sacrifice

The Better Thing

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by Linda Rex

I’ve often thought about the story of Mary and Martha, wondering what their relationship must have been like when Jesus wasn’t around. Was Martha one of those “managing females” who was forever telling everyone else in the house what to do, and when and how to do it? Was she like some of us who are incorrigible perfectionists who never have any peace unless everything is absolutely perfect? It’s not very hard to picture her in those roles.

Mary comes across as the quiet timid soul, who finds a deep well in Jesus and lingers there at his feet to drink in of all the spiritual richness she can. Forgotten is every other detail of life, for now her soul is being renewed and replenished in this special moment with her teacher.

Indeed, it is easy to see the simple lesson here, that it is important to focus on what really matters—our relationship with our Lord and Savior—rather than always on the mundane details of life. We have to keep our spiritual priorities straight and put God first in our lives. When we do that, it’s amazing how much better our lives will run!

But when we look at the context of these verses and take into account that Jesus was in the process of deliberately heading towards Jerusalem and his crucifixion, trying to get his disciples to understand what the future truly held for him, then we can see an underlying message that could be missed here. Jesus was calling to his disciples to follow him as the Suffering Servant Messiah with a sense of commitment—a willingness to lay down their all for his sake—a willingness to follow him to and through the crucifixion to his resurrection and new life.

A lawyer had asked him what he needed to do to inherit eternal life, and Jesus had told the story of the man who was left for dead and the Good Samaritan who came and cared for him and even took him somewhere and paid to ensure his care there. Through this story Jesus put the question before the lawyer, what price are you willing to pay to be rightly related to God? Are you willing to sacrifice your dignity, your spiritual purity, your time and resources, and your convenience to live in union with the lost, the least and the ones in need? Are you willing to be identified with the One the world would reject?

These are critical questions. Was Martha aware that she did not need to do a bunch of stuff in order to be rightly related to Jesus? Did she realize that she could rest fully in what Jesus had done and would do in, with and for her? Mary apparently had come to see this and so was not concerned about the other details of hospitality and household management that were of such importance to Martha.

We can reflect on what Luke wrote in his gospel and ask ourselves how well we understand the message of grace. Do we realize that in Christ, we have been fully reconciled to God, and that he is waiting for us to give up our human efforts to do all these things, and to just trust in him, in what he has done for us and will do for us in Jesus Christ, in his life, death and resurrection, and in the precious gift of the Eternal Spirit?

God is calling to us, giving us the opportunity to choose “the better thing” by embracing his gift of love and eternal life in Jesus Christ and by forsaking all other loyalties in our lives. When we choose Christ first over all else, then he goes to work to make sure the rest gets done—and we can fully trust him to finish what he has begun.

Dear God, thank you for your perfect love that you have shed out on us in Christ. We trust you, Father, to accomplish all you set your hand to do, including transforming us and making us to reflect the image of Christ. You are a glorious and faithful God and we praise you, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (NIV) Luke 10:41-42

Being Truly Neighborly

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by Linda Rex

I stood in the hallway of the house that was used as the food and clothing pantry I helped to get started back in Iowa, Heavenly Hands. A young woman in her twenties was talking with me and with Jo, the lady who was instrumental in growing our outreach ministry. Tears filled the young woman’s eyes as she told me about standing at the gas pump and finding she had to decide between putting gas in her car so she could go to work, or buying groceries for her children and her to eat that week. Unlike those of some of the visitors to the pantry, hers was a real story of poverty and loss. I found I too had tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat.

Over the years I learned that what was most meaningful about participating in an outreach ministry such as this was seeing the difference we made in another person’s life, most especially when that person came to see and experience the love of God in a real way in their lives. What compensated most for the negativity of those taking advantage of God’s generosity were the stories of those people whose lives were transformed by the Holy Spirit along with these human gestures of help, prayer and support.

The story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10 is most often used as an instructional passage to teach us about the importance of caring for those who are lost, wounded, forsaken and/or ill. This is indeed a meaningful way to look at the passage. But I believe that it is important to consider the small detail of exactly who Jesus wanted us to understand as being our neighbor.

In Luke 10:25-29 we read about a lawyer who was testing Jesus, asking him what he should do to inherit eternal life. (Question to ponder: how does anyone “do” something to inherit something? Doesn’t it come about mostly due to how you are related to someone?) Jesus gave him the standard rabbinical answer—another question: “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?” The lawyer answered by repeating the two great commandments, loving God and loving one’s neighbor. Jesus answered him, “Do this correctly, and you will live.” And then he told the story of the man who is left for dead by the side of the road, those who passed him by, and the social outcast, the Samaritan, who tended his wounds, took him to an inn, and paid for his continuing care. This was the true neighbor to the one left on the road. But let’s go a little deeper.

We find elsewhere, in Matthew 25:31-46 that when a person tends to someone who is ill, in prison, or in need, Jesus said that they are actually tending to Christ himself. In many ways, the man left for dead is a true Christ figure in this parable, not just the Good Samaritan. Do we see that in loving and caring for our neighbor, those in need or in trouble, that we are actually caring for Jesus himself? Are we willing to commit ourselves to Jesus as the Good Samaritan did to the man in the road—risking our reputation, sacrificing our time and resources, providing Jesus with care and, paying for his needs and care in a committed and ongoing way?

Taking it even further—perhaps the real question here in regards to inheriting eternal life and in caring for one’s neighbor is the question of relationship: how well and in what way are we related to Jesus Christ? Do we recognize that in him we died and rose again, and are now living a new life in him? For eternal life is this: knowing God and the One whom God sent, Jesus Christ. How well do we know him? Are we willing to lay down our lives and live in newness with him each and every day, and in such a way that we are tending for others who are in the same predicament we are in?

When we see ourselves as the one laying by the side of the road left for dead in commonality with the One who died for us as well as others, we begin to see ourselves and Jesus more clearly for who we truly are and we can begin to have greater, true compassion for others. We find that the power, the will and the heart to care for others comes not from ourselves, but from his compassion that is now ours as we trust him for it. It is Christ in us by the Holy Spirit, who is this neighbor, who cares not only for us but for each person we may encounter, and who gives us the heart and mind to truly care for God and for one another.

To truly and properly love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves requires the very person of God in Christ by the Holy Spirit living his life in us. Because he lives in us and we truly know him in this way, we then have eternal life. This is the correct answer to the lawyer’s question of what to do to inherit eternal life. There is only one way—to be rightly related to God and to truly know him and the One he sent, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, our dearest and closest neighbor.

Holy God, please open our eyes to see you in a new way, as being our nearest and dearest neighbor, and to open our lives and hearts to you completely. Grant that we might truly know you and begin to live in right relationship with you and with others as you intend. Fill us with your love and compassion, we pray, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

“But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” Luke 10:29

Helping the Healing

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By Linda Rex

As I closed the book, I reflected on the many stories I had read recently that told of the power of relationships to bring healing into the lives of the suffering. Each author told of how a person found healing from trauma, abuse or even physical ailments within the context of a friendship or pastoral relationship.

In a technological world that communicates through cell phones, computers and other media rather than through face-to-face encounters, it is getting harder to find people who understand and practice the skill of healthy relationship-building. Many have grown up in relationships that lacked healthy boundaries or in which one or both parents were missing or were no longer a part of their home life.

One of the keys to healthy life and being is living in relationship with others in healthy ways. If those relationships are missing in our lives, we ought to begin the process of looking for positive relationships to be a part of. This can be difficult, if not even painful, as we struggle to relate to others who may or may not respect our boundaries and know how to love us in healthy ways.

The first and most important relationship we can begin to build and strengthen is our relationship with the One who made us and called us into relationship with himself. The thought of having a relationship with God can be intimidating, so a way to start is to find someone who does have a strong relationship with a loving, relational God. They can be recognized by how they relate to the people in their lives.

Sadly, there are those who say they believe in God but their relationships are in chaos and are destructive because the God they worship is not the relational Lord of the Bible, but the God of their own passions, traditions and/or imaginations.

The Triune God of love and grace, who lives in an eternal relationship of mutual submission, service, and unity, is the God to seek a relationship with. When he is worshiped and adored, when he is the center of a person’s life, their relationships will reflect his love, compassion and unity.

Their families and friendships will be relationships in which each person seeks not their own self-interest, but that of others, while at the same time being responsible for their own needs. When there is hurt or unhealthy ways of living and relating, they will courageously speak the truth and offer help, forgiveness and reconciliation. They will be real people who are flawed, and yet in whom there is that unique quality of inner love and peace that cannot be explained but can be felt by others they are around.

If you are a person who is living in relationship with this God of love and grace, it may be time to ask yourself whether you are an effective reflection of him. Keeping in mind that all relationships require much grace, much room for faults and failures, it may be that you are the person who could offer relationship to someone who has not had the blessing of healthy relationships to learn from. Could you be the person someone is seeking to find, to teach them what it means to be respected, loved and cared for? Could it be that you are the one they need to hear the truth from in the context of trust and compassion?

Perhaps it is time for all believers of Jesus Christ, who have the inner light of God’s love filling them and leading them in his ways of truth and light, to step up and provide leadership in relationship building. Perhaps it is time to leave behind our isolationist thinking and behavior and begin to relate to others for Christ’s sake alone—because that is what we were created by God to be and do. Perhaps? No, it is time. The need is there. Let’s meet it. Let’s participate in God’s gift of healing to others through relationship. And let’s do it now.

Holy Triune God, We are so often alone. You never meant for us to be so. Grant us those relationships we need to fully be all that you created us to be. Thank you for being the One who calls us into relationship with yourself so that we never need to be alone. We trust you to provide the other relationships we need in our lives to help us heal and grow into all you have in mind for us. Lord, forgive us when we refuse to share the gift of love and grace you have given us in Christ by not living in healthy relationships with others. Grant us the grace to always give as well as receive your love as you intend us to. In the name of the Father, Son and Spirit. Amen.

“I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.” John 17:23

The Power of Presence

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by Linda Rex

I recall many years ago when I would sit down at the piano for a few quiet moments with the music, I was never able to finish more than a song or two before I was interrupted. A tiny hand would begin tapping on my knee and one of my children would begin to snuggle up next to me and try to crawl into my lap.

I would try to talk with them while I was playing and avoid the lapful, but soon I would feel both their hands reaching up to clasp my face and to turn it towards theirs. They wanted all of mommy, not just her voice. They wanted my full attention!

This reminds me of a song that I heard again recently—“From a Distance.” It is a beautiful song with lyrics that remind us of the importance of keeping our perspective when looking at ourselves and our lives here on earth. However, there is one phrase from the song that really bothers me: “God is watching us, from a distance.”

Perhaps the reason it bothers me so much is that I feel it contradicts the very nature of God in his relationship with humanity. From the beginning we see God walking in the garden with Adam and Eve, talking with them and building a relationship with them. The Scriptures show God interacting with human beings throughout their history here on earth in a real, personal way.

In Psalm 139, the psalmist reminds us that wherever we go, wherever we are, God is already there. He knows us before we are born and what we will be when we grow up. He knows when we rise and when we lay down, and knows what we are going to say before we say it. In fact, we cannot go anywhere, where God isn’t because God is everywhere. He is omnipresent. It is God’s nature, in the Spirit, to be everywhere in his creation all at the same time, as well as being fully present in his Triune relations of Father, Son and Spirit.

God did not intend to deal with humanity “from a distance.” In coming himself in the person of the Word and taking on human flesh in the person of Jesus, Christ became one of us. Being God “from a distance” was not something he wanted to do. Instead, he wanted to share in our humanity and he took on all that was and is ours, transforming it by his very presence and power into a new humanity in himself. The God who was wholly other than us and who made us became one of us, forever joining himself to us, becoming something he had not been before.

Why would this God do such a thing? His love for all of the humans he created was so great that he did not want to live in eternity without us. He did not want us to return to the nothingness out of which he created us, even though in Adam that was our choice. No, he was willing to do everything he could to prevent it. In this case it meant his very presence in our world, in our humanity. God gave us his full attention! He gave us his one, unique Son, so that we might have eternal life in him.

Recently we celebrated Resurrection Day, commonly called Easter. This day remembers the miracle of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the grave after his crucifixion and death. The death of Christ was a horrific experience that so profoundly affected his disciples that they locked themselves away in fear of the Jews. Closed away, they had great difficulty believing the story of the women who came to tell them of the resurrection. Even when they saw the empty grave themselves, they still closeted themselves away in fear.

One of the first things Jesus did after his resurrection was to appear in the locked room where the disciples were gathered and to greet them with the customary greeting, “Shalom.” “Peace be with you,” he said to his fearful followers. He graced them with the reassurance of his presence and ensured that they would have his presence within them in the person and presence of the Holy Spirit, the “other Helper.” He had promised his disciples that he would never leave or forsake them but would always be present with them, and he kept that promise.

We can be comforted in the knowledge that the promise of God’s constant presence continues for each of us today. God continues to be for us, with us, and in us, as we believe and trust in him to work his saving grace in us and our lives. We may hear the music of God singing over us as we go about our work and play, and at any time we can reach out to him, and we will have his full attention. God is fully present in every way at all times, whether we realize it or not. What a precious and perfect gift from the Father of lights!

Holy God, thank you for your complete and perfect love for each and every one of us. Thank you for your gift of your personal presence in us and in our lives. Thank you for your precious Spirit who is always present in every possible way, and that we have Jesus as well. For you, God, as Father, Son and Spirit are ever omnipresent, always in us, with us and for us, and so you are more than worthy of our praise. 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.” John 20:19-20

Countercultural Faith

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by Linda Rex

“For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.” 1 Peter 2:15

Sometimes we may find ourselves asking the question, “What is God’s will in this situation?” There are many verses that talk about the will of God. In this particular instance, Peter is talking about the will of God in the midst of a pagan anti-Christian culture with an oppressive government.

The people of that time lived under Nero and other Roman caesars, who took pleasure in the persecution and destruction of Christians. Peter himself would eventually experience a martyr’s death. This was a difficult, and no doubt, fearful time in which to live. Many of the issues Christians faced in those days are similar to ones Christians face in their world today.

Peter wrote that the way to silence those who know nothing about God and the way of life Jesus taught his disciples was to live in love with fellow Christians and others in the community in the face of suffering, rejection and death. What got the attention of the people of the day was the love and affection of the Christians. They had formed communities in which those in need were cared for and relationships were built. Not only that, but they reached out to those who were not Christians and showed them love and compassion even when it meant putting their lives at risk.

The Christians may have been ridiculed by their neighbors and community members for their funky observances like eating the body and blood of a dead guy (participating in communion), but the criticism was often silenced by the love and compassion these people witnessed these Christians sharing in the midst of suffering and difficult circumstances. It was the “doing good” and the non-violent response to martyrdom and suffering that eventually silenced the persecutors and paved the way for the Roman empire to embrace Christendom.

As we go about our daily lives and experience troubles and trials as Christians, it would be good for us to keep in mind the impact we have on others by our words, actions, and attitudes. We are preaching the gospel in the way we “do good” in our daily lives. As we reflect to the world around us the grace and love and truth of Jesus Christ, we pave the way for God to ultimately silence those who oppose him by transforming their hearts by faith. This is the path toward accomplishing the will of God–giving his Spirit full expression in and through us in the midst of a broken and hurting humanity who are ignorant of or live in opposition to God’s love and grace and truth in Jesus Christ.

Dear Lord of Life, please grant us the vision to see beyond our daily trials to understand the impact we can have on the world around us by living upright, godly, loving lives no matter what we may face or suffer. Help us to fully reflect the wonder of your love and grace in Jesus as we go about our daily business. You have worked mightly through your people to change the world. Please work mightly thorough us as well. Grant us the strength, wisdom and courage to bear whatever suffering or sorrow this may require and to do whatever you may ask of us. For Christ’s sake and by your great power. Amen.