By Linda Rex
It’s been an interesting journey as I have participated with Good News Fellowship in caring for the community in which we located here in Nashville. I’ve experienced a wide spectrum of responses to sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ in word and deed. Some were expected, while others were very unexpected.
As a Christian in today’s culture, I have found that people have unspoken expectations of me. Because I am a Christian, they seem to believe I will be, or should always be, nice, friendly, and well-behaved—and I inevitably disappoint them. Many people assume because I am a Christian that I am examining them and their lives in detail so I can have something to criticize or put down—and I’m not.
As a Christian, many people say, I must never make anyone feel bad or tell them that they are wrong and must change—after all, they are free to do whatever they want—it’s a free country, right? But sometimes the most loving thing I can do is to bring to their attention something hurtful or dangerous they are doing to harm themselves or others.
Some people seem to believe that since I am a Christian, I’m obligated to help anyone who comes to me and asks for help, no matter what the circumstance or situation. If someone is in need or struggling, it is my responsibility to help them and give them whatever it is they ask for, no matter the cost to myself or the inconvenience it may be for me to help them, or that it might not be in their best interests for me to help them in that way.
Yet God calls us to be, as followers of Christ, generous and giving. We are to share all the gifts God has given us with others. We are to be compassionate, understanding and loving. We should be positive examples of “giving living”—by nature being generous with all God has given us as our participation in Christ’s own generosity.
The fundamental thing is, we are not created as human beings to have a life centered around our own selves. Self-centered living destroys relationships. A self-centered person expects people to orbit around them as they slowly drain people’s energy and heart out like a black hole consumes the stars around it. When we center our lives and other people’s lives about our own needs, desires, and plans, we become more and more selfish, cold, and calculating.
Now, speaking for myself, I recognize there are times when I am self-centered and do not even realize this is what is going on. How disconcerting to walk away from a situation or conversation and realize I have made myself the center instead of keeping Christ and others at the center! These types of realizations keep each of us humble and dependent upon God’s grace and the patience of those near and dear to us.
If we want to be followers of Christ, though, we need to be attentive to these nudges of the Spirit and realign our center to where it should be—in Christ. It is important to be attentive to what the Spirit is saying in each moment and to follow Christ’s lead in our generosity because if we focus on ourselves, we will come up empty. God is the source of all things, including the capacity to be generous and giving, especially when we do not have the energy, resources, or heart to give.
A life centered in Christ is a life which draws its sustenance and well-being from the Source of all things, our Abba. When we are drawing our life from the Life-giver, we will find that our life and our being will be enriched and grow. If we are drawing our life from within ourselves or from the other people in our lives, we will eventually find ourselves frayed, worn-out, and exhausted, and our relationships in shambles.
This is also the case when it comes to our giving. Our generosity must have its roots in Jesus Christ himself. He is the one who came into our humanity, laid down his life, died our death, and rose again on our behalf and for our sake. He set aside the benefits and privileges of his divinity to live within our humanity, even though it cost him his human life. There is a fundamental generosity in the being of God which is rooted in God’s very nature as love.
First, and foremost, God in Christ is the center around which everything in this cosmos orbits and from which everything draws its life. Giving to others and being a giving person must begin with this center. Our center, the center of every part of our being and our life, is in Christ. It is not in ourselves or anyone else. What we do in our lives comes out of who we are, and who we are must be and is based in Christ as the perfect image-bearer of God himself, and the Source of all things.
So fundamentally at the core of our being, because we are made in our Generous and Giving God’s image to reflect his likeness, we are generous and giving people. Our lives, then, are centered around generosity because we are, in Christ by the Spirit, full of a heart of generosity. We recognize all we are and all we have has their source in God himself, and everything in this cosmos, including us and all we think we own, belongs to him.
This true humility with regards to our existence enables us to be open-handed and free with all we have been given since we realize it all came to us as a gift. Even if we worked hard to earn our resources, we recognize and admit that even the ability to earn a living came from the One who gave us the opportunity and capacity to do the work we are doing. There is no holding back what we have been given when we are in the position to help another who is in need or to further the work God is doing in this world to share the good news of Jesus Christ.
But this doesn’t automatically mean we give to every person in every situation without attention to the wisdom of doing so. Yes, we need to be putting our resources to work to further God’s agenda in the world and to spread his gospel. Yes, we should always be generous and giving to those in need. But sometimes the better gift is not to give at all, but to enable that person to trust God to meet their needs in another way.
Maybe we are hindering God’s work in their lives by just giving them cash when we need to be giving them our time and attention instead. Perhaps rather than just giving them our resources, we should be helping them learn what is needed so they can provide them for themselves. These are complicated issues which must be guided by the Word of God and the Spirit, and wisdom.
There is plenty in this world but too often we do not see our plenty as a resource to accomplish Jesus’ mission in this world or to provide for others so they might have what we have. Granted, we’re not all able to share—some of us are the needy as well. But even the needy have something to offer others. We all can share and give, when we draw upon the infinite resources of our generous and giving God, recognizing whatever we have has been given to us as a gift from him to share with others. This is the perichoretic life.
Dear Abba, thank you for being so generous with us, giving us all we need for life and godliness, and for giving us your very best in your Son and in your Spirit. Grant us the grace as you give us the resources to always be generous with others and share diligently in your ministry to this broken and hurting world. In your Name, amen.
“But just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious work also…. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich…. For this is not for the ease of others and for your affliction, but by way of equality—at this present time your abundance being a supply for their need, so that their abundance also may become a supply for your need, that there may be equality;…” 2 Corinthians 8:7, 9, 13-14 NASB
A Matter of Life and Death
by Linda Rex
One of the great themes of Jesus’ preaching and life was death and resurrection. Normally we think of these things in terms of having our life come to an end and then being raised to live eternally with Christ. The apostle Paul wrote about this in his epistles (1 Thess 4:13-18; 1 Cor. 15:20-58).
But Paul also emphasized the reality that we participate even today in Christ’s death and resurrection. He said “I die daily.” (1 Cor 15:31) We have a connection with Christ’s death and resurrection that impacts much more than just our future in eternity with God. It also impacts how we live each moment of each day.
There was a young man who was very wealthy. He ran up to Jesus and asked him what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. He had done all the requirements the Jews understood to be in the law, and yet he was thinking there was still something else he needed to do. Jesus went to the core of the issue by addressing the one thing this young man was drawing his life and self-worth from—his wealth.
Jesus told him to sell all he owned, to give the proceeds to the poor and to begin following him. He touched him at the very core of his self-reliance, self-absorption and told him to die to what mattered most to him—himself—and to trust fully in Jesus Christ for all the essentials of his life. And the young man turned and walked away. (Mark 10:17-22)
Death and resurrection. God never stops calling each of us away from drawing our life and value and meaning from our physical existence, material substance and self-effort. He keeps drawing us away from all this into a personal relationship with himself in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.
At no time did Jesus call this young man to follow a certain list of do’s and don’t’s, although he did acknowledge his efforts to live according to the law. What he did call him into was a relationship in which the man would follow and obey Jesus, sharing life with Jesus day by day, drawing his sustenance, worth and value from outside of himself in God and pouring it out in service to others as Jesus ministered to the poor, sick and needy.
What he called the young man into was a sharing in the perichoretic life of self-giving. God created us in his image to share in the circle of self-giving between the Father, Son, and Spirit. But from the beginning, humans have been and have become self-absorbed and self-centered. The feeding and protecting of the black hole of self is the way of death not the way of eternal life.
Jesus died our death, rose again and ascended, sending the Spirit of the Father to us so that we could and would be free from our broken sinful selves. He gives us his life, the perichoretic other-centered life of God, pouring it out into us so we have a new Source and Center for our existence. We no longer depend upon our efforts, our strength, our faith, our goodness, but depend solely upon Jesus Christ. He is and becomes our life.
God gives us a new life, a new body, and a new way of thinking and being. Through the Spirit he gives us a sharing in his life. We can continue our frantic efforts to live on our own under our own power. We can continue the path that leads to death—death of relationships, death of our dreams and hopes, death of people and possibilities. Or we can turn away from all these things, put our trust in Jesus, and begin to live a new life in him, living and walking in the Spirit.
Through Jesus Christ God sets us free to be this new person. He gives us a new life. We can participate in this new life that is ours, living in fellowship or communion with God in Christ, or we can continue in our old ways of being. But our old way of being is not who we really are—it is a lie. That life, that being died when Christ died and rose when Christ rose. God calls us to give up the old and live in the new because that is who we are.
We are people who are held in the midst of God’s love and life. We are—as Jesus is—loving, giving, caring, serving people. We are—as Jesus is—humble, honest, gentle people. We are—as Jesus is—faithful, sincere, kind people. Jesus Christ lived the life we are to live, and he lives in us through the Holy Spirit. We can resist the Spirit’s work of transformation, or we can participate in Christ’s death and resurrection by responding to what the Spirit is doing to make us into the people God has declared us to be. We quit our efforts at being ethical people under our own power and allow God by his Spirit to make us into Christlike people. We participate in Christ.
This is all God asks of us—to live in relationship with him, participating in Jesus’ perfect response to the Father of filial obedience and love. We awaken by the Spirit to the reality that God is at work in us and all around us, bringing this dead world and our dead selves into a new way of living and being—bringing in his kingdom in its fullness each and every moment. And we get to be a part of that process. What more could we ask for? For this is eternal life.
Our loving God, thank you for this precious gift of life in the midst of our death and dying. Grant each of us the grace to receive and live out this perfect gift of your Son in the Spirit, so we may reflect and participate in your perfect self-giving nature and love as you desire us to. We trust and praise you that you will not quit until this is so for all of us. Through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.
“Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, ‘One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’” Mark 10:21 NASB
Oh, To Be Somebody…
by Linda Rex
This morning I was thinking about all the ways we go about trying to find or create our own significance in this world. As we grow up, we want people to notice us, to see that we are somebody. Unless, of course, being invisible is a safer way of being for us.
But this drive to be noticed, to be considered worthwhile, motivates approaches to life and living that are not always healthy and sound-minded. I came across the story of a young man who discovered this power of significance the day he first rode a bull in a rodeo competition. Somehow, being the guy at school who rode the bulls gave him a feeling of self-worth and made him believe he had value he would not have had otherwise. It was only after he began to evaluate the cost in terms of suffering and loss of life that he began to look for other ways to establish his significance.
It is interesting to flip through the channels on the TV and to look at all the shows based on this whole premise—if I’m the best at this then I’ll be somebody—if I do this thing in this unique way, everyone will notice me. Watching one of the newest sitcoms the other day, I realized that the whole concept of a person trying to be somebody, to be noticed, to be approved of, to be a good person, drives so many of the plotlines. It’s just our story as human beings.
And this story is as old as the history of humanity. My morning reading in the Old Testament today was the 15th chapter of Samuel. God had given Israel the king they requested and his name was Saul. He started out a pretty humble man, but in this chapter we find that somehow being significant and important supplanted his humility.
God instructed King Saul to lead the Israelites into battle against a particular king and told him to destroy everything associated with that particular group of people. God wasn’t being cruel—he was just exacting justice and was inviting his people to be a part of that process. (He does that today in a similar way through our armies and police forces, though he typically doesn’t call for genocide any longer.)
In this case, though, the point the writer was making was that King Saul hadn’t grasped the importance of following God’s instructions exactly. He won the battle, but he kept the king alive and brought the best of the cattle and animals, ostensibly for an offering to God. Then he built a memorial to himself. Note: the memorial built was to the king, not to God, the One who had given the king success in battle.
Needless to say, God was ticked, and so was Samuel. In the unpleasant conversation that followed, King Saul was more concerned about the opinion of the people and his significance with them than he was about the reality that he had alienated himself from the God who made him king in the first place.
Sometimes the price we pay for some type of significance and worth and value is too high. Sometimes we lay down our most important relationships in payment for this feeling of importance and power. We give over the only things that in the long run will carry us through eternity—our relationships with God and each other—for the sake of our moment of glory. Is it really worth the price we are willing to pay?
I think it is instructive that Jesus Christ spent the majority of his earthly existence refusing to accept any pats on the back for being the Messiah. Instead he focused on being a servant. Over and over, he reminded his disciples of the inverse values of the kingdom of God: the least are the greatest; the servant will lead; the dead will live; the rejected are those who are most valued by God.
In being God in human flesh, Jesus had every right to expect people to make everything be about him. Yet, instead, he pointed people to his Father. Whatever he did, he did in, with and for his heavenly Father. It wasn’t about him. It was about the will of God.
How clearly Christ demonstrated that our human existence isn’t about us finding some significance in ourselves or in what we do! It’s not about us at all. We don’t find our value and worth in anything we say, think or do. We only find it in God and in his Son, who enveloped our humanity within his own and gave it ultimate significant, worth and value in himself.
So when we live wrapped up in trying to find some value and significance in our own feeble, human way, we will find in the end only emptiness and loss. Human applause and approval are fickle things. They come and go like the weather changes.
But when we surrender this search to the will and purposes of Almighty God, and seek Christ and value his significance and worth, we find that we are cherished, valued and significant ways that really matter. We are God’s treasure. He has every intention to share his life and glory with us in Christ forever. And that’s something worth sacrificing everything for.
Heavenly Father, we confess that too often we make life all about us, and about what others may think or feel about us. Forgive our self-centered, self-seeking ways of being, and grant that, in Jesus, we might live God-centered, other-centered lives instead. Grant us the grace to obey you first and foremost—to surrender our wishes and wills to you, Almighty God, no matter the cost to ourselves. Thank you for the grace you give us, and for your precious Spirit who awakens us to our true value and significance in Christ. Thank you for counting us as precious, valued and significant forever. In Christ, we pray. Amen.
“Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel, saying, ‘I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following Me and has not carried out My commands.’ And Samuel was distressed and cried out to the Lord all night.” 1 Samuel 15:10–11