removed so that healthier patterns and beliefs may take their place, and we may begin to bear spiritual fruit. Sometimes the issues may be so small and seemingly insignificant, we miss them, and don’t realize they are symptomatic of some bigger issues—things we need to face up to and repent of so that God can bring us to a healthier, more wholesome way of living and being.

Sometimes the way we read the written Word of God is part of the problem. We may need to go a little deeper in our own personal study of God’s Word rather than just going by what other people say about it. Let me give a couple of examples, drawn from the readings for this Sunday.

First, we read in 1 Corinthians 10:1–13 about how God in Christ walked with the nation of Israel through the wilderness, being the spiritual rock from which they drank and drew their life. When someone is, like I am now, going through a time of intense trial and difficulty, people have a tendency to say, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” They believe they are quoting 1 Corinthians 10:13, when it actually says: “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it” (NASB). If you look at the context of this verse, you will find that the apostle Paul is talking about temptation to sin, not about difficult times or trials. Jesus is the way of escape from temptations to sin, and he taught us to pray, “lead us not into temptation” (Matt. 6:13).

A kinder, better statement for someone going through tough times, I believe, is that Jesus has promised to never leave or forsake us (Heb. 13:5). He may not keep us from the flames of fire, but like he did with Daniel’s three friends, he will stay with us in the midst of those flames and carry us through to the other side (Dan. 3). We can be truthful with the text at the same time we are compassionate with the person who is hurting, thereby avoiding toxicity and unhealthy spirituality.

Another passage in the readings for today which leapt out at me is Isaiah 55:6–9. When we are faced with difficult or confusing situations or hard times, I often hear people quote verse 9, pointing out that God’s ways are higher than our ways, and his thoughts are higher than our thoughts.

I’m all for God being way beyond anything I could be as a human. But the context of this particular passage is about grace. It’s a call to repentance, to turn back to God. It’s about God not looking at sinful people the way that we look at them, or the way we look at ourselves and God when we fail to live the way we know we ought to. God is offering his grace, his mercy, if only we would just turn away from ourself and turn back to him.

Just like the people Jesus was talking to in the gospel passage for this Sunday, we often get focused away from where God would like our focus to be—turning away from ourself and turning to Christ in faith. I’ve been thinking about why we go to church—is it so that we can get a free meal, or help with our bills, or so that we can feel better about ourselves? Or is it part of a personal relationship with the God who has called us to himself in Christ by the Spirit and is wanting us to be a part of what he is doing in the world? Yes, we need to experience God’s love through the good deeds done for us, but shouldn’t we be going beyond that to sharing God’s love with others, once we have experienced the profound goodness and mercy of God?

God is so incredibly patient and generous with us. He continues to bury us with Christ that we might once again rise with him to new life. Christ was willing to be the fertilizer in the ground, placed in the earth so that we might be given the ability to produce lasting spiritual fruit. He offers himself to us, inviting us to turn from ourselves and to turn to him in faith, allowing him produce spiritual fruit in us by the Holy Spirit, as we open up to One who is the Light of the world. May we respond to him in faith, trusting he will finish what he has begun in us.

Thank you, Father, for not cutting us out, but allowing your Son and your Spirit to intercede for us, drawing us deeper into life with you. Grant us the grace to ever turn to you in faith, trusting in your faithful love and mercy, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

“Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And Jesus said to them, ‘Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.’ And He began telling this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree which had been planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and did not find any. And he said to the vineyard-keeper, “Behold, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?” And he answered and said to him, “Let it alone, sir, for this year too, until I dig around it and put in fertilizer; and if it bears fruit next year, fine; but if not, cut it down.” ’ ”      Luke 13:1–9 NASB

[Printable copy of this blog: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/03/clearing-the-way-for-fruit.pdf%5D

Preparing for a Royal Visit

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By Linda Rex

December 5, 2021, ADVENT | Peace—As a college student, we took a class trip our senior year to Palm Springs, California. This city is located in the Sonoran Desert, so it hot in the summer and very dry. Since growing anything of significance in southern California requires the use of water, which was often in limited supply, it was common to see rock gardens blended with cacti, succulents and palm trees in the front yards of homes and businesses.

There are a variety of stones used to create rock gardens. Today, one can purchase large bags of pea gravel or attractive polished rocks at a do-it-yourself home supply store or even have a truckload of these products delivered to one’s front door. Here in Tennessee, we have contractors blasting rock, digging it out and removing it in order to build a home and create an attractive front yard. There they were filling their yards with rocks!

But this whole discussion about rocks came about because I was thinking about what Luke said John the Baptizer was doing when he came into Judea before the coming of Christ. He said that he was preparing the way before the Messiah. Back in those days, when a ruler was planning to visit a particular place, an announcement was sent ahead, telling the people to prepare the road. They would go out and clear all the rocks off the road so that the visiting dignitary wouldn’t be jostled about, nor end up with a broken axle or wheel on his conveyance.

Having lived some time on a farm in southeast Iowa, I know what it is like to try to travel on a gravel road or, even worse, a dirt road. And this is while driving a car. All it takes is one large rock in the wrong place and you are in serious trouble. Or if the road isn’t level—many times they had a large mound in the middle or a deep, muddy hole a tire could get stuck in—you would end up stuck or broken down, and not being able to get safely where you needed to go.

Since most of us today here in America travel on asphalt, and apart from the occasional pothole, do not face these types of issues, we may find it difficult to understand fully the importance of John’s message. For many of us, the hard work of removing the rocks and leveling the road has already been done. We take for granted that we can safely travel from one city to another at a high rate of speed on interstate highways which extend for miles in every direction. We also assume that we can, apart from road construction or accidents, easily travel back and forth from work, school, or the store.

What we need to realize is that what Jesus did for us was to create this amazing paved road to life in the kingdom of God in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension—and then he gave us the ability to travel it by sending his Spirit from the Father to dwell in human hearts as we place our trust in him and his finished work. We celebrate an important step in this amazing work of redemption during Advent as we prepare, in a sense, for the coming of the Messiah in the incarnation. John’s message is important because it reminds us that, apart from the coming of Christ, our road is unlevel and full of rocks and obstructions.

John’s call to prepare the way involves the call to repentance and baptism for the remission of sins. By necessity, we need to discern the difference between just feeling bad because we messed up or sorry because we got caught and are experiencing consequences, and truly being repentant. Biblical repentance involves a change in both one’s mind and heart. It involves a turning away from one’s self and one’s own will, and a turning toward Christ and his will. To repent in this way means a total change in one’s direction and way of living. It’s the beginning of a lifelong journey on the kingdom path of God’s righteousness being worked out in us by the Spirit, as we grow up into Christlikeness.

But this awareness of need and turning away from sin, Satan, and self is a lifelong process. We never want to take this level road Christ has given us for granted. It is good to ponder the message of John and ask ourselves again: What rocks of sin, Satan, and self are lying about in my soul today? What do I keep tripping over or crashing into, forcing my life to come to a complete stop? How deep a rut am I caught in right now that is tearing up my heart and destroying my relationships and my health? Perhaps it would be good to reflect a moment on the message of John—prepare the way of the Lord.

We, as the body of Christ, have often taken this message—prepare the way of the Lord—to mean that we need to preach the gospel in order to hasten the second coming of Christ. It is a good thought, and I would not want to resist what positive affect it may have on our spiritual renewal and preparation for Christ’s return. But I humbly submit that perhaps there is another preparation for the way of the Lord we need to consider—the preparing of our hearts and minds anew to receive the gift of the Christ child—of Christ in us, the hope of glory.

Are we open to the coming and presence of God by the Holy Spirit within our souls right now, in each and every moment? Is there someway in which perhaps we need to take seriously the call to repentance that we have previously ignored? What have we put in the place that only Jesus Christ should have in our minds and hearts? Are we living in the realization that all of our life is in Christ, and that every moment is meant to be filled with his presence and power by the Spirit?

It is hard to move forward in life when we are constantly dealing with the rocks of sin, self, and Satan. Jesus’ criticism of the religious leaders of his day was not about their devotion to God and his ways, but for their arrogance in believing they did not need to repent of their sins and be baptized in his baptism in the Spirit. Could it be that our struggle even as followers of Christ today is that we are so sure we are traveling the right path and are rightly related to God that we are missing the simple reminder, prepare the way of the Lord?

Jesus has come, he has offered us the free pardon of grace. He has paved the way. But do we recognize the reality that we are traveling on an unlevel road filled with rocks and holes and ruts? Repent—turn around—go the other way, he calls to us. Trade in your path for my easy path. Make a way—clear a path—these are all the Spirit’s work in our hearts and lives. But God calls us to participate by doing our part—repent and believe. Be washed in baptism, if you haven’t taken that step. Then feed on Christ—on his life, poured into you through his Word and by his Spirit, and in joining together with other believers as we share communion. This is the easy path forged for us in Christ. We receive it daily by faith, in gratitude for all God has done, as we travel daily down this road called life.

Dear heavenly Father, thank you for creating in Christ and by the Spirit a path to travel in life that is free from the rocks and obstructions of Satan, sin, and self. As we travel day by day, grant us the grace and humility to remain repentant and to ever make way for your royal coming and presence through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.

“And he came into all the district around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins; as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness, “Make ready the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every ravine will be filled, and every mountain and hill will be brought low; the crooked will become straight and the rough roads smooth; and all flesh will see the salvation of God.” ’ ”      Luke 3:3–6 (1–6) NASB

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go on ‘before the Lord to prepare his ways’; to give to His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, with which the Sunrise from on high will visit us, ‘to shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death’, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”     Luke 1:76–79 (68–79) NASB

Not Under Our Own Power

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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.

The Boundary of Grace

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By Linda Rex

September 13, 2020, Proper 19—Last night I decided to microwave some fresh green beans for dinner that I had received from one of our members in Cookeville who likes to garden. I washed them and broke them up into a microwavable bowl and cooked them. As I was eating them, my mouth began to burn. It wasn’t until I had eaten several of the green beans that I realized that I had inadvertently cooked a hot pepper with them and made the green beans inedible in the process!

As I sought something to help to relieve the intense burning in my mouth, I thought about how easy it was to go about doing what we believe is the right thing to do and find ourselves in a place where we are broken and hurting instead. This happens so often in our relationships, because we are broken people—we live as self-centered persons rather than as the other-centered persons God created us to be. This includes our understanding of what it means to be forgiving of those who wound us.

The disciples knew what the rabbis said about being forgiving—forgiving someone three times was being very generous and understanding, they said. So, when Peter asked Jesus how many times a person should forgive an offender, he thought he was being excessively generous in suggesting that he should forgive someone seven times.

Jesus took forgiveness to the next level by suggesting that a person should forgive someone “seventy times seven” times—in other words, a ridiculously large amount of times. We should not hold grudges, but be generous in our offering of grace. Then he told a story in which he described what forgiveness looks like within the kingdom of heaven—what it means that God forgives us.

He began with a king who brings his vassals before him to account for his portion of their tax assessments. He is a generous king, apparently, for this one particular vassal owed him the equivalent of twelve million dollars—a sum he could never repay in his lifetime. The king concludes that maybe the only way to get his money back from this man was to throw him and his family into prison (a common practice then) with the possibility that one of his friends might pay his debt.

This vassal begs and pleads for the king to have compassion on him. And the king does. He forgives this huge debt—lets the man completely off the hook. The king writes the debt off the books—he no longer expects any payment from this man. As far as the king was concerned, there was no longer any need for the man to do anything except from that point on, to do a better job at collecting the king’s share of the funds and turning them in.

Apparently, the king’s vassal totally misses the point of what his master had done. He does not admit to nor accept the reality of the immense debt of which he had been forgiven. He doesn’t receive the grace and compassion shown him. He is still, in his mind’s eye, living in the place of collecting on debts and debts needing to be repaid.

So, when the man encounters one of his debtors who owed him about twenty bucks, he grabs him by the throat and drags him off to prison until he paid him back. Do you see the vast comparison in the two debts? The vassal had just been released from a debt of about twelve million dollars, but would not release his debtor for the mere sum of twenty dollars. Jesus was using hyperbole, an exaggeration, to make a point.

This is the type of thing we do to one another in the face of what God does for us. Think about the nation of Israel, who God lived in covenant relationship with. How often had he forgiven them for idolatry, injustice, and trusting in other nations rather than trusting in him? Even when Israel justly ended up in exile, losing their temple and nationhood, God had restored them, giving them a new temple and a new space in which to live, albeit under Roman rule. Even so, they repeatedly rejected the Messiah, Jesus Christ, which he had sent them. In due time, Jesus knew they would even crucify that Messiah, at which point he would pronounce the most gracious words ever given to humanity, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

To live in the kingdom of heaven is to live in the reality of our need for grace and God’s overwhelming generosity in offering it to us. Abba offers us unfailingly the opportunity to start anew, giving us ample opportunity to change by wiping the slate clean and allowing us to begin again. The problem is that we as human beings prefer to live in the debit-credit mode. We may enjoy receiving God’s grace, but we prefer not to have to make the changes which go along with having been forgiven. By necessity, living in the truth of the immense debt we have been forgiven, we must admit our need for that grace, repent of the ways we incurred that debt, and in living out the truth of that repentance and forgiveness, we begin to be equally forgiving toward others.

So often in the gospels, Jesus offers forgiveness prior to repentance. We see the lame man lowered down through the roof in front of Jesus. Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then he tells the man to take up his mat and walk. The lame man hadn’t even asked to be forgiven—but no doubt, he felt he needed it. He probably had been told over and over during his lifetime that the reason he couldn’t walk was because he or his parents had sinned. Jesus affirmed that this was not the case, but that even those sins he had committed were removed. And that he needed to move forward in his life from then on.

In the case of the woman caught in adultery, Jesus ends the encounter by saying, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” Jesus’ forgiveness was obvious, but he didn’t let anyone off the hook. The accusers needed to repent and so did she. And Jesus did not leave her at that place—he told her to go and do the next right thing, to leave her life of sin. Would Jesus have forgiven her again if she sinned? No doubt, but what he was seeking was not retribution, but repentance and faith—a life change—wholeness and healing, not punishment.

In the story about the king and the debtor, the vassal missed the whole point. He had been forgiven an incredible debt—so he needed to repent, to change the way he did business. He needed a change of heart and mind—to have a heart of compassion and forbearance like his master’s. But instead, he continued on the path of self-deliverance. He was going to work out his own salvation—paying back the debt himself by collecting what others owed him.

The only boundary on God’s grace is the one we set by refusing to see our need for it and to receive it as an undeserved gift. We are the ones who make forgiveness something which needs to be earned instead of receiving it humbly and then offering it to others. We are the ones who ignore the reality of the huge debt to God we could never repay and focus on the petty inconveniences or miserable pains those around create in our lives. If God could forgive us for an unpayable debt, shouldn’t we do that for others?

Maybe there is some hurt or grudge that’s been festering in your heart lately. Or perhaps you are holding something against yourself that seems unforgiveable. Why don’t you bring these to Jesus right now and ask him to give you his heart of forgiveness instead. Allow him to provide you with a willingness to forgive that is grounded in him and his sacrificial offering, and to move you and the forgiven one into a new place of wholeness and restoration. May you find true freedom living in this place of forgiveness and grace through Jesus Christ our Lord in the Spirit.

Abba, thank you for your limitless forgiveness and grace which is expressed to us in the gift of your Son Jesus. Thank you for your patience with us when we are not forgiving, but are judgmental, condemning, and punitive. Grant us the grace to ever participate in Christ’s forgiving Spirit that we might forgive as you forgive us, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

“The LORD is compassionate and gracious, | Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness. | He will not always strive with us, | Nor will He keep His anger forever. | He has not dealt with us according to our sins, | Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. | For as high as the heavens are above the earth, | So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him. | As far as the east is from the west, | So far has He removed our transgressions from us.” Psalm 103:8-12 NASB

See also Matthew 18:21–35.

Thrown into the Wind

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By Linda Rex

PEACE
December 8, 2019, 2nd Sunday of Advent—Years ago, I recall walking out my front door and looking down over the hill into the area below the house where the nearby creek ran down into the river bottom. We had a few acres on the flat land which my husband Ray would plant with soybeans or corn. He would harvest the crop and it would be used to feed our cattle. In the fall I would look out over the crest of the hill and see the dust rise as he ran the combine through the field to harvest the grain. Every year as I saw the corn stalks being relentlessly drawn into the harvester and the golden grain pouring into the hopper, I would be filled with a deep sense of gratitude and joy.

Apart from those religious communities who still farm by hand, in modern America today when we read about harvesting crops, we no longer think in terms of threshing by crushing the shell of the grain and then throwing it into the air to remove the chaff. During John the Baptizer’s day, this was how it was done, so when he used farming metaphors in his preaching, he touched the hearts and minds of those people who were familiar with this process.

Removing the chaff from the grain meant removing that part of it which was inedible. When we eat corn on the cob, we are essentially removing the edible part of the grain from the part which is inedible. When I handed a dried ear of corn to our cousin’s horse Goldbrick, he would grab it, and then slowly remove each kernel off the cob with his teeth.

In the case of wheat, barley, or oats—which is more to the point—this means removing the tough exterior casing which holds the grain on the stalk. This part of the plant is more easily blown away, while the heavier grain falls to the ground and is gathered together, collected and stored. The chaff and stalks of the grain were often used as fuel, hence John’s reference to burning.

When the Jewish religious leaders came to the Jordan River where John was baptizing the multitudes, it is not real clear what their motive was for coming. What they were told was that just because their bloodline was Jewish, they would not automatically be included in the kingdom of God. According to John, they needed more than just an appearance of religiosity—they needed a change of heart and mind that would be expressed by a change of behavior.

John pointed out that the house of religious cards the Pharisees and Sadducees had built was about to be brought completely down. No longer were Gentiles going to be excluded from table fellowship, but any person’s right relationship with God would no longer be determined by lineage or performance but solely by faith in Christ. This would require a genuine change of heart and mind—a metanoia or repentance—in everyone. All needed to repent and be baptized.

What Jesus did in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension by taking on our humanity and restoring it was a complete game changer. The seed which was Christ was buried in the ground and in three days arose, bringing us all as a harvest of new life into the presence of the Father. As the firstfruit of all humanity, Christ arose into glory and sent the Holy Spirit so each and every person may participate in the divine life and love.

Jesus is the one who baptizes us with the Holy Spirit and fire. The Holy Spirit blows like the wind, calling us to faith in Christ and turning our hearts back to the Father. The wind of the Spirit blows in and over us, not to sweep us away, but to remove those things which keep us from being truly and solely who we are in Jesus Christ. God allows the experiences of life to toss us into the air so that God is able to, by the Spirit, blow away the chaff, burn the refuse, and harvest each precious grain.

The way God works to reap of harvest of righteousness in us is so much like what Jesus went through. We are often brought to or led by the Spirit into places where we may experience crushing and brokenness—not to harm us, but so God is able to renew, restore, and rebuild us into the new humanity of Christ. The path to resurrection Jesus clearly showed is the path through the cross and the grave.

When God goes to work by his Spirit, to form us more completely into the image of Christ, we may find ourselves struggling to cooperate. Today’s culture seems to be addicted to painkillers—in other words, rather than feeling our pain, or dealing with our issues, or working out our difficult relationships, it’s as if we’d rather just take a pill. Or we may try to find some other way to escape or anesthetize our feelings or ignore the truth about what is really happening. What if the best thing I could do would be to deal with what’s right in front of me now, in this moment, with my hand in Jesus’ hand, trusting in Abba’s perfect love, giving and receiving forgiveness, and accepting the grace of God?

Matthew quotes John the Baptizer as saying that Jesus “will thoroughly clear His threshing floor”. In Word Studies in the New Testament, Marvin Vincent says that the obsolete word “throughly” was used in the Rev. rather than the word “thoroughly”, in order to express how a farmer would start at one end of the threshing floor and carefully work his way across so that no kernel of grain was missed. I like this way of saying it, because in many ways, that is what Jesus is doing. He has made sure no one is left out of God’s eternal plan—while at the same time he has made room for our freedom to resist his love and grace. In Christ we are all included—by faith each one of us may freely participate in the finished work of Christ.

One day the earth will be filled with God’s adopted children who truly know their Lord and are fully known and loved by him. To know God, and be fully known by him and fully loved by him, is what we were created for. This divine communion is what God always meant for us to be included in. By the Spirit, we have a real participation in God’s love and life, as we trust in the finished work of Christ, the divine Seed, the Word of God who stood in our place on our behalf.

God’s judgment on evil, sin, and death is that they are to have no place in our human existence any longer. In Christ, they are defeated foes which one day will be cast into the “lake of fire” and consumed. God’s passionate love for his adopted children leaves no room for anything which may mar the beauty and grace of our oneness with him.

The Spirit calls to us to let go of all that chaff and allow the divine wind to blow it all way and to bring a harvest of God’s righteousness in each of us. As we continue to live each day in the already/not yet of God’s kingdom, turning away from ourselves and turning to Christ, we can experience a deep sense of gratitude and joy in God’s presence, rejoicing with him in his bountiful harvest of golden seed, of bringing many adopted children into his kingdom.

Dear Abba, thank you for your careful attention to your divine crop, for the Seed of eternal life you planted in your Son Jesus and are working to harvest even now in each of us. Grant us each the grace to repent and believe, to turn from ourselves and to trust solely in Jesus Christ. Baptize us anew with your Holy Spirit and fire that we may fully reflect your glory and love, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

“They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain, | For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord | As the waters cover the sea.” Isaiah 11:9 NASB

“The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” Matthew 3:10-12 NASB

Walking in Christ

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By Linda Rex

PROPER 12—Reflections on when I was first baptized remind me of the disconnect there was between my baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection and the rest of my Christian life. Even though the baptism focused on repentance and accepting Jesus as my Lord and Savior, it seems that once that event took place, then the rest was all up to me, even though I was a recipient of the Holy Spirit.

Of course, I had been taught the scriptures since I was a child, and had to memorize many for school. There were instructions about the ten commandments and the way of love, and warnings that I would reap what I sowed. I lived in constant fear that I would fall short of God’s enormous expectations (and I often did) and believed that God would reject me. My participation in taking the bread and wine once a year was often a desperate plea for forgiveness and an acknowledgement of my unworthiness in his sight. Even though I may have felt forgiven as I came to the table, this experience was short-lived—guilt and shame were my constant companions.

Unfortunately, I was laboring under a false concept of what it meant to be baptized and to be saved. In some ways, I understood what it meant, but at the same time I did not grasp the significance of dying and rising with Jesus. I did not realize that my death and subsequent life in Christ was always and ever a participation in Christ’s perfected and finished work. It was not all up to me—it was completely all up to him; I was saved by grace through faith.

Jesus, who was God in human flesh, did not need to be baptized and yet he obeyed his Father’s command given through John the Baptizer to be baptized for the remission of sins. Jesus was not baptized for his own sins, but for the sins of the whole world, identifying with each human being in our broken, sinful humanity. When we are baptized, it is a participation in his perfect work of baptism as well as a symbolic sharing in his death and resurrection.

This participation in Christ through baptism is merely a beginning of the new life which is ours by faith in Jesus. By faith we receive the anointing in the Holy Spirit by which we share in Jesus’ perfect relationship with his Father. Our life becomes a life of walking in the Spirit by faith in Christ—a new way of being which has its roots in the Son of God.

We do not suddenly become perfect and yet we are at the same time perfect in Christ—there is a paradox, a tension, to our lives. While on the one hand our perfected humanity is hidden with Christ in God, on the other this perfection is being worked into us daily as we live and walk in obedience to the Spirit. We are fully justified in Jesus but are daily being sanctified—we walk by faith, not by sight. We do not always see in ourselves or others the perfection which is ours even now in Christ.

Our focus is so often on moral perfection. This was the struggle in my early years as a Christian. But this is not God’s focus. He has already resolved the issue of moral perfection in Jesus. What he is working on now is our faith in Jesus Christ, our personal walk with him in the Spirit.

In Christ we are caught up into the inner life of the Trinity, of the Father, Son, and Spirit as they exist in perichoretic love and unity. We were created to love God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and being and to love our neighbor as ourselves. In Christ this is who we are as God’s adopted children. In his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, and in the giving of the Spirit, Jesus stands in our place on our behalf, enabling us to participate as God’s creatures in true union and communion with the Father in the Spirit, and in union and communion with one another, expressed most fully within the body of Christ, the church.

What before was a fear and anxiety-ridden struggle to attain a tiny measure of God’s favor has been replaced in our lives by a grace-based relationship filled with God’s love, humor, compassion and understanding. All of life is holy now, blessed by and healed by the presence and power of God through Jesus in the Spirit. Our lives are a participation in the perfect relationship Jesus has with our Father and his perfect expression of love for Abba and for others in the Spirit.

We don’t have to beg God for the least bit of his attention. No, he anticipates and looks forward to our encounters, for Jesus stands in our place on our behalf, bringing us into the presence of the Father in the Spirit. We feel his pleasure as we pray and sense his joy in our everyday life. We know his presence and sense his comfort when we grieve or go through painful experiences—he shares all of life with us. Whatever evil we may encounter in this world, we find he is already at work within it to redeem, restore and renew. And whatever praise or prayer or gift of obedience we bring—it is already perfected in Jesus.

We do not need to spend all our time in abjection or slavish attention, but rather in real moment-by-moment relationship, in the true love, humility and service which come in a complete dependence on God, knowing and accepting our need for Jesus, and rejoicing in the power and presence of the Spirit in our lives. We can live our lives in joy, drinking in of the blessings God richly showers upon us for our enjoyment—the beauty of a new spring day, the glory of a mountain vista, the pleasure of a pet’s affection, and the ecstasy of an intimate relationship with a spouse. In moments of sorrow or struggle, we can rest in his arms, trusting he is holding us and helping us through them, working all things for our best benefit.

What God has given us is true participation in Christ’s perfect relationship with his Abba. We have a loving, adoring, compassionate Father who has done everything necessary for us to have a personal, intimate relationship with him and to share in what he is doing in this world to bring the fullness of his kingdom into every area of our existence. We get to share in Christ’s mission by the Spirit through prayer, loving others, resisting evil, and caring for God’s creation. All of these are a true participation in Christ’s death and resurrection, of which baptism is the initial step and our weekly communion the ongoing sacrament.

Dear Abba, thank you for including us in your life and love through your Son Jesus and by your Spirit. Thank you for allowing us to share in Christ’s death and resurrection, and in his life in the Spirit, symbolically showing our participation through baptism and our sharing in the bread and the wine. May you finish what you have begun in us through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

“Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him,…” Colossians 2:6 NASB

Living in the Newness

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By Linda Rex

5th SUNDAY OF EASTER—As many of my friends and family know, I will be getting remarried next Saturday. I was sharing our story of repentance and renewal when a friend asked whether someone could really change that much. Perhaps one of the greatest struggles in our relationships with one another is this very question—is it really possible for people to change for the better?

We are still in the season of Easter, the time of renewal and redemption in the story of Jesus Christ. We have talked about how the Word of God set aside for a time the privileges of his divinity in order to join us in our humanity and was willing to go to the cross on our behalf so that we would be brought up into the divine circle of love and grace, the perichoresis of the Trinity.

As broken human beings, we muddle our way through life doing the best we can in every situation, often following the leadings of our heart and mind even when they lead us down some very difficult and painful paths. Years ago, as two broken people caught up in the legalistic religious mentality we were brought up in and drawing upon the broken template of our parents’ relationships as an example, my ex-husband, Ray, and I tried to piece together a happy marriage. We were good at the image of happiness, but in reality, we did not know the first thing about how to resolve our differences and we certainly didn’t know what it meant to love with the self-sacrificial and redemptive love of Jesus.

We had a marriage based on rules, on performance, rather than based in the love and grace of God himself. Our two wonderful children were raised in the midst of this brokenness and our greatest grief is what they had to suffer because of our failures to love. It took many years for God to work with the two of us to get us to the place where we were healed enough that we could move on. And it was a surprise to me that God wanted this renewal in our relationship to happen.

But this healing and renewal is meant to bear witness to the power of the Holy Spirit to change lives. We are both fundamentally the same and will probably struggle with many issues similar to what we struggled with in the past. But we are both in a different place due to what God has done in each of our hearts and lives by his Holy Spirit.

As Christ has been at work within us and we have responded to his leading, we have both grown and healed, and are being renewed day by day. There is a humility and a willingness to be taught new ways of relating and resolving issues. There is a grace that has come through suffering and sorrow. Our personal renewal isn’t always evident to those around us—it is often buried under the default of our old habits and ways of talking and acting. But God is making all things new and he has begun this renewal in our relationship as a witness to his glory and grace.

When there is so much hurt and pain in a relationship, it is very difficult for the adults and the children to say, “I forgive you,” and to let people start over. The wounds and the bad memories often get in the way of reconciliation. Forgiveness and reconciliation often have to begin with an intentional decision rather than a desire or feeling. The Lord Jesus reconciled all humanity with the Father—we are to participate with him in this reconciliation by choosing to forgive and to be reconciled in all the relationships in our lives which are broken.

The renewal Jesus is bringing about is something which he accomplished in his life, death, resurrection and ascension, and is working into our individual experience by the pouring out of his Holy Spirit. In our broken relationships with one another we have the opportunity, and the responsibility, to express the redemptive purpose and power of God, bearing witness to God’s ability to renew and restore in the midst of our brokenness and failures to love.

When Jesus says, “Behold I am making all things new,” he isn’t just talking about some distant future event. He is also talking about right now, in each and every moment. God’s way of being is one of renewal. His purpose is to move in our hearts and lives such a way that renewal is a continual process. What we are today, if we are willing and respond to the work of the indwelling Christ, will be different from what we will be tomorrow—Jesus is bringing us deeper and deeper into intimate relationship with the Father by the Spirit.

As we draw closer to God, we begin to change. We begin to put on more and more of the nature of God, just as children over time begin to resemble their parents. The apostle Paul told the Corinthians, “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11 NASB) Even though by all appearances, we may be just the same, God has declared in Christ that we are washed, sanctified, and justified. We are made new, and as Christ goes to work within us by the Holy Spirit, over time that newness becomes a reality for us individually.

There are no promises that the man I love or I will get it right the second time around. So our faith isn’t in ourselves, but in the God who brought us together and who lives within us. We are committed to Christ and to one another—the rest is up to our all-powerful God. Through Jesus and by his Spirit, we trust that our second marriage will reflect the mercy and glory of our Triune God of love. We rest in Christ’s ability and power, not our ability and capacity to make this work. Loving relationship is a work of the Spirit; may he create a beautiful loving relationship which gives God glory and honor for the rest of our time together.

Abba, thank you for your ministry of reconciliation which you have accomplished through your Son Jesus and are making real in this world, in our lives and in our relationships by your Holy Spirit. Please bring healing and wholeness to every broken relationship. Enable us to choose forgiveness, to choose to be reconciled to one another, just as you have reconciled us to you. Bind us together in loving, gracious, and truth-filled relationships through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.’ And He who sits on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’” Rev 21:3-5

The Miracle of Renewal

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By Linda Rex

BAPTISM OF THE LORD—I was reflecting back this morning to a sunny summer day in southern California, June 1st of 1980, when we parked the car and walked up the hill to the Loma D. Armstrong Center on what was then the Ambassador College campus. My mom and I found our way to the downstairs pool—I had never realized there was one in the basement of the building. It was on this day that I went under the water and rose again to my new life in Jesus Christ, having been baptized into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

My baptism was not after some significant epiphany in my life, like it is for many people. It was more a realization that it was the next appropriate step in my walk with God—one that I hadn’t really given much thought to until a friend asked me why I hadn’t been baptized yet. My response was—I didn’t know. I just hadn’t given it a thought. When I seriously thought about it, I realized that years before I had committed myself to Christ and this life, had been living in repentance, but was not permitted to be baptized because of my age. Now, as an adult, it needed to be done, so I did it.

This is one reason I believe that baptizing children can be appropriate. The other is the understanding I have come to that our baptism, at whatever age, is a participation in Jesus’ fully sufficient baptism. It was for our sakes that Jesus was baptized for the remission of sins, since he had no sins to be baptized for.

The Holy Spirit brings us to the place where we begin to see the reality of who we are—Christ’s, and that in his death and resurrection he has washed our sins away and given us new life. So we participate in his death and resurrection through baptism, understanding and believing Jesus died our death and rose again, bearing all humanity with him in his new life, and in his ascension into the presence of the Father.

There is something about the sacrament of baptism which made a difference in my life. After the baptism, the minister laid his hands on me and anointed me, praying for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Truth be told, the Spirit must have already been at work with me to have brought me to this place, but back then we believed that the Spirit was with us, but not in us until after this prayer.

Since then we have seen that the Holy Spirit was poured out on all flesh. It isn’t whether or not he is present but rather our participation in what God is doing in us and with us by his Spirit that is at stake here. What I do know is that after my baptism and the laying on of hands, the Word of God began to make sense to me in a way it never did before. I began to understand things I hadn’t understood before. And my relationship with God became deeper than it ever was before. I found myself on a journey with Jesus, who became more and more real to me as time went on.

My simple obedience to the command “repent and be baptized” brought me into a new place in my relationship with God. I began to recognize the power of God at work in my life beginning to transform me. My relationships began to be healthier. I began to see ways in which I needed to change—and miracle of miracles, God changed me!

This was no magic bullet, though. The act of baptism doesn’t make everything in life wonderful and perfect. Rather, it is more likely to bring us to a place of crisis—what was before has ended and God is at work making all things new. We begin to experience the fire of God’s love, the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. We begin to experience the reality of our renewal into the image of the resurrected Christ. There, by necessity, is a change in one’s life and in one’s being. There is death which comes before resurrection. Some things just need to die and be buried.

Jesus talked to his disciples about taking up one’s cross and following him. That’s the part no one wants to hear about. This means there are some things we have to give up or quit, some relationships which may need to end or be altered, and some changes we may need to make when we follow Christ. When Christ died his death, all of our sinful humanity died with him—that means what is of sin is dead and buried with him. The struggle we face is letting it lie there dead. We seem to prefer living like zombies rather than living as newly born children of God.

But the good news is that we do have new life in Christ, and our failures, flaws and imperfections are covered by his blood. We have Christ living his life in us by the Holy Spirit, transforming our hearts by faith. The Spirit creates in us a desire to do the right thing when faced with temptation to do what is sinful. We participate in Jesus’ perfect relationship with his heavenly Father, understanding by the Spirit we are Abba’s beloved adopted children. The Spirit in us and with us draws us into spiritual community where we participate with Christ by the Spirit in relationships with others of like mind in the body of Christ.

Baptism is our one-time entry into our participation in Christ, while our ongoing participation is through the sacrament of communion, or eucharist. At Good News Fellowship, we obey Jesus’ command to participate in Christ’s death and resurrection in an ongoing way by participating in communion on a weekly basis. As we eat the bread and drink the wine or juice, we are reminded anew of how Christ stood in our stead and on our behalf, his life for our life, and we are thankful. This is God’s great gift to us—new life in his Son Jesus Christ by the Spirit, and the first steps of repentance and faith and baptism enable us to unwrap and enjoy this precious gift.

If you are interested in being baptized, please feel free to contact me. I would love to talk with you about baptism, repentance, and faith, and how you are included in God’s love and life in and through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

Thank you, Abba, for the gift of your Son Jesus Christ. Thank you, Jesus, for standing in our stead and on our behalf, even when it comes to repentance, faith, and baptism. It is in you that we place our trust. Lord, remind us anew of the reality that we died with Christ, and we rose with Christ, and we share in his glory, both now and forever. In your Name as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we pray. Amen.

“John answered and said to them all, ‘As for me, I baptize you with water; but One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to untie the thong of His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand to thoroughly clear His threshing floor, and to gather the wheat into His barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.’ ” Luke 3:16-17 NASB

Pending Judgment–Part IV

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By Linda Rex

So far in this series, I have written about how Christ is our reconciliation and perfect relationship with our Abba, but often we seek to hide our sin and brokenness rather than humbly bringing it into the light of God’s love so we can live fully in the reconciliation which is ours in Christ Jesus. I showed how Scripture shows that even though it may seem from our human view that God loves some people more than others and even though our current experience may make us believe otherwise, each of us individually is a beloved child of Abba, included in God’s love and life through Jesus Christ and in the Spirit.

People who do not know God or believe in Christ are still participants in God’s life and love, even as they resist any attempt God makes at drawing them closer to himself. They are still included in God’s grace to us in Jesus Christ and God allows them to be a part of what he is doing in the world. Even though the part they play may be a negative or passive one, Christ still seeks expression by the Spirit through them and God continues to work to bring about his will here on earth as it is in heaven. But these people do not experience the benefits of what Christ has worked out in restoring our right relationship with Abba because they do not believe.

How is it possible for someone who does not believe in God or Jesus to participate in God’s love and life? Well, first of all, no one has any existence whatsoever apart from Jesus Christ. We read in Colossians 1:15-17: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. (NASB)” We don’t exist independently of God even though we often act like we do and make decisions as if we do. Our ignorance or disbelief does not stop God from loving us and caring for us. He makes the rain fall on the just and the unjust, and often intervenes in situations because he feels compassion for someone rather than just because they believe or are obedient to him.

Secondly, when the Word took on our human flesh, he joined our humanity with God’s divinity in hypostatic union—a union which is very real, but not participated in or experienced by us as human beings except by faith in Jesus by the Spirit. Our active participation in Christ’s perfected humanity by faith means we are able to experience the benefits of living in Christ’s perfect harmony with Abba by the Spirit. We are able to experience and live in warm fellowship with the indwelling Christ, who with Abba and by the Spirit, takes up residence in human hearts and begins to transform them from the inside out. Someone who does not know or believe in Jesus may be a passive participant, while the reconciliation which Jesus made possible remains one-sided and their relationship with God stunted and incomplete.

God is at work in this world in many ways—just look around. He’s feeding people, teaching people, healing people, protecting people. People participate in what God is doing in this world in ways sometimes they don’t even recognize. I was thinking of that earlier this week as I grabbed some clothes out of the dryer and began folding them. My usual thought is frustration at having to take the time to do this mundane chore. But this time the Spirit snuck right in there and gave me a heart of gratitude that I had clothes to fold. Then the next thought I had was, I am folding clothes with Jesus, participating with him in the care of the home he has given me to use and take care of. All of a sudden, I didn’t mind so much having to get this chore done because I was doing it with Jesus.

When we think in terms of our existence as being entered into by and shared in a real way with our Lord Jesus Christ, we begin to see other people are included in the same manner in God’s life. The garbage truck came by today and gathered up all the garbage in the cans pushed out to the street. Those diligent men participated in Christ’s effort to keep this world a little cleaner. Was what they did exactly how Jesus might do it if he were here? No, probably not. But in many ways, the way we participate with Jesus in things is like the toddler pushing a little plastic mower as he follows his dad pushing the big gas-powered mower across the lawn. Our efforts are feeble and broken, but we share in a real way with what God is doing in this world in and through Jesus Christ. It’s all about relationship—God’s relationship with us is secure in Christ, and we are free to respond or not to in return.

Lastly, when we look at what God is doing in the world, we need to be reminded that God’s thoughts and ways are much different than ours. He is a relational God, and much of what he does is wrapped up in creating and restoring relationships between himself and us and between each of us. When we look at events in the Old Testament, and God’s covenant relationship with Israel, we must remember God’s overall intent was the redemption of all humanity, not just working with a particular person or people.

And we need to remember God exists beyond our human time while at the same time entering into our time in and through Jesus. So we cannot look at God’s involvement in human affairs merely from a linear point of view, with one event happening after the other. We need to grasp the possibilities which were opened up in the incarnation of Christ including the reality of his being the beginning and the ending of all things, the Alpha and the Omega.

The apostle Paul, in the book of Romans, spoke about the Jews as stumbling over the stumbling block who is Christ, but only so that the Gentiles could be gathered in. He gives the impression that in due time many who were lost will be gathered in at a later date as they come to understand and trust in the grace of God offered us through Jesus Christ. But he also in that same context, uses the word “remnant” to describe the Jews, as though only a few would be saved.

Jesus made an interesting observation about the people who died when the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by him, as well as those killed in the cities of Tyre and Sidon. He told the seventy when he sent them out to preach the gospel, heal and cast out demons that they should expect to be rejected by some people. In that case, he said:

“But whatever city you enter and they do not receive you, go out into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your city which clings to our feet we wipe off in protest against you; yet be sure of this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ I say to you, it will be more tolerable in that day for Sodom than for that city. Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had been performed in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will be brought down to Hades! The one who listens to you listens to Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me; and he who rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me” (Luke 10:10-16 NASB).

Jesus indicated that given the opportunity, these people who died would have repented if they had seen or experienced the miracles Jesus was doing. They would have humbled themselves and responded to the gospel of Jesus with humility and repentance. He said it would go better in the final judgment for these pagan unbelieving Gentiles than it would for those who had heard the gospel of Jesus Christ and refused it in these places Jesus had sent his disciples.

It is because of these and other passages in Scripture that I have some reservations about condemning all past unbelievers straight into hell. If Jesus believed they would have repented if given the opportunity, why would he ignore that and just reject and condemn them? If Jesus is God’s final judgment on sin and death, perhaps we need to rethink how we approach this whole topic. Instead of approaching it in terms of cause and effect, we should approach it in terms of relationship—the relationship Jesus forged for all humanity with his Abba in his incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension, and which he has made available to all in and through his Holy Spirit. Why assume that God is indifferent to or has rejected each and every idolatrous person throughout history, when his ultimate purpose was to include them all in his love and life?

The apostle Paul wrote: “For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all. Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:32-36 NASB). There is a centrality to Christ which we must keep in mind when thinking about judgment and the ways of God. We don’t want to limit God’s grace and love, but we also must acknowledge there are consequences to refusing to live in the truth of who we are in Jesus. God is not willing that any perish (2 Peter 3:9) but there are some who have clung to the blindness of Satan which has twisted their souls and have refused to turn and repent.

In any case, each and every person is loved by God and forgiven in Jesus, and blessed with the presence of the Spirit in their lives. They are free to receive this or reject it. As they go through life the Spirit continues to work to draw them deeper into relationship with their Abba and to trust in what Jesus has done for them. What God will do for each and every person after they die, then, is fully up to Jesus, for he is both the Judge and the Judged.

Dear Abba, thank you for all you have done for us in Jesus. We are grateful to share life with you and to participate with you in all the things you are doing in this world through Jesus and in the Spirit. May we respond fully with gratitude, humility, repentance, and trust as you draw us to yourself. We give you the praise and glory, and in your Name Jesus, we pray. Amen.

“And the LORD said, ‘The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and their sin is exceedingly grave. I will go down now, and see if they have done entirely according to its outcry, which has come to Me; and if not, I will know.’ Then the men turned away from there and went toward Sodom, while Abraham was still standing before the LORD. Abraham came near and said, ‘Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will You indeed sweep it away and not 1spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?’” Genesis 18:20-25 NASB

Pending Judgment—Part I

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By Linda Rex

If Jesus is indeed the exact representation of the Father, does that mean that our heavenly Father is a really nice guy who never did or does anything in anger or that might be hurtful to us as human beings? If we look at the Old Testament and our Abba through the lens of Jesus Christ, does that mean that God never did any of those things such as burning up cities or killing people? What does it mean that God is love, and that he is gracious and forgiving, and yet is also just?

I have said before that if the God we see in the Old Testament is different than Jesus Christ, then we need to consider if perhaps we may have misunderstood something about Jesus Christ or God himself. However, we cannot discard or throw out scriptures just because they don’t agree with the picture of God which we believe we see in Jesus. It is entirely possible that those who wrote millennia ago saw God through the lens of the angry-must-be-appeased God, but that does not exclude their writings, for as the apostle Paul wrote, “Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” (1 Cor. 10:11 NASB) We can learn from the failures and mistakes of others, and also learn from these events and people about the goodness and faithful love of our God.

Moses recorded a conversation he had in which God described himself. In Exodus 34:6-7, we read: “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.” It’s interesting that God described himself as being very gracious and forgiving, but also as a person who does not leave the guilty unpunished. In fact, Moses wrote, whole generations experience the consequences of people’s disobedience to God.

I find this quite interesting, because during Jesus’ ministry, one of his disciples consistently sinned against the rest of the group, and was left unpunished by Jesus—sort of. The apostle John writes, “But Judas Iscariot, one of His disciples, who was intending to betray Him, said, ‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and given to poor people?’ Now he said this, not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it.” Judas was a thief, and Jesus allowed him to continue in his thievery up until the end of his life. He offered him rebukes, but Judas did not turn away from his sin.

Now granted, Judas was included in the twelve disciples for the very reason that he would one day betray his Lord. In the listings of the disciples Jesus chose after spending all night in prayer is this man who would be a traitor, who would betray Jesus into the hands of those who wanted to crucify him (Lk. 6:12-16; Matt. 10:2-4; Mk. 3:16-19). The apostle Peter, after Jesus’ resurrection wrote, “Brethren, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit foretold by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was counted among us and received his share in this ministry.” (Acts 1:16-17 NASB)

Jesus was a great a scholar of the Hebrew scriptures, as the teachers in the temple indicated he was, so he would have known the prophetic word about the one who would betray him in such a way that he would be crucified and die. Every one of his disciples was capable of betraying Jesus, yet Judas is the one who did it—the one who never dealt with the truth of his thievery by repentance and faith in Jesus. If you or I were running a non-profit business and we found out someone was rifling the petty cash every chance they could, we would most probably fire them the minute we discovered the truth. But this was not Jesus’ way.

Jesus’ view of justice and judgment comes straight from the heart of the Father—to restore the one who has estranged themselves by sin to a right relationship with Abba and those they have hurt. He told Nicodemus:

“For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”

Often God doesn’t need to judge anyone, because we are so good at judging ourselves—hiding in the darkness rather than coming into the light of God’s love and grace in Jesus. Hiding in the darkness eventually leads to painful and difficult consequences, some of which may lead to suffering and even death. Sadly, the outcome of Judas Iscariot’s hidden sin was his betrayal of his Lord, his subsequent remorse, and his tragic end of life by suicide. If Judas had only come to the Light—to Jesus—and received the grace which was his, owning up to the truth of his unloving behavior and allowing Jesus to restore him, his life may not have ended so tragically.

Peter wasn’t much better than Judas. He quite vocally denied Jesus three times—emphatically, with curses—because he was afraid of being arrested. After all his earlier promises to the contrary, when the chips were down he refused to identify with Jesus in his moment of greatest need. What might have gone through Peter’s head when Jesus caught his eye during his final denial? I can only imagine. Whatever it was, it led to Peter’s great repentance, and his urgent desire to reconcile with his Lord on the shores of Galilee after the resurrection.

Hiding in the darkness rather than coming into the light of God’s love is evidence of our lack of participation in our covenant relationship with our heavenly Father. Refusal to face the truth of our broken ways of living and being keeps us in the place of judgment. We have been given forgiveness and acceptance in Jesus Christ, but we can refuse it and live as though it isn’t true for us, and subsequently experience all the consequences due to us for having done so.

We can hide our “dirty deeds” in the darkness and pretend all is okay—living in the “freedom” of doing our own thing—and never receive the grace God has provided for us in Jesus. God has set us free from sin and death through Christ and empowers us by his Spirit to live in the truth of this and to share this truth with others. By refusing to receive what God has given to us in Jesus Christ, refusing to trust in God’s love and grace, we are judging ourselves.

We are placing ourselves outside the door to God’s kingdom which Jesus opened up for us in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, and are saying to him that we can’t or won’t go in. The door is unlocked and even standing wide open—but we have no interest in entering. If Jesus is our true humanity, and he is the door through which we enter, the only exclusion which occurs is that which we choose for ourselves. God doesn’t have to stand with a big book of deeds either good or bad, deciding who goes in and who stays out. We do a pretty good job of doing that on our own.

Our entering in of the kingdom of God does not just happen at the end of our physical life. We live even now in the already-not-yet of God’s kingdom. This means we participate, or don’t participate, in Christ’s perfect relationship with his Abba right now, in this life today, as well in the world to come. We experience only glimpses of eternity right now, but we can begin to experience the blessings of the world to come in the midst of the struggles and difficulties in the world which is our today.

There are many things we need to learn about who Jesus is, and in learning about Jesus, come to understand about who Abba is. This will help us in our understanding of what was written in the Old Testament scriptures. I would like to talk more about this in next week’s blog. In the meantime, I encourage us all to find anything in our lives which we are trying to hide away from the view of Abba, and to bring it into the Light, so that through Jesus we may receive the reconciliation which is ours in him.

Thank you, Abba, for your perfect love and grace. Thank you that we can come to know you and your great love through your Son Jesus and by your Spirit. Give us understanding of what it means to live and walk in the Light, exposed fully to your loving gaze, hiding nothing. No matter how broken we may be, you have redeemed us and set us free in Jesus. May we receive this gift with open hands. In your name, Jesus, we pray. Amen.

“The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.” Exodus 34:6-7 NASB