resurrection

Do You Feel Secure?

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By Linda Rex

August 7, 2022, PROPER 14—This morning I was reading the book of Joshua and considering the reality of how we often place our sense of security in the wrong things. In this particular story, the ancient Israelites triumphantly crossed the Jordan River on dry land. Triumphantly, by a miracle from God, they took the fortress of Jericho down. They were on a roll. In Joshua 8, they spied out a small city, Ai, and realized they didn’t need to send the whole army. So, they sent about three thousand soldiers there, and were thoroughly routed by the enemy. Why the sudden change in the direction of their progress through the Promised Land?

What gets exposed in this chapter is the greed and covetousness of one man, Achan, and the impact his subterfuge had upon the nation as a whole. What was set apart for and dedicated to the Lord he had taken to himself, due to greed and covetousness. God was well aware of what was a hidden sin, one that he didn’t think anyone would ever discover. The thing which Achan believed was well hidden was systematically exposed before the whole nation and brought into judgment so that healing could occur.

In the days of the early church, following the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost, there is a similar story. The believers were just beginning to make inroads with the gospel in Jerusalem, demonstrating the good news by sharing what they had with the poor and needy. Along with others, Ananias and Sapphira also brought a gift to the church. They attempted impress the believers with their generosity, when in reality they had kept some of the portions of the sale of their property for themselves. The problem wasn’t that they kept part of the sale for themselves, but that they had pretended to have given more than they actually did. Sadly, they had given way to covetousness, greed, and dishonesty. Where was the transparency, generosity, and integrity of Jesus in what they had done?

Today, we are constantly exposed to the reality of greed, covetousness and dishonesty. All one has to do is go to the grocery store where you buy something, open it up, and find the bottle or box is only one thirds full. Or you take your car to the mechanic to have work done, pay for their hard work, only to discover they did not do what they said they had done. There is an inherent evil in this whole thing, and it’s not just the dishonesty, greed and covetousness.

What is missing here is an understanding that we do not exist in a vacuum. Not only do decisions we make ultimately impact someone else no matter how innocent they may be, but every thought, desire, decision is made within the spiritual reality that we are not alone—in Christ we live, move, and have our being. We do not live independently like we think we do. We’re not individuals, but persons in relationship, dependent upon God for our very existence. And this God in Christ has brought us into relationship with himself.

What if we took seriously what Jesus said about not seeking our security in the things of this life but rather, seeking them in the heavenly realities? In our reading for this Sunday, Luke 12:32–40, Jesus told his followers not to be afraid, that his Father happily desired to give us his kingdom. This is God’s passion—to include us in his life in relationship, in the oneness and fellowship of the Father, Son, and Spirit which has existed from before time began. Think of God’s generosity, transparency and integrity in Christ. This is what we were designed to reflect—this is our true way of being. When we don’t live in this way, we create a living hell for ourselves.

Going back to the story of Achan, we can ask ourselves a couple important questions: 1) Did Achan realize who God was? He was Achan’s Creator and Redeemer. 2) Did Achan realize who he was? He was one of God’s chosen people, brought into relationship, to live in daily fellowship with his Creator and Redeemer.

When Achan entered Jericho that fateful day, he was participating in something God was doing for Israel, and his simple task was to bring certain things to God and to destroy others, accomplishing what God wanted done. As he entered Jericho, Achan didn’t remember who God was, who he himself was, and why he was there. The siren call of the beautiful garments, the gold and the silver, said to Achan that his security was to be found in what he could touch, feel, and hold. At that moment, the treasure he had found grew to be more real than the God he had been brought into relationship with.

When Ananias and Sapphira brought their gift to the apostles, they forgot who had brought them into relationship with himself through his life, death and resurrection. They forgot that Jesus was a risen Lord, one who lived with them and in them by his Holy Spirit. They did not remember who Jesus was, their Creator and Redeemer. And they forgot who they were, the Father’s own adopted children by faith in Christ. What good does all the money in the world do us if we are estranged from the God who saved us, redeemed us, and who invites us by faith in Christ into intimate relationship with himself in the Spirit?

We can complain all we want about how bad things are economically, but until we all surrender to the reality that God has done something powerful and wonderful in his Son Jesus, drawing us into life with himself in the Spirit, we will continue to struggle. All of our choices, decisions, desires and motives, are exposed and open to the One who was willing to endure the fire of the crucifixion in our place and on our behalf. And his baptism is a baptism of fire in the Holy Spirit, an inner transformation which regenerates how we look at him, at ourselves, and at all of the things in this world, including money, belongings, popularity, and prestige.

Do you long to feel secure? So do I. But our true security will never be found in the tangible, transient things of this life. They will come and go. They will get broken or be stolen. They cannot save us from death, though they may temporarily prevent it for a while. Our true security is in relationship with Jesus Christ, the One who made all things, who sustains all things, and who has redeemed all things, and is working to restore and renew all he has made, including you and me. He is our true security, the One we are invited to surrender to, to live in relationship with—in the reality that God loves us, cares for us, is always present to us in Christ by the Spirit, and will bring us to live with him forever.

Heavenly Father, loving Jesus, forgive us for getting so attached to the things of this life, and for forgetting who you are—our Creator and Redeemer. Forgive us for grieving your Spirit by our greed, covetousness, and dishonesty. Grant us the grace to live in the truth of who you are and who we are, through Christ our Lord and by your Spirit. Amen.

“All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.”     Hebrews 11:(1–3, 8–12) 13–16 NASB

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps lit. Be like men who are waiting for their master when he returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the door to him when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master will find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that he will gird himself to serve, and have them recline at the table, and will come up and wait on them. Whether he comes in the second watch, or even in the third, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have allowed his house to be broken into. You too, be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour that you do not expect.”      Luke 12:32–40 NASB

[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/07/do-you-feel-secure.pdf ]

Our Hidden Life in Christ

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By Linda Rex

July 31, 2022, PROPER 13—I was making some updates on my blog site this morning when I realized that my profile and the site welcome page were outdated. As I was making the appropriate adjustment to what I had written there, it came to my mind how easy it is for us to find our identity in the everyday things of life such as what we do for a living, who we are related to, and how we spend our time, rather than simply finding it in Jesus Christ.

How do you answer when someone asks you to tell them about yourself? I did not realize how often I use the phrase “I am…” when telling someone about myself. For example, “I am a pastor.” Well, yes, for a time I have done the work of a pastor. Or, “I am a wife and a mother.” Now, yes, I do have a husband so in that sense I am a wife—Ray’s wife. And yes, I do have two adult children, so in that sense, I am a mother. But are these things my sole identity? Why are these often the first thing out of my mouth, rather than something about who I am in Christ?

What I realized in reading the New Testament passage for today, Colossians 3:1-11, was that we often find our identity everywhere but where it has its true source—in Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul wrote that our life is hidden with Christ in God. Our true life, our true self, is found in Christ, in his beloved sonship in relationship with the Father. We are dead to anything that does not fit within the realm of Christ and his oneness with the Father in the Spirit. We can, because of Christ, say, “I am the beloved son or daughter of the Father.”

In that simple statement there is so much life! Think of it. The simple use of “I am” means that we participate in God’s life—in his personhood, in the sense that he has included us in his life as the “I Am” through Christ in the Spirit. To say we are beloved is to say we participate in Christ’s own relationship of other-centered love and affection between the Father and the Son in the Spirit. And to say we are a son or a daughter of the Father is to say we participate in Christ’s own sonship, thereby sharing in his rights and privileges as adopted children of the Father in the Spirit. As I begin to ponder these things, I zone off into oblivion—it is too much to get my mind and heart around all at once.

And thinking of where we find our true life, the apostle Paul tells us that we are dead to the rest—those things that no longer define us: anger, wrath, slander, immorality, impurity, evil desire, greed, abusive speech, and dishonesty. I’m sure there are many other things we think, say and do that are not a part of what God created us to think, say and do. There are many things we think, say and do which are not a healthy and genuine participation in Christ’s life of oneness with the Father in the Spirit. But they all died in Jesus’ death and are no longer a part of who we really are.

Our identity now is in the crucified and risen Christ. In Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension we find ourselves restored to God’s initial creative genius—bound through Christ in the Spirit to the Father in an eternal embrace of love which will never be broken. Nothing can or will separate us from God’s love in Christ. Praise God!

The kicker is—do we believe this? It’s true, whether we see it or know it or not. Our experience of it is enhanced as we begin to believe in the truth of it and begin to live it out. This is why the apostle Paul tells us to “keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” We prefer to focus on what we can see and touch, not believing in the invisible, intangible things of our existent such as the spiritual realities. But those spiritual realities are where we find our true life and our real identity.

Think of the gospel reading for today in Luke 12:13–21. A man rushed up to Jesus, interrupting his teaching session, to insist that he intercede in a family dispute over an inheritance. Jesus’ penetrating answer moved the discussion straight to the real issue: greed. Telling a story to demonstrate his point, he described a wealthy farmer who had just reaped an over abundant crop. This farmer decided he would build himself bigger barns to store the crop and sit back, and enjoy the good life. Jesus then asked a poignant question: “What if the rich man died that night? Who would get all that he had worked so hard to collect?” Then Jesus made his point, “So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” We find our true wealth solely in our relationship with God.

There is so much more to this life than what we feel, see, hear, taste, or touch. All of our inner thought life and our senses find their true existence now within Christ’s life with the Father in the Spirit. That means that we are dead to anything that is not found within that life and so, as Paul wrote, we leave all that behind. We are dead to greed, so we no longer live in greedy ways. We are not defined by our money, by how much we earn, or how we earn it, or how we use it, other than in what way it is a reflection of Christ’s own way of being with regards to money. We are not defined by our wrath, slander, or impurity, but by Christ’s own way of self-control and chastity. What we keep our focus on is so important. Because Jesus is the centre of our life, we want to keep Jesus as the centre of our life, for he is the One who defines our true humanity.

We so easily get focused on the earthly realities that we often forget there is a life beyond this life that is grounded in the very person of Jesus Christ. He is the king of God’s kingdom and in his self-offering, has brought every one of us up into an objective union with God in which we find our genuine life hidden within his own life in relationship with the Father in the Spirit. It is by faith in Christ that we experience subjectively that relationship in tangible ways. We participate in Christ’s own death and resurrection, in his life with the Father by faith. And we live and walk now and forever by faith in gratitude and devotion as Abba’s beloved adopted children through Jesus in the Spirit.

Thank you, Abba, for making us your very own beloved children, for including us in your life now and forever. Grant us the grace to live in the truth of who we really are, in the hidden life that is already ours, through Jesus in the Spirit. Amen.

“Someone in the crowd said to Him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.’ But He said to him, ‘Man, who appointed Me a judge or arbitrator over you?’ Then He said to them, ‘Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.’ And He told them a parable, saying, ‘The land of a rich man was very productive. And he began reasoning to himself, saying, “What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?” Then he said, “This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.’ ”  But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?” So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.’ ”     Luke 12:13–21 NASB

[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/07/our-hidden-life-in-christ.pdf ]

The Grace to Follow

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By Linda Rex

May 1, 2022—3rd Sunday in EASTER—Have you ever thought about how you would respond if Jesus told you that you were going to die an excruciating death because you chose to follow him? I’d like to hope I was brave enough to cast all care to the wind and follow him anyway, but truth be told, I’m not sure I’d be that courageous and committed in the face of such dire circumstances apart from the grace and power of the Holy Spirit.

In many ways, I can identify with Simon Peter, who bravely said that he would follow Jesus no matter where he went, yet, when faced with imminent arrest, refused to acknowledge he was one of Jesus’ followers. What we say and do when times are easy and our circumstances are convenient is often a great deal different than what we say and do when faced with rejection, exclusion, violence, and death.

Initially, Peter went to the tomb with John to check out the tale that the women told about finding the gravesite empty. John and Peter’s usual rivalry was evident, for John took note that he got to the tomb first, before Peter. But Peter was the bold, brash one, for he immediately stepped in to see how things really were. John, however, was the one who believed. We don’t know for sure what Peter was thinking at this point.

After the resurrection, the disciples hid in the upper room behind locked doors, but two Sundays in a row, Jesus showed up. He offered to show them his wounds so that they could verify that it was indeed him. And he pointedly offered this to Thomas, who had refused to believe until he saw Jesus’ wounds with his own eyes. How thrilling it must have been for the disciples to see and talk with Jesus after the resurrection!

Still, we don’t see Peter’s direct response to Jesus’ resurrection until John’s story of the third Sunday following the resurrection. The disciples had returned to Galilee, and Peter took the lead by deciding he was going to go fishing, the one thing he knew how to do. The other disciples joined him. They fished all night long, without catching anything. When morning came, they began to head back to shore. Someone on the beach called out to them, asking whether they had caught anything. They told him they didn’t catch a thing. The stranger suggested that they throw the net off the right side of the boat instead.

Why in the world would they do what a stranger asked? But sure enough, they threw the net one more time as instructed and the net collected so many fish that the men were concerned that it would break. At this point, John leaned over to Peter and stated the obvious—“It’s the Lord.” This whole experience felt like déjà vu to them, since this is what happened when they were first called by Jesus to follow him. Rash Peter donned his jacket and dove into the water to swim to Jesus, while John stayed and helped with the fish.

I’m not sure what drove Peter to go back to fishing after the crucifixion and resurrection. Jesus didn’t seem to mind that he had. He simply met them there on the shore and invited them to breakfast with him. Just as Peter had denied Jesus three times while gathered around a campfire, now Jesus affirmed Peter’s commitment to Christ three times.

“Peter, do you love me more than these?” Perhaps Jesus was asking, “Do you love me more than you love fishing?” Or maybe, “Do you love me more than your friends?” Peter could no longer boldly proclaim his devotion by rash promises, but finally had to confess, “Lord, you know all things. You know that I love you.” Jesus was confirming that he still had work for Peter to do: “Feed my lambs… take care of my sheep…feed my sheep….”

But Peter needed to move beyond bravado and rash promises into genuine humble commitment in the face of opposition. This time Jesus didn’t tell him he would deny Christ three times before the rooster crowed. This time, Jesus said, Peter would end his days at the mercy of those who would murder him. But he was to follow Christ anyway.

What a prediction! Jesus obviously believed that Peter would never again deny Christ in the same manner in which he had denied him at Jesus’ trial. Did Peter ever make the same mistake again? Well, in a way, he did struggle with this issue, for we read in the book of Galatians that the apostle Paul called Peter out for not standing against the Judaizers who were denying the sufficiency of Christ (Gal. 2:11-14). But ultimately, tradition tells us that Peter was crucified in Rome and he insisted that he be crucified upside down, in honor of his Lord.

Whatever we may face in our future as we follow Christ, we must trust that God will grant us the grace to go where he leads and that he will keep us faithful. We cannot count upon our own ability to do so in the face of opposition. But there also is the matter of commitment on our part. What price are we willing to pay? Jesus gave his all. Will we give ours in return?

Lord Jesus, we love you. But we humbly realize our inadequacy when it comes to devotion and faithfulness. You know us completely and love us entirely. Grant us the grace to follow wherever you lead, no matter the cost, all the way until the end, whatever that end may be, by your Holy Spirit, to the glory of the Father. Amen.

“Later, Jesus appeared again to the disciples beside the Sea of Galilee. This is how it happened. Several of the disciples were there—Simon Peter, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples. Simon Peter said, ‘I’m going fishing.’ ‘We’ll come, too,’ they all said. So they went out in the boat, but they caught nothing all night. At dawn Jesus was standing on the beach, but the disciples couldn’t see who he was. He called out, ‘Fellows, have you caught any fish?’ ‘No,’ they replied. Then he said, ‘Throw out your net on the right-hand side of the boat, and you’ll get some!’ So they did, and they couldn’t haul in the net because there were so many fish in it. Then the disciple Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It’s the Lord!’ When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his tunic (for he had stripped for work), jumped into the water, and headed to shore. The others stayed with the boat and pulled the loaded net to the shore, for they were only about a hundred yards from shore. When they got there, they found breakfast waiting for them—fish cooking over a charcoal fire, and some bread. ‘Bring some of the fish you’ve just caught,’ Jesus said. So Simon Peter went aboard and dragged the net to the shore. There were 153 large fish, and yet the net hadn’t torn. ‘Now come and have some breakfast!’ Jesus said. None of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord. Then Jesus served them the bread and the fish. This was the third time Jesus had appeared to his disciples since he had been raised from the dead. After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ Peter replied, ‘you know I love you.’ ‘Then feed my lambs,’ Jesus told him. Jesus repeated the question: ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ Peter said, ‘you know I love you.’ ‘Then take care of my sheep,’ Jesus said. A third time he asked him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, ‘Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Then feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked; you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go.’ Jesus said this to let him know by what kind of death he would glorify God. Then Jesus told him, ‘Follow me.’”     John 21:1–19 NASB

[Printable copy of this blog: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/04/the-grace-to-follow.pdf%5D

Unless I See

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By Linda Rex

April 24, 2022, 2nd Sunday in EASTER—Do you ever do that thing where when you’re expecting a visitor, you start tidying up everything in the house? Pretty soon you’re checking the bathrooms and the bedrooms to be sure there’s no clutter or dust. You’re fluffing the pillows on the couch, straightening the dining room chairs, and wiping off the kitchen counter one more time. And then the doorbell rings.

What I find interesting about social media and our online presence today is that we often do the same thing, only in a different way. I’ve been trying to go through things at home, so I can begin downsizing and packing, and I have empty boxes laying around and stuff scattered here and there. But when I was joining a Zoom meeting today, all of a sudden, I decided that the boxes had to be moved around so that my online line presence didn’t look like a stockroom.

It is rather distressing to me to realize how managed and manipulated what we see and hear online really is nowadays. It’s getting harder and harder to hear the quiet, sincere voices of the loving truth-tellers. We can’t really discern the hearts and minds of those we are listening to, or whether what they are showing us or telling us hasn’t been doctored or altered in some way. Perhaps they spent hours preparing for the “white glove” test rather than simply being real and honest with us.

There is a hunger I am beginning to sense in people for genuine, healthy community and relationship. I’m not certain that many of us know or remember what that even looks like. What does it mean to love and be loved in the way God created us to exist as image-bearers of the divine? Whatever it means, it must include the ability to see what is unseen—the heart and mind of the living God at work in us and with each of us by his heavenly Spirit. And that happens in the context of face-to-face relationship.

I think this was the cry of Thomas’ heart when the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” Jesus’ death was a real event—a truly graphic and horrendous human experience. What outcome could there be from a crucifixion other than a painful, arduous death? And the body that was taken off the cross was lifeless and cold—and the tomb Jesus was laid in was sealed shut. There was an end to all that the disciples had experienced together with the Messiah.

Thomas could not wrap his mind around the possibility that there could be a different outcome from what he experienced. The disciples’ words, that they had seen Jesus alive, must have seemed like a doctored-up story created out of their vain imaginations. “I must see his hands and his side myself,” he told them, needing to have something tangible he could touch and see, so he could know for certain that Jesus was indeed alive.

We can take comfort in the way that Jesus handled Thomas’ reluctance to believe what the disciples were saying about their experience. Jesus knew Thomas well, and understood his heart, as he was the one who bravely volunteered to go with Jesus to Jerusalem to die with him, when Jesus was going there to raise Lazarus from the dead. And Thomas was the one who, when Jesus told the disciples they knew the way he was going, asked where that way was, since he didn’t think they did know where Jesus was going. Jesus’ memorable reply was, “I am the way, the truth, and the life…” He understood this disciple’s inquisitive mind, which wanted to be certain about the details and to really comprehend what was going on.

We find the second Sunday after the resurrection the disciples were once again behind locked doors in the upper room of the place they were staying. All of a sudden, once again, there was Jesus in their midst. But apparently, he was there for a specific reason. He went directly to Thomas and addressed his doubts, showing him his hand and his side, and inviting him to touch the wounds he had received. Thomas, being overcome in that moment with the reality of who Jesus was, could only say, “My Lord and my God!”

Let me ask you this: Have you ever had a personal encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ? Do you know what it is like to know for certain that he is a risen Lord—that he is real, and alive, and interested in a personal relationship with you? Do you know what it means to live your life knowing that he is present and real by the Holy Spirit, and that he is aware of everything you think, feel, say, or do—and loves you completely and entirely in the midst of it all?

I can tell you about my own experiences with the Lord Jesus Christ, but how do you know whether or not they are genuine? Perhaps it is good to have the outlook of Thomas—the willingness to ask for yourself whether or not the resurrection really did happen. “Unless I see”—I myself. I must come to terms with the reality that God has come, as God in human flesh, in the person of Jesus Christ, has lived a genuinely human life, died at the hands of the people he came to save, and rose again from the grave. I need to ask the difficult question: Do I believe? What do I believe about Jesus Christ?

The good news is that Jesus is ready and willing to enable us to know the truth. He wants us to see and to believe. Now, I don’t believe he is going to show up like he did back then with Thomas, but by the Spirit, Jesus has ways of showing up that we cannot dismiss without real effort. He’s not waiting for us to prepare ourselves or our lives for the “white glove” test. He’s already cleaned house for us. He’s inviting us to open ourselves and our lives up to his presence—to tell him the truth—Lord, I need to see. Lord, I want to see. Lord, open my eyes, my mind, my heart—so I may see and believe.

Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows exactly what it will take for us to see and to believe. And he is at work right now, doing his best to meet us at that place. And he is ready to, by his Spirit, awaken us to faith, a faith that is his gift to us, as he draws us into a face-to-face relationship with God which is ours now and on into eternity.

Heavenly Father, how blessed we are in the sacred gift of your Son and your Spirit—life in relationship with you now and forever! Bless us anew with the grace to see the spiritual realities, to daily see and experience the presence of our risen Lord by your heavenly Spirit. Amen.

“So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.’ And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.’ But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples were saying to him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.’ After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then He said to Thomas, ‘Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.’ Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.’ Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.”      John 20:19–31 NASB

[Printable copy of this blog: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/04/unless-i-see.pdf%5D

Seeking the Living Among the Dead

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By Linda Rex

April 17, 2022, Resurrection Sunday | Easter—Do you ever feel like you are just going through the motions? That life is one boring, uninteresting routine—like you are enslaved by the everyday, uninspiring demands of your existence?

I enjoy reading a good book. I found one the other day at the library I thought I might enjoy reading and I took it home to read. The upshot of the book was that someone who felt like they were going through the motions, who was living an inspired, boring existence, discovered through a chance meeting, an opportunity to turn their life around. As they followed the guidance of their mentor, their life began to change for the better, bringing them to a new place of invigorating, creative life and relationships.

What is interesting to me is how this whole book was based on one person’s ability to do what is needed to make the changes in their life. Like most self-improvement programs, it required persistence, facing challenges, and dealing with failure. It was fully based upon the law of cause and effect—that if the main character took certain steps, then certain things would happen. I felt the only true realistic positive through the whole process was the author showed that meaningful and lasting changes in the main character came about within the context of caring relationship. And that, I believe, is the key.

Like I said, I love to read. I enjoy looking at books, turning their pages, and reading the things people have been inspired to write. Often, books have been my mentor, helping me to see things about life, about myself, and about God that I would not have seen otherwise. Many times, books have inspired me to make significant life changes or have been a part of the process God put me through to change my understanding of who he is and what he is doing in me and in the world around me.

But a book can only do so much. Even Jesus told listeners that they searched the Scriptures trying to find life, but they would not come to him to actually find it. There is a profound difference between knowing about God and reading about God, and actually living life in relationship with him. It is possible to read about how to live a good life but never actually live it or experience it because we have never personally encountered the God in Christ who by the Spirit is our life.

Imagine growing up in a culture where once a week you gathered with friends and family to listen to the reading and singing of your sacred scriptures. As a child, you would be memorizing (hopefully) long passages from the psalms and maybe even the genealogical listings of your forefathers. You would observe the ancient rituals ceremonially, gathering weekly and in special seasons with family and community for the special days that recall your culture’s history, memorializing its great events.

But then, one day, you meet someone who is supposedly the fulfillment of your culture’s greatest expectations. He calls you to follow him, so you, thrilled at the privilege, drop everything to follow this messiah and to learn from him. You listen to his parables, follow his instructions even when they don’t make sense, and begin to grow attached to him. But then he begins to say that he is going to die—and he does, horribly, at the hands of those who should have honored and followed him.

What about all of those years of studying, those years of memorizing passages, or those years of following this man? Did any of that change you? If you are different, what made you different? Are you different because of all that you read, or maybe a bit different because of the days spent in relationship with that special man?

Early on that Sunday morning, the ladies gathered at the tomb where Jesus had been laid, amazed that the stone had been rolled away. They were astonished at the angels they saw there. But more amazing was what the angels said: “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?” They were encouraged to remember what had they learned all those years they spent with Jesus. What had he told them? What had he said about what the Scriptures predicted would happen to him?

What we celebrate on this special day is the spiritual reality we serve a risen Lord. He is risen! (He is risen, indeed!) No matter how humdrum or routine our existence may seem at the moment, no matter how dead our life may seem to be—there is always hope for something better, because Jesus is risen! (He is risen, indeed!) Our relationship with Jesus Christ is unimpaired by anything in our world that may seek to hold us captive to old ways of thinking and behaving. Our risen Lord injects into every circumstance the potential for transformation, healing, and wholeness.

It is significant that Peter, as he denied Jesus the third time, looked across at Jesus, who caught his eye. In that moment, he was struck by the reality of the truth of what Jesus had told him. In that moment, what mattered? All those years of studying? Or that relationship in which Jesus, who knew Peter down to his soul and knew beforehand what he would do, still loved him. Christ still believed that Peter would turn around and would become what Jesus believed he could become. But it would be in relationship with Jesus—as Peter met him after the crucifixion on the shore of the lake and reminded him of his calling, and as the promised Holy Spirit fell on them all at Pentecost and Peter stood up to preach.

What changes would you like to see in your life? It is good to make the effort to learn and to grow. It is good to read the Scriptures and to memorize them. But it is even better to live and walk in the reality that Jesus is risen. (He is risen, indeed.) He is alive, right now, and you can live every moment in conversation with him and his Father in the Spirit. You don’t have to struggle against the downward pull of our dead flesh any longer—he has given us new life! Our risen Lord is alive and calling you into deeper relationship with himself—to live in and with him for all eternity.

Jesus is risen! (He is risen, indeed!) God has kept his promise to deliver us from evil, sin, and death. We look for Jesus, not among the dead, but among the living. We gather together as followers of Christ because we know that he lives in us and among us. Jesus is risen! (He is risen, indeed!) And he lives in us and among us by his heavenly Spirit. Come to his table. Eat and drink of him. Now and forever live in newness of life, because Jesus is risen! (He is risen, indeed!)

Heavenly Father, thank you for giving us life—life in relationship with you through Jesus in the Spirit. Thank you for awakening us to new life, giving us the desire and ability to live and walk in Christ, that way of being you created us for—to love you and love others. Grant us the grace to seek the living Lord, who reigns with you in the Spirit forever. Amen.

“But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men suddenly stood near them in dazzling clothing; and as the women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, ‘Why do you seek the living One among the dead? He is not here, but He has risen. Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee, saying that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.’ And they remembered His words, and returned from the tomb and reported all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. Now they were Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James; also the other women with them were telling these things to the apostles. But these words appeared to them as nonsense, and they would not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings only; and he went away to his home, marveling at what had happened.”     Luke 24:1–12 NASB

[Printable copy of this blog: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/04/seeking-the-living-among-the-dead.pdf%5D

Wake Up, Get Up, and Pray

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By Linda Rex

April 10, 2022, Passion Sunday [or Palm Sunday]—There’s something about death and dying that causes us to want to avoid the topic like the plague. It’s so final—and it’s so disturbingly disruptive to our peace and our status quo.

The reality is, though, that before God can do something new in someone’s life or in a church’s life, he has to bring the old to an end. Jesus remarked that it doesn’t work to put new wine in old wineskins, for they will break from the strain. One can only put new wine in new wineskins, which can stretch to accommodate the stress it will place on the containers (Matt. 9:17).

This is true about our humanity as well. We were all dead in sin, unable to live in the truth of who God created us to be as his image-bearers. We were bound in the chains of unhealthy ways of living and being. Apart from God’s gracious provision, we were all bound to the consequence of sin which was death.

The gospel reading for Passion Sunday this year is extensive, including the contents of two chapters in the book of Luke, Luke 22:14–23:56. This reading takes us from the gathering in the upper room for the last meal with Jesus, through Jesus’ agonizing prayer of relinquishment in the garden, to the betrayal by Judas, Jesus’ arrest, Peter’s denial, the long vigil during Jesus’ various trials, his crucifixion, and his burial. This sequence of events was a necessary part of the fulfillment of God’s promise to free us from the shackles of evil, sin, and death.

In the midst of this reading, we find Jesus inviting his disciples to share in the Passover meal with him. Taking bread in his hands, he gave thanks, and broke it, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:20 NASB). And taking one of the cups offered during the meal, he gave thanks and said, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood. But behold, the hand of the one betraying Me is with Mine on the table” Lk. 22:20b-21 NASB).

Table fellowship in that time and place was a treasured privilege. To open your home and offer your table to someone was to include them in your inner circle. Someone who shared your table was bound by the social code of that day never to betray you—it would be unthinkable that someone would dare to turn against the person who invited them in and made them feel welcome. How astonished the disciples were that Jesus would even suggest that one of them would betray him!

But, as human beings, isn’t it true that deep inside each of us is the capacity to do that very thing? It is easy for us to look back at Judas Iscariot and say to ourselves, “I would never, ever betray Jesus in that way.” But in our heart of hearts, we must know that we each are capable of giving an appearance of fidelity and loyalty, when in our hearts we are unfaithful and disloyal. This man, who thought the bottle of nard should be sold to feed the poor and needy, was in reality, a thief—one who used the common purse as his personal wallet when he felt like it. But it took a crisis—a temptation—to reveal the truth of who he really was inside.

Peter told Jesus that, even if threatened with death, he would never deny his Lord. Jesus, on the other hand, knew the capacity of the human heart for infidelity and disloyalty. He told Peter that, on the contrary, before the rooster crowed, he would deny his Lord three times. Peter was indignant at the thought, but Jesus knew him well—his impetuosity, his bravado, and his weakness. And he loved him enough to tell him the truth about himself, just as he told the betrayer he knew what he would do.

It does not hurt for us to be honest with ourselves about our capacity to be disloyal to our God or unfaithful to our commitment to him. Having humility about our human weakness is the very place we need to be for God to do his greatest work within us. It is in breathing out with Christ the last breath of our old life and finding ourselves laid with Jesus in the tomb that we awaken with the new life in his resurrection. Peter, upon his third denial, caught Jesus’ eye, and was broken—he left, weeping with remorse for his denial of his beloved Lord. It was in that moment of death to his old way that Peter was suddenly open to a new life—the one Jesus was creating for him in that moment as he was being mistreated, beaten, crucified, and laid in the tomb.

Judas, in his moment of remorse, went to the temple and the priests to return the money he had received for betraying Jesus. Rather than receiving the grace of redemption and salvation from their words and their hands, he received rejection and ridicule instead. Left holding the baggage of his old life, how could he receive a new one? He took matters into his own hands, judging himself worthy of death and executing himself, rather than receiving the death of Jesus in his stead. What he desperately needed was available in Christ, but he was blind to this reality.

Jesus understood the power of temptation, and Satan’s pull to take matters into our own hands. He knows our tendency to try to save ourselves or to play games with ourselves, believing that as long as no one truly knows the state of the internal trash heap of our soul, we are fine. He knows that what we need, only God can give. Our redemption, our transformation, and our healing can only come through the One who stands in our place, on our behalf—our Lord and Savior. Jesus faced temptation in the garden of Gethsemane by grounding himself in his personal relationship with the Father in the Spirit. He took his humanity to the feet of his God and submitted himself fully to the Father’s will, in spite of what his humanity and the adversary, were screaming at him to do.

Jesus reminded his disciples more than once that night to get up and pray rather than sleep. How many times have we been caught unaware by temptation because we were not living in close fellowship with God? How often have we been spiritually asleep when we needed to be alert to the wiles and seductions of Satan as he was seeking to break up the communion we have been given with God and with others through Christ in the Spirit? Passion Sunday is a good time to be reminded to wake up, to get up and pray.

It is also a good time to be reminded of the need to let our old life remain where it is—in the death of Jesus. Wake up to the reality that our sinful flesh is not the truth of our life in Christ—leave it there on the cross and in the tomb with Jesus. Get up—walk in the newness of life given us in the resurrected Lord—the resurrection we will celebrate next week on Resurrection Sunday. And pray—live within our dependency upon God in Christ and through the Spirit to recognize and resist temptation when it arises.

During Holy Week, may we take some time to reflect deeply upon Jesus’ self-offering, how he set aside the privileges of divinity to join us in our humanity, so that he might free us once and for all from our enslavement to evil, sin, and death. May we be reminded of our participation in Christ’s death—laying silently in the tomb as those who are dead to sin, evil, and death. And may we be reminded to wake up, get up, and pray—that we may not enter into temptation. And may we rest in the finished work of Christ as God completes in us his work of redemption and transformation.

Thank you, Father, that we can come to you as dirty, scruffy, misbehaving children and find the grace to be cleansed, restored, and healed. Thank you that in Christ, we are delivered from temptation—grant us the grace to wake up, get up and pray, that we may live freely and joyfully in fellowship with you now and forever, through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.

“And He came out and proceeded as was His custom to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples also followed Him. When He arrived at the place, He said to them, ‘Pray that you may not enter into temptation.’ And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and began to pray, saying, ‘Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.’ Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him. And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground. When He rose from prayer, He came to the disciples and found them sleeping from sorrow, and said to them, ‘Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not enter into temptation.’ While He was still speaking, behold, a crowd came, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was preceding them; and he approached Jesus to kiss Him. But Jesus said to him, ‘Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?’ When those who were around Him saw what was going to happen, they said, ‘Lord, shall we strike with the sword?’ And one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus answered and said, ‘Stop! No more of this.’ And He touched his ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders who had come against Him, ‘Have you come out with swords and clubs as you would against a robber? While I was with you daily in the temple, you did not lay hands on Me; but this hour and the power of darkness are yours.’ Having arrested Him, they led Him away…”     Luke 22:39–54a 

[Printable version of this blog: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/04/wake-up-get-up-and-pray.pdf%5D

The Messiah’s Lament

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By Linda Rex

March 13, 2022, 2nd Sunday in LENT—Lost and all alone. Wandering in the wilderness. Struggling to survive one more day. Fearful of every person they meet, wondering if they are friend or foe. This is the life of a person caught in a heart-rending situation such as war or abuse.

When life gets tough and we have lots of questions and concerns about what is going to happen next, it is good to be reminded of the compassion and tender concern of our living Lord. Indeed, it is at those times when we’re at the bottom of the well and looking up that we begin to see how much we need Someone looking out for us and tending to our every need. And we have such a person in our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Here in America, the average citizen has not experienced having their city invaded by a foreign army. Nor do many of us know what it is like to live in a war zone, fearful to do the simple tasks of life like buying groceries or visiting a neighbor. Our veterans understand the horrors of war, having experienced this firsthand on the battlefield. And some of our citizens and immigrants within our borders know this kind of devastation, having experienced it in their home country.

I don’t believe that God ever intended for any of us to experience the terror and suffering of war. We find that war is a natural consequence of placing our focus on earthly things rather than on the heavenly realities which are ours in Christ.

What is true about our existence as human beings is that what our senses experience often becomes the focus of our attention. What we experience often becomes our reality, unless we intentionally make the effort to turn our attention to the spiritual realities which are ours in Christ. When we allow what is going on around us and the opinions and preference of others determine our life choices and decisions, we are often tossed about and caught up in circumstances and situations which take control of our lives.

Jesus was often caught in the midst of experiences which might have become the motivation for his actions. But he had his focus squarely placed upon the Father’s will, and was intentionally moving toward the goal that he had been given—the salvation of our souls, through death and resurrection.

In this Sunday’s reading we find Jesus having a conversation with the Jewish leaders, who were encouraging him to leave the area lest Herod take his life. It’s possible, but not likely, that they were genuinely concerned about his safety. For the most part they had constantly plotted Jesus’ death since his ministry often interfered with their earthly concerns for popularity, power, and prestige. Even so, in this passage, we find them insisting that for his safety, Jesus should leave the region.

Jesus knew Jerusalem’s historic attitude toward the prophets—they often ended up stoned or killed. He pointedly reminded the Jewish leaders that he knew the road he was on. His path involved healing the sick, casting out demons, and heading towards the goal of his ministry—the crucifixion and resurrection. Then he broke into deep lament for the people of Jerusalem, who rejected the One who so dearly loved them and sought to gather them into his arms of love. How deeply he felt that rejection! He knew the price they would soon pay for choosing other messiahs other than the true Messiah—they would experience the loss of their city and their beloved temple, and experience all of the suffering involved in being invaded by a Roman army.

In Jesus we find that God has come and lived in our human flesh, experiencing in our place and on our behalf, suffering, death, and resurrection. What Jesus has done is significant and powerful. He has brought all of humanity into the presence of the Father in the Spirit, and he has sent the Spirit to us so that we can live in intimate relationship with God now and on into eternity.

Our problem is that we often believe these spiritual realities become intangible and irrelevant in the light of our increasing focus on tangible earthly realities. What I hear people being concerned about often has everything to do with ourselves, what we need, want or desire, and very little to do with God or what he might want or desire. In fact, one’s perception of the spiritual realities is often associated with going to church somewhere, or reading some book, or having a religious symbol to focus on. It’s easy to miss the point completely that the spiritual realities have to do with a living Being, with having a relationship with the God who loves us so much that he came personally to join us in our humanity and to bring us home to himself.

God is calling us out of our blindness and deafness into the light of his presence. He has come for us in Christ and has done what is needed to make us right with himself. Just as Abram slept through his covenant agreement with God (Genesis 15:1–12, 17–18), we have been included apart from our own effort in the covenant God has made for us in the sacrifice of his own Son. Our participation is saying yes to God’s ‘yes’ to us in Christ. Rather than being “enemies of the cross of Christ”, we receive the perfect gift of God’s own Son in his death and resurrection, trusting in his finished work, and receiving the gift of new life given to us in the Holy Spirit (Philippians 3:17–4:1).

In Christ, God has done all that is needed for our salvation. He will finish what he has begun in us. We focus our minds and hearts on the things of the Spirit, not on earthly things (Col. 3:1–2). We focus on our relationship with God through Jesus in the Spirit, trusting in Christ’s finished work, not in our own ability to make things how we believe they need to be. Jesus is our firm foundation, and we stand firmly in him as we trust in his finished work and God’s love and faithfulness.

God has our best in mind, and will not quit until he has finished what he has begun in us. This means that even though we are facing difficult, painful, or devastating events, we are not alone. God is still at work. We turn away from ourselves and our own self-sufficiency, and trust in the One who has the capacity to make things how they need to be. As we experience the consequences of choosing our own way, as we live in a fragile, broken world, we can be comforted, knowing we are not alone, but are held in God’s love and grace. He will not stop until all is brought into conformity with his plan and purpose—our inclusion in his love and life now and forever.

Dearest Abba, thank you for loving us so much—for caring for us in spite of our willful turning away to ourselves and the things of this life. Open our minds and hearts to the spiritual realities, that we may see you and live in the truth of who we are in Christ. Thank you for bringing us into the fullness of that glory which is ours through Jesus your Son in the Spirit. Amen.

“Just at that time some Pharisees approached, saying to Him, ‘Go away, leave here, for Herod wants to kill You.’ And He said to them, ‘Go and tell that fox, “Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I reach My goal.” Nevertheless I must journey on today and tomorrow and the next day; for it cannot be that a prophet would perish outside of Jerusalem. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! 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; and I say to you, you will not see Me until the time comes when you say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” ’ ”     Luke 13:31–35 NASB

[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/03/the-messiahs-lament.pdf ]

Blessed and Sent

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By Linda Rex

May 16, 2021, ASCENSION SUNDAY—With spring fully sprung and temperatures here in Tennessee beginning to move into summer intensity, we find ourselves in a new place on the Christian calendar—Ascension Sunday. This event is actually celebrated on Thursday, May 13th this year, but we at Grace Communion Nashville take time on the following Sunday to remember this special event.

The event of Jesus’ ascension is a very important one, as the gift of the Holy Spirit would not have come if he had not ascended. After his resurrection Jesus retained our now glorified human flesh, bringing it into the presence of the Father in the Spirit. We find that all human beings now are welcome to participate by faith in Christ, enabling them to experience God’s life and love now by the Spirit and in glory when Christ returns to establish the new heavens and earth.

During the forty days following his resurrection, Jesus took time to instruct his disciples, giving them understanding of how all that he had been and done was the central theme of the Old Testament scriptures. Christ then told them to wait in Jerusalem for the gift of the Spirit, and sent them out to be witnesses to everything that he had done while on earth. In his final moment, he lifted his hands and blessed them, as the high priest would do when the reconciliation was complete.

Even today, as Christ’s followers, we are called to be on mission with Jesus, showing and telling others about the love of God and what Jesus Christ did for our salvation. We are called to open ourselves up to be filled with the Spirit—growing in our relationship with God through the Word of God, prayer, gathering together for fellowship with believers, worship, and other spiritual disciplines. We live as those who are sent, actively participating in Christ’s mission in this world. And we go in Jesus’ blessing.

As I was reflecting on all this recently, the Lord brought to mind something he had led me to years ago when I first was wrestling with the call to pastoral ministry. I was shown how the body of Christ today, specifically in our denomination, was being called to rebuild the church on the new foundation we had been given in Jesus. I encourage you to take the time this week to read the book of Haggai. The prophet Haggai wrote shortly following the exile to those Jews who had returned to their homeland. They had rebuilt the altar and were offering sacrifices. They had set the foundation for the temple. But there the work had stopped.

Haggai was directed by God to ask his people, “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses while this house lies desolate? … Consider your ways!” (Haggai 1:4-5 NASB) He showed them how they were preoccupied with taking care of their own interests and concerns, and were neglecting the restoration of the temple. God’s priority was preparing the way for the coming of his Son to earth, and for that to be accomplished the way he desired, the temple needed to be rebuilt. Haggai was sent to remind the people to get their priorities centered on what God wanted do. And then God moved in them by his Spirit to act accordingly.

In some ways, I’m concerned that too often, we as believers have neglected to move on beyond setting the foundation of Jesus Christ in our lives and offering up worship on an occasional Saturday or Sunday. We have all the trappings of religiosity but we have lost the substance—life in Christ that reflects both his grace and his truth. Too often we have neglected God’s priorities and plans, preferring to seek our own agenda, including those things which distract us from keeping our kingdom focus. Is our focus on what God prefers—his kingdom and his righteousness? Jesus said if we seek God’s kingdom and his righteousness, all these other things will be added.

Jesus told the woman at well in Samaria that our worship of God is to be in spirit and in truth, that it is much more than religious rites and rituals or having a particular location of worship. Jesus Christ is the place of worship now, where we are called together in unity, to worship God and serve him. When Christ defines our identity and our relationship with God and one another, that says something about how we are to live and treat one another. As followers of Christ, we need to move beyond the religious trappings which anyone can imitate into the reality of life in Christ—something only possible in the power of the Spirit, with the living presence of Jesus in us and with us. It should be evident to those around us that we are Christ’s disciples, by our Christ-like love for one another, no matter our church denomination or fellowship preference.

Going back to our story—when the work on the temple began, those who had seen Solomon’s temple grieved the lost of the majesty and wonder of the former building. Haggai asked, “Who is left among you who saw this temple in its former glory? And how do you see it now? Does it not seem to you like nothing in comparison?” (Haggai 2:3 NASB) In the same way, the disciples kept expecting Jesus to bring about his kingdom in the sense of using his might and power to destroy the existing government and install a theocracy. But Jesus told them he had something else in mind. We need to remember that God’s kingdom work in this world may look a lot different than we expect. What Jesus plans for the body of Christ may be a lot different than what we prefer. The church of the future very well may look a lot different than the church we remember—and we need to be okay with this.

Finally, the most important message which Haggai gave his people was one that we can take to heart today. Just as when Joshua was entering into the promised land and was told to take courage, God encouraged those who were rebuilding the temple. “ ‘… take courage,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work; for I am with you,’ declares the Lord of hosts. As for the promise which I made you when you came out of Egypt, My Spirit is abiding in your midst; do not fear!’” (Haggai 2:4b-5 NASB) In the same way, Jesus told his disciples before he left them and ascended that God had given him all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, he told them, go and make disciples. He promised he would never leave them, but would always be with them—and he was, by the Spirit (Matt. 28:18-20).

What a marvelous thing the ascension is! Now we are participating in a real way in what God is doing in this world, all because this Jesus, who was God in human flesh, died and rose for our salvation, and now dwells forever in the presence of the Father bearing our humanity. By faith in Christ, we receive the gift of the Spirit sent from God and are each empowered to share the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ, and to participate in what Jesus is doing in the world today as he brings about renewal, healing, and transformation. We have been given both a hope and a future. We truly are blessed.

Holy God, thank you for reminding us to keep the main thing the main thing, and to trust you to know what is best for us as we move into the future. Grant us the passion and the courage to do the hard work of sharing the good news of your love and grace, of building up the body of Christ. And give us the endurance to weather all that we may have to bear as we do this. Thank you for the gift of your Spirit, of all you have done for us through Jesus, our Lord. Amen.

“Now He said to them, ‘These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.’ And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. While He was blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they, after worshiping Him, returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising God.”     Luke 24:44–53 NASB

The Suffering Servant Shepherd

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by Linda Rex

April 25, 2021, 4th SUNDAY OF EASTER—There is a movement in this country of making churches and non-profits responsible for the needs of those who are in trouble or difficulty, rather than it being the responsibility of individuals, the community or taxpayers. Indeed, as followers of Christ, we are called at times to help those who are in need. However, simply assuming that people of faith will take care of such needs overlooks one of the things that is an important part of being truly human. And that is that we as human beings were designed as adults to be responsible for certain things ourselves, though we are all dependent upon God and his grace and goodness for anything we do have.

It also ignores the reality that humans are given the freedom to choose. This reality works on two levels: 1) People may choose to not be responsible for themselves or have never learned that they need to be, so need, homelessness and poverty may simply be a consequence of bad choices or it may even be a preference. In such cases, being responsible for what is theirs may not be the best way to help. 2) Giving and helping are not so much a requirement as they are a fruit of God’s grace at work in us—so giving and helping must come from God’s heart in us rather than merely being a response to an external expectation. Even Jesus, when laying down his life, did it voluntarily and freely, out of love, not just because it was his Father’s will.

This brings to mind the passage in 1 John 3:16-18: “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.” It is obvious from this passage, that we cannot just talk about doing good deeds, but we must also actually help, not closing our hearts to people who are who are unable to help themselves. We want to be sensitive at all times to the move of the Spirit in us when he wants to help someone.

As I was writing this, I was reminded of a passage from Isaiah’s description of the Suffering Servant, the anointed One:

“All of us like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all
To fall on Him.” (Isa. 53:6 NASB)

I’m sure that none of us want to think of ourselves as being stray sheep, but in reality, this is a good description of all of us as human beings, individually and collectively. How often we wander from the fold of God’s love and seek our own path! We get ourselves lost, wounded, broken and in need of rescue. And God knew we would do this—so Jesus came.

Let’s look at Jesus for a moment. Jesus said he is the good shepherd. We notice that the good shepherd is not taking care of everyone else’s flock—but assumes responsibility for what is his. Jesus also said that he had other sheep that he was bringing to be a part of his flock, and what he was doing was meant to include them as well (John 10:11-18).

When the shepherd goes in front of his sheep and leads them to water and good pasture, that seems to be simple enough. Even though there are times when it can be difficult to find safe pasture or clean, still water, a good shepherd seems to know where to take the sheep so they can stay healthy and strong. But if the sheep are stubborn and willful, they will not follow the lead of the shepherd or obey his voice, and will end up in dangerous places, or eating or drinking what isn’t good for them. Nothing is more upsetting to a shepherd than to have to lose a sheep because it would not stay with the flock or follow the lead of the shepherd.

Oh, that we would simply remember the shepherd’s psalm is our hope!

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. (Psalm 23 NASB)

Did king David when he wrote this have any clue that one day the Messiah would stand up and say, “I am the good shepherd”? When Jesus was saying that he was the good shepherd, he was definitively saying who he was—God in human flesh, a shepherd who knew what it was like to be a sheep, who would one day be offered as a sacrificial lamb on our behalf.

The good shepherd, Jesus said, lays down his life for his sheep. Laying down his life for his sheep means the shepherd puts himself at risk for the benefit of the sheep he is responsible to care for. When the flock is in danger of harm because of wolves or lions, he goes over and beyond just the necessity of watching over them and actually lays down his life, risking himself for the safety and protection of his flock.

Jesus was talking to the leaders of his people who were more concerned about their popularity, their money and influence than they were about the sheep they were responsible for. He explained the difference between a hired hand and a good shepherd. One runs away at the first sign of danger, while the good shepherd stays and lays down his life for his sheep. Jesus saw keenly his calling to shepherd his people Israel through which he would bring together all the nations of the world. He knew that doing this would cost him his life, which he voluntarily gave in obedience to his heavenly Father. Do you see that Jesus was calling these leaders to their responsibility as those who were to be properly shepherding their people?

Looking at Jesus helps us to see the wide spectrum of this topic more clearly. Not only do we understand that we each are responsible for what is ours, we are also responsible to help those who are unable to help themselves. And leaders are to be responsible for those in their care, being willing to sacrifice on their behalf, putting themselves at risk to protect and provide for them, rather than simply using them for their benefit, pleasure and profit. And, finally, in a world in which none of us do these things perfectly and there is much difficulty and suffering, we have the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, to guide, protect and provide for us, for he laid down his life for us and rose again so we could have new life in him.

Father, thank you for always looking out for us and providing for us. Thank you for giving us your Son Jesus as our shepherd, to save and care for us, to lay down his life for us. We receive your gift of new life by your Spirit in his name. Amen.

“This is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as he commanded us. The one who keeps his commandments abides in him, and he in him. We know by this that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.” 1 John 3:16-24 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.