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Surrendering Our Expectations

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By Linda Rex

This month at Good News Fellowship we are celebrating all the hands which join together to minister to the people in our community and to the body of Christ. We have so many people in our little congregation who are integral in some way to the ministry of Community Café and to the church itself. I am grateful to each person who contributes their gifts, prayers, and financial support.

I realize there are times when we wonder whether or not all the effort is worth it. We sacrifice and struggle to serve, and it may seem like it doesn’t make a difference or we can’t seem to do enough to satisfy the needs or expectations of those we are serving.

Needs seem to multiply the more we try to meet them. We cannot control the weather, or the destructiveness of fire and wind. Jesus said we would always have the poor among us, for there will always be someone who can’t or won’t live within their means. It seems there will always be needs for us to meet as a participation in God’s care for his creation.

Expectations, however, are a different thing entirely. The longer I am in pastoral ministry, the more I realize the power of expectations to cause disappointment, discouragement, resentment, and disunity.

Some people do not realize the unreasonable expectations they put on pastors and others in pastoral ministry. I know of pastors’ wives who dread the phone ringing just when the family is setting down to dinner because it seems to always be the same person demanding instant attention about something which is not urgent nor life-threatening.

Pastors and those in pastoral ministry have to have really strong personal boundaries otherwise it is very easy for them to allow people to invade every part of their lives to the extent there is nothing left for their own family. They often find themselves saying yes to too many things. There are a lot of good things to do—people to care for and needs to be met. And the list of things to do seems to grow all the time.

It is because we have a heart to care for others and to show them God’s love that it is easy to say yes to too many things. It is easy to burn ourselves out working for Christ, when Christ never once asked us to do any of the things we are doing. This is why it is so important we be able to discern God’s real calling to each of us individually and collectively, and to only participate fully in those particular things God is calling us to do with him.

But in saying no to certain things, we need to be willing to accept the reality we are going to disappoint someone. We are going to fail to meet someone’s expectations of us, and that is going to feel uncomfortable for a while for both us and for them.

I have a hard time saying no to opportunities to serve in my community group. I would really like to be doing everything they ask me to do. But I have learned I cannot say yes unless I am certain it is what God wants me to be doing and I genuinely have the time, the ability, and the calling to do it. I realize saying no is going to make them unhappy just as it makes me unhappy, and it very well may cause them to draw away from me and not include me in future opportunities. But no is what I need to say.

I am grateful I minister to a congregation which is so respectful of my time and home life, I have to remind them to call me when they are going through a difficult time. I am grateful they remind me to take care of myself and my family, and they often step up when I have more going on than I can do on my own.

I don’t have a spouse to share my load, and I am deeply grateful when my brothers and sisters are willing to help me and serve me in so many ways. But realize I also have to be respectful of their time, energy, and capacity to serve as well. I need to not have expectations of people in my congregation which are unreasonable or insensitive.

Sometimes I forget to be thoughtful and considerate to my spiritual community, and I regret it when I do. My brothers and sisters in Christ pour themselves out generously and freely, so I pray Abba will pour generously and freely back into them in every way possible so they will be renewed and encouraged rather than drained and exhausted.

Sometimes we can have and do express unreasonable and unrealistic expectations of people and do not realize we are doing it. Unhealthy expectations of others can cause pain and disrupt relationships. When we know someone has a caregiving, generous personality, we need to protect them from their tendency to over give rather than taking advantage of it all the time.

We also need to respect the humanity of those who serve or lead others in the body of Christ. I cannot enumerate the veiled criticisms I have received about decisions which cost me hours of prayer, fasting, and tears to make. It seems sometimes people expect me as a pastor to not have anything in my life which I regret or which I did not have control over. Their expectation is I will always have lived my life in a way which meets their idea of perfection. Such expectations are unreasonable and unhealthy. The truth is, any pastor I know who is worth their salt is an ongoing creation of redemption in Christ and has places in his or her life where God is at work right now healing, transforming, and renewing.

There are times when in conversation with someone, I perceive sly innuendo and subtle hints of how I need to improve my ministry or home life. This seems to be an unpleasant but natural part of the journey of pastoral ministry. I have always been open and transparent, and it tends to open me up to criticism. But I would rather live this way than to feel like I need to hide myself away from the people I love and serve all the time. Real relationship requires authenticity, even though such transparency opens us up to criticism and unrealized expectations. Real relationship requires a lot of grace—grace which pastors and those in pastoral ministry need a lot of.

Perhaps as we celebrate this month, it is good time to be reminded of the generosity and kindness of the God who laid everything down for us. This is the God who in Christ willingly joined himself to our humanity and sent his Spirit so he could share in every part of our life and our service to others. This is the God who replenishes, renews, and restores us, and who inspires us to care for and love others. We draw our life and our being from him. May we be filled anew with his love and grace, and find renewal in him as we serve him and those he brings into our lives.

Thank you, Abba, for each and every person in our lives who serves you and each one of us. Thank you for those who give of their time, prayers, and resources so that others may be blessed, cared for, and comforted. Free us from our unhealthy and insensitive expectations of others, and enable us to be gracious and compassionate in every circumstance, and sensitive to the limitations of those who serve us. Replenish and renew all those in pastoral ministry, and remind them what they do to share in your ministry is valuable and worthwhile, through Jesus our Lord and by your Spirit. Amen.

“But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. You too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me.” Philippians 2:17-18 NASB

“Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.” 1 Thessalonians

The Real Debt

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By Linda Rex

Recently I got to thinking about how we as Americans, in general, think nothing of being in debt. Nowadays it seems as if owing someone money is an accepted way of life. To not have a credit card is more unusual than having one. I have lost count of how many credit card offers I threw away last month.

When my children were little I remember having one of those money conversations with them. We were wanting to do something together which would have been fun for all of us and which would have been a good thing to spend money on in my opinion. But the money just wasn’t there.

So I was trying to explain to my children how we would need to wait until I had the money for this opportunity. One of my children popped up and said, “Just write a check, Mom.” I explained that in order to write a check I had to have money in the bank to cover the check.

“Just use your credit card,” they said. So I began to explain how with a  credit card I would still need to have the money to pay it off when the bill came. This was just one of the many conversations needed to help my children understand that we can’t just have what we want whenever we want it. Sometimes we just have to say no to ourselves and to others.

Being in debt or owing another party for the use of their money has become a way of life for many of us in this country. Borrowing money is how we buy a car or purchase a house. We even borrow money to send our children to college.

Perhaps one of the reasons our country is struggling is because we have ignored the description of life in Christ which says, “Owe no man anything but to love one another.” It would be quite radical if all of a sudden every debt was forgiven and people shared freely with one another rather than expecting payment with interest in return.

This seems rather Pollyanna-ish, doesn’t it?

The breaking in of the kingdom of God in our world often takes on forms such as these. In loving one one another rather than using one another, the kingdom of God receives its full expression. When someone forgives a debt or offers to pay in our place we experience the real presence of the Living Lord. When people freely offer financial and physical help to one another even when it’s not deserved, this manifests Abba’s heart. We’ve seen many illustrations of this in the aftermath of hurricanes, earthquakes, and tornadoes.

To offer mercy rather than just retribution is what our Lord does best. We can trust he is not out to get his share, but instead is sharing with us all which is his. He is not seeking his own, but is seeking our best.

In the midst of the havoc of the storms of our lives, he is not exacting retribution, but is holding us and carrying us, and offering us his strength, comfort, and provision. He puts people in our lives who can and will lift us up, encourage us, and help us to carry the burdens which are too heavy for us.

I would imagine if we were more occupied with serving and loving one another and less with indulging ourselves, we might not only be happier and more at peace, but we might also be a lot more financially sound. If we were more involved in blessing one another rather than using one another, we might find ourselves in an entirely different world.

We can go along and live as we are or we can live as though the kingdom of God has come to us in Jesus. We can live now in the truth of who we are in him. But we must realize this society is uncomfortable with and resists such truth while at the same time embracing  the beauty of the possibilities it might brings.

To live in love and debt-free requires a radical life change I’m just beginning to get my mind around. But God-willing, as we embrace Christ’s debt-free life we will be catalysts for change within our debt-laden society.

Abba, forgive us our refusal to live free of all our debts, personal and financial, toward you and one another. Give us the courage to swim upstream against the current and to daily offer grace to one another in and through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.     Romans 13:8 NASB

 

Celebrating God’s Glory and Power

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By Linda Rex
This week as my daughter and I were experiencing the unique dimming and darkness of the total eclipse, I could not help but express how cool God is. An eclipse is one way in which the sun, moon, and stars participate in bearing witness to the glory of God—this God who set planets and heavenly bodies into motion and who holds them in their particular relationship with one another.

And God made it so we each could have this extraordinary experience of a total eclipse in which we might see our smallness in comparison with the magnitude of the cosmos in which we live. It is a blessing, though, we live in a generation which isn’t intimidated and frightened by eclipses. Not too many centuries ago this type of event would have been accompanied by great fear and distress.

I thought it was wonderful how this day actually became a holiday of sorts in America. I know it might have made us look a bit ridiculous to other nations, but to celebrate the wonders of the heavens is not in itself a bad thing. It actually is a way in which can we point out the goodness, power, and glory of our Creator and Sustainer to one another.

Unfortunately, I heard some say this eclipse would be signaling God’s judgment on America because of the error of her ways. Why create fear in the minds and hearts of people over something which is meant to point us to the power and glory of our amazing God—something in which we can celebrate his majesty, glory, and power, and his ability to do all things, including saving the human race?

Now I agree—America and her people have some very serious errors going on right now. And the consequences of those errors are pretty profound. Many unwilling souls are experiencing loss, torment, suffering, and even death because of the errors of our ways. And I say our—we are all participants in these evils to some extent.

I believe what we are experiencing as a result of our ways of living is a significant judgment in and of itself. Living in a certain manner has unhealthy and unpleasant consequences—it’s just the truth about living life apart from the reality of our created and redeemed being as image-bearers of the Triune God. We create our own living “hells” when we seek our existence apart from our true humanity in Christ.

And apart from the unifying power and presence of the Spirit of love and grace, we find ourselves divided and at war with one another. Away from the Spirit of humility, service and compassion of the living Lord, we become insensitive and indifferent to the suffering and grief of those around us. When we focus merely on good and evil, we cease to focus on life—the true life which is found in real relationship, in knowing and being known intimately by the God who created both us and the amazing cosmos in which we exist.

God’s purpose isn’t to condemn us. In fact, Jesus himself said:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16-17 NIV)

God was most concerned with bringing us up into communion with himself in Christ, not with condemning or judging us. God in Christ saved us from evil and the evil one by becoming sin for us—taking on any judgment or condemnation we deserve upon himself.

God in Christ judged all of humanity worthy of eternal life—of grace and forgiveness—of spending eternity within the Father, Son, and Spirit relation. God determined not to be God without us.

However, we as human beings are really good at judging ourselves and judging one another. And we actually condemn ourselves as not worthy of God’s love and grace. We reject Jesus Christ, the One who stands in our place and on our behalf. We believe more in ourselves and our way of living—making our own choices, following our own agenda—than we do the One who created everything and who sustains it by the Word of his power. Here’s how Jesus put it:

“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” (John 3:18–21 NIV)

I don’t believe we as Christians need to go around condemning anyone. Yes, we can be discerning. We can tell the truth about what is being said and done which does not align with who we are as God’s children and his image-bearers in this world. We can work to bring about healing, change, and renewal so all people may live together in the unity we have in Christ.

But only God can change a person’s mind and heart, and bring them to faith. Only God can enable someone to believe the truth about who God is and who they are, and what Christ did, is doing, and will do to save them. Only God can change a person’s mind and heart in such a way their actions become different. Only God can truly heal relationships in such a way people live joyfully and at peace with one another.

And God always honors our right to choose—our freedom to say “no” to him and to reject him, and thus experience the consequences of living life in the shadows. Even though the Light has come, people do choose to turn away from the Light and live in the shadows. We can show them they need only to turn back to the Light into face-to-face relationship with the God who made them and redeemed them. But we must realize, God has granted each of us the freedom to say “no” to him.

In this way—by saying “no” to God—we pass judgment upon ourselves. God does not condemn us—we condemn ourselves as unworthy of the love and grace God has already poured out and made available to each and every human being who has ever existed. And this is what breaks my heart.

But thankfully, God is not willing that any person perish apart from his grace and mercy. And so he is patiently at work in each and every human’s life to bring them to faith—into trusting him rather than themselves for salvation—into finding their life in Jesus Christ rather than in the temporary things of this world which will one day be burned away and replaced by a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness (right relationship with God and humanity) dwells.

And I, as well as others, am able to participate with God in this ministry by sharing his life and love with each and every person I meet. This is my small way of participating, along with the amazing cosmos, in bearing witness to the glory of God.

Abba, Jesus, Holy Spirit, thank you for your amazing creation which testifies to your glory and power. You have done and will do awesome things as you work to redeem, restore, and renew all you have created from nothing. We trust you to finish your work, to bring to pass a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Grant, please, that we may participate fully with you in this new life you created for us in Christ and are creating for us and in us by your Holy Spirit. In your Name and by your power and for your glory. Amen.

“For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” 1 Peter 3:18 NIV

Making Room For All

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By Linda Rex

I was looking at some of the responses to the recent event in Charlottesville and was appalled at the numbers of people who hold to the belief of the superiority of the white race. I understand from personal experience how insidious these lies can be. But what concerns me most is they are drawn from a misreading of the Bible. They twist the Scriptures which when read with integrity and spiritual wisdom point us to the Christ who united all humanity with all its variety in his own Person.

Indeed, Jesus laid the foundation in his life, death, resurrection and ascension, and in the sending of his Spirit. But he also calls us to participate in this reality which he created in himself. We can live in the truth of who we are in him, or choose another path. Living in the truth of our humanity allows us to participate fully in the harmony and oneness of the Triune life, while choosing this other path creates what we see, hear, and experience today in these situations which involve violence, death and suffering.

In contrast to the living God, who is willing to lay himself down for another (and who did so), the evil one sets himself up as superior to others. He wants to elevate himself to a place where others must submit to him. He believes he is the one with the right understanding of how things really are, even though his logic is twisted and his motives are selfish and impure. Rather than assuming full responsibility for his shortcomings and misguided ways of living, he casts shadows onto others, making them at fault instead.

The error of this twisted thinking violates the oneness of the Trinity, where Father, Son, and Spirit live in a harmonious union in which each is unique, not the other, and yet is equal. As children made in this image, we as human beings were created to live in this same harmony as equals and yet as uniquely ourselves.

This oneness is not a forced sameness, but a celebration of what each brings to the table, making room for one another. The reality is there are certain things we cannot bring to the table if there is to be room for everyone. These are things such as hate, greed, lust, pride, selfishness, and indifference.

Making room for all means we need an attitude of unselfishness, of humility, of service, and of giving. It requires a willingness to submit to another’s way of doing things when we would rather use our own. Necessarily, there must be communication, encouragement, trust, and generosity—all things which are not the usual way most humans function. But these are the attributes of the God in whose image humans are made.

Unfortunately, our common way of creating harmony and oneness as humans is to create some form of sameness. We all must have the same clothes, the same behavior, or the same creed. We have to obey the same rules, and follow the same leader. We must be the same color or the same ideology. But sameness eliminates the distinctness God created in the human race.

It is unfortunate the universal church has broken into so many facets. But even broken glass when it reflects the sun creates a pretty pattern on the wall. The oneness of love and harmony between people of all different faiths teaches people about the love of God for us as demonstrated in the gift of God’s Son. It shows there is room for everyone at the table—we are all God’s children and called to be members of the Bride of Christ.

The variety within the universal church makes room for people with different needs, interests, and understandings of scripture. I have come to see that each person has a unique worship personality. Some of us connect best with God through the sacraments and through traditions. Others of us connect best with God and others through social service. Others of us find it is most meaningful to connect through the study of theology in a more intellectual way. God has made room for all in Christ to come into a meaningful relationship with him by his Spirit.

Those of us who follow Christ and who trust in him for salvation must never get to the place where we shut others out of their inclusion in God’s love. Even though many do not see, or if they see and they choose to resist their inclusion in Christ, we must never assume in any way they are excluded from the invitation to share in God’s life and love. There is room for each and every person at the table—there is a seat with their name on it waiting for them.

Nothing about any person is enough to exclude them from God’s invitation to life. The color of their skin, the way they comb their hair (if they have any), their age, and not even their past is sufficient to prevent them from God’s offer of grace and renewal in Jesus Christ. To divide up the human race into separate sections is to divide up Christ himself, and it must not be attempted.

Some may even be offended at the use of the name of Jesus Christ. To talk about everyone and God in the same breath is okay, but to mention Jesus Christ too is to become exclusive, they believe. But the whole point of the Christian faith is that all humanity, every race and ethnicity, has been swept up into Christ, and thereby reconciled with God. Jesus Christ is not a point of separation between us—which is commonly believed and criticized—but is the point of unity between us all. He is our oneness, our harmony with one another.

In Christ’s sending of his Spirit, he made it possible for us as humans to live together in ways we ordinarily cannot live. The Spirit changes hearts and minds, and enables us to find our commonalities instead of focusing on our differences. When the Spirit goes to work and we are receptive, what normally would produce discord and division all of a sudden becomes harmonious. I have seen this first-hand in meetings which I thought were headed toward a free-for-all and ended up being experiences of compassion, repentance, and renewal. We all walked away newly joined together in a deep understanding and acceptance of one another.

But the path toward this type of oneness is necessarily, as Jesus Christ demonstrated for us, through death and resurrection. We need to die to our ungodly beliefs and our unhealthy ways of living and being. This is repentance. We need to rise in Christ to our new life he purchased for us and begin to make room for one another. We need to surrender our prejudices, our hate, our evil, and embrace the grace and love which is ours, while sharing it with each and every person we meet. This is faith. We turn from ourselves and turn to Christ. He is our oneness with God and each other in the Spirit.

Abba, forgive us our hate, our prejudices, and all our failures to love. Forgive us for ever believing we were superior to another, or more important than them. Grant us the grace to humble ourselves and make room for others, allowing them to be the people you created them to be in Christ Jesus. Give us courage and faith to resist anything which is not the truth about who you meant for us to be—to recognize evil for what it is and to bravely condemn and resist it, through Jesus our Lord and by your Spirit. Amen.

“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:26–28 NASB

A Crisis of Faith

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by Linda Rex

Is it possible for a human to do what only God can do?

What a question! But what if a person does not believe there is a God and believes it’s all up to us as humans to save ourselves? What if we do have to rescue ourselves from this mess we’ve created and there is no help to be expected from any other place?

I suppose too, if a person did perhaps believe there was a God, but believed this God was indifferent or condemning, we would still be in a very difficult position. After all, it has been our choices as humans which have brought us to the place we are facing ecological disaster and economic, immigration, racial, cultural issues—you name it, we are facing it, and it’s due to our decision to do things the way we see fit.

But it is interesting how people have responded during this election season to the question of who should lead our country. It seems on the one hand many people were happy to give the candidates the benefit of the doubt, but at the same time their supporters are expecting them to solve all the issues which face the American people. But can any human being actually do that?

Others are adamant we are just getting what we deserve as Americans because of our decadence, hedonism and greed. So they are assuming God is executing his judgment on our nation because of our sinfulness. But is that really the way God works? What kind God would act like that?

I was reading an article this morning which explained all the changes the president-elect promised to make once he was elected. In the article, it explained how difficult it would be to do any of these things due to the checks and balances in our government, the entrenched bureaucracy and not to mention the immense baggage created by all the leaders before him. No matter which person would have been elected, he or she would have faced this same problem, and would have struggled to bring about lasting change.

The thing is, all any human leader can hope to do is to temporarily alter the physical circumstances of the people in the nation he or she is leading. Bringing about real change requires so much more than just electing a human being to an office in a human government. Giving someone the position, and I suppose even the power, to lead and govern others does not guarantee all of the problems people are facing will be solved.

What is missing from this whole discussion, I believe, is some true introspection about the human heart and mind. Caught in our own humanity, we are blind to the spiritual realities. The best way to bring about change in a nation like ours is to begin with an internal change within ourselves. We need to come to the place in which we realize we are powerless to change and heal what needs to be changed and healed. We need to acknowledge the reality we are broken humans who cannot properly and effectively govern ourselves, much less others.

As long as we seek to be self-sustaining and self-governing, we end up in the same place. Our best efforts to govern ourselves and to discipline our human flesh keep bringing us to the place we are dependent or co-dependent when we seek to be independent. This is because we are missing the point of the whole process which is to live interdependently with God and each other in a relationship of love and grace. We need to understand we are only who we are because there is One Who is above and beyond us and Who has included us in his life and love.

It’s not about creating more rules or getting a bigger police group to enforce those rules. It’s not about punishing people whose race, religion, culture, life choices and life styles differ from our assumptions of what is good and what is evil. It’s about an internal transformation which happened over 2000 years ago in spite of us—a heart transplant given to every human being. Will we live in the truth of that new heart which was given us—the true spiritual reality of our identity as children who are persons in the divine Persons?

The real question is how can we? And that is a really good question—because we cannot. We need to realize we are the humans here, not the God. We need our Messiah to come even now. We need rescued. We need saved. But how? If Jesus isn’t going to return tomorrow, how are we able to go forward into an uncertain and maybe even dangerous future?

See, the thing is, we live as though we and God are separate. We think and act as though Jesus is off somewhere and we need him to come here to fix things. But that is not the case. It is my personal testimony, and the testimony of many others, that God is present here and now in you and in me, in us and among us by his Holy Spirit. He is at work in every situation, and acutely aware of every fear, every bit of guilt and shame which plagues us. Jesus is present, real and near to us—speaking to us his words of hope, encouragement and guidance to our hearts and minds.

We see people interceding for the oppressed and the needy, providing for the hungry, and healing the sick—God is at work in this world. He doesn’t always work the way we think he should work—after all, his perspective is eternal not temporal. But he is busy tending the garden, pulling weeds, tying up vines and trimming off branches, and is working in and through human beings in the process.

Yes, there is a lot more work to be done—so let’s get in the dance and start dancing! As we respond in faith to God’s Word to us in Christ and the inner promptings of the Spirit, we will find our world and ourselves being healed and transformed. We will begin to have a vision of life beyond this life, being able to accept the reality this world is passing away and our true life is waiting for us beyond the grave.

It is our response to the leadership of the Spirit which is the issue here rather than our need to find the perfect president for our country. Are we willing to trust God to do what we as humans cannot and have not done to heal our land and to heal us as human beings? Perhaps we cannot—but that’s okay. Because it is not our faith which saves us, it is the faith of the Faithful One Who did save us, Who is working to save us right now, and Who will save us in the future. He will finish what he has begun in us—growing us up into the fullness of our Christlikeness, the image of God we were created to reflect, as we respond to him with humility and love in gratitude.

Lord, we acknowledge we cannot save ourselves, we cannot keep ourselves safe, we cannot govern ourselves as we ought. We hurt and disrespect, abuse and misuse, ourselves, our earth and each other. Forgive us, Lord, and grant we may live according to the truth of our being and begin to reflect your image as we ought, through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.

“Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul! I will praise the Lord while I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being. Do not trust in princes, in mortal man, in whom there is no salvation. His spirit departs, he returns to the earth; in that very day his thoughts perish. How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, Who made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them; Who keeps faith forever; Who executes justice for the oppressed; Who gives food to the hungry. the Lord sets the prisoners free. The Lord opens the eyes of the blind; the Lord raises up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous; the Lord protects the strangers; He supports the fatherless and the widow, but He thwarts the way of the wicked. The Lord will reign forever, Your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the Lord!” Ps 146:1–10 NASB

Battling it Out

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By Linda Rex

One of the stories I remember from my early years was when I was just not getting along with my older brother. It seems somehow he always got the best of me in everything and I was always having to prove myself as an equal to him.

Being run off the Risk game in a few moves—well, I guess I could just find something else to do while my two brothers fought it out between themselves. Being bought off the board in Monopoly—well, it’s hard to take, but it’s just a part of the game. Being creamed in chess in just five moves—it’s humiliating, but I bore up under it—I knew the men in my family were really smart—I just wasn’t savvy in the same way they were.

But after a while it seemed like they could do everything better than me—play football, baseball, play cards. You name it. I could keep up with them pretty well, but for a while, there was this kind of competition between my older brother and me. In my heart, I wished there was just one thing I could get the best of him in.

One day we were barricaded behind couch pillows and were battling it out with rubber bands. I’m pretty sure he started it. I retaliated only in self-preservation. At least that’s how I remember it.

I seemed to always end up on the worst end of such battles, but this particular day, I had a secret weapon—I had found a very large, very nice rubber band. So I loaded up and let it fly, hoping it would hit its mark. It was a lucky shot, but I hit him in the soft part of his arm near his elbow—it smarted and even drew a little blood.

The satisfaction I felt at finally getting him back for all his harassment was dimmed only slightly and momentarily by the wrath of my mother when she found out what had happened. Rubber band fights were henceforth banned (again), and we both got in trouble for having had one.

I may have felt a secret glee for a few moments but ultimately I felt sorry for having hurt him, and decided I wouldn’t do it again. It was never my intent to hurt him. I just wanted to gain his respect and to get him to quit persecuting me. Quite honestly, I lost all interest in rubber band fights after that experience.

Looking back, I recall there was a time when I just could not get along with my older brother, and there was also a time when I just could not get along with my younger brother. I’m not sure why now, but it was just the way it was. We had to work out our differences between us—our parents could not resolve them for us, other than threatening us with dire consequences if we didn’t get along.

In later years when my children were about the same age, I began to understand a little better my mother’s perspective on the constant squabbles between me and my brothers. There was a time when my two children just could not get along, no matter how many discussions we had about how they were not to squabble and fight. It seems like learning to get along with one another comes with the territory of siblinghood.

What I didn’t know then, but I realize now, is the way we live with one another is meant to reflect the inner life of God as Father, Son and Spirit. There is a mutual indwelling, a oneness in diversity and equality, which we are to mirror in our relationships with one another. Fighting it out with rubber bands is obviously not the best reflection of the inner love and life of the One we are to mirror.

Some of the lessons I’ve learned over the years can actually be understood more clearly with this image in mind. For example, I learned that unity is not the same as uniformity. It is entirely possible for people to be quite different from each other and to still get along. The Father is not the Son and is not the Spirit, and the Son is not the Father or the Spirit—and I’m so glad they are not exactly the same but still are One in Being.

Just because someone in your family likes to place chess and is really good at it does not mean everyone else in the family has to like chess and play chess too. They can be quite good at watching you play chess and reading a book, and they can be getting along with you just fine while they do it. We are each unique—I am not you and you are not me, and that’s okay. It’s a hard lesson to learn. Sadly, I think there are nations and national leaders who haven’t quite figured this one out yet.

One of the other things I’ve learned about getting along with my siblings is to stop seeing people in over/under ways. What I mean is, we tend to put people either above us or below us, rather than seeing them as another one of us. We look at the well-dressed lady in the next aisle and think, “She’s really blessed—she must have a really easy life,” not realizing she is on her way to the hospital to visit her husband who is dying of cancer, and is barely holding everything together.

I don’t know how many times I’ve stood in line with a fellow who is in grungy clothes, has dirty spots on his face and arms, and thought inappropriate thoughts to myself. Over the years, I’ve learned that such men are often the most hardworking, good-hearted men I know—the farmers, mechanics, contractors, and plumbers—people who make and keep our homes and belongings running well. My unworthy thoughts were putting them down below me, rather than elevating them to a place of equality and respect. They are a reflection of the equality in the Trinity—they each have a place of love and service in God’s family.

I know the pain of watching my children squabble when they could not and would not get along with one another. No doubt this pain is a participation in the pain God feels when we refuse to and cannot get along with one another, whether as people in a family, church or organization, or as nations and races and cultures.

God has provided a way in his Son Jesus by his Spirit for each of us to live together in unity while making room for each other’s uniqueness and acknowledging each other’s value and worth. There is no reason for us to be taking pot shots at one another, discriminating against one another or demeaning each other in any way. We need to work out our differences, yes, but it’s a whole lot more pleasant to do it around the table with milk and cookies, than in trenches with grenades and artillery. And there’s a whole lot less regret and pain when we’re done.

May God by his precious Spirit teach all of us how to live with one another in the way he created us to. May his Son live in us, and come to be for us the Center in which we all gather together and live as One.

Abba, forgive us for our human proclivity to fuss and fight and to refuse to get along. Grant us the grace to forgive and to be reconciled with you and one another, as you have reconciled us all with you and one another in your Son Jesus Christ. Make us all of one heart and mind, through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.

“On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” John 14:20 NIV

“This is my command: Love each other.” John 15:17 NIV

Lost in the Shuffle

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by Linda Rex

Yesterday morning I had the privilege of shaking hands with and meeting several clergy from the Nashville area. We were gathered together to hear about NOAH’s (Nashville Organized for Action and Hope) efforts to bring change to the community. I did not know the history of this organization, and enjoyed hearing how spiritual leaders from this community saw several significant needs and joined together to create a group who could together begin to address these needs and bring them before the local government in such a way change could happen.

Over the past few years, this group has grown to include people from unions, churches, and other non-profit organizations. NOAH was significantly involved during the last mayoral election in challenging candidates to consider, specifically, three important issues: affordable housing and gentrification; criminal justice and mass incarceration; and economic equity and jobs. NOAH was able to mobilize a large amount of people to attend critical meetings where these candidates were asked the difficult questions and required to make commitments to the community about changing and improving conditions for local citizens.

Presently NOAH members have been working to remind the mayor and her staff to fulfill the promises made during her campaign. They provide the local government officials with a type of accountability to the people they serve. This can be a good thing, because once a person is in office, they can tend to forget the needs and wishes of the people who put them there.

I am grateful for the people God has connected me with here in Nashville who are actively involved in trying to bring about better living conditions for those who are marginalized or needy. It is sad that many of these topics even need to be discussed. But that is the reality of our broken humanity.

One of the speakers at this meeting told us we all have a call by God upon us to “do justly.” It seems we as spiritual leaders of many faiths are often focused on grace and love, and offering mercy to people. But I don’t believe we often apply that grace, love and mercy in terms of actively “doing justice” in our neighborhood, community and world.

Doing justice means dealing with uncomfortable issues head on instead of brushing them under the carpet or ignoring them. It means coming face to face with the need for change, and the need to deal with evil in its many forms. This takes courage, faith and the heart to deal with difficult situations and people. And this is not easy to do.

For some people, social justice is the most significant expression of their relationship with Jesus Christ. Personally, social justice is not for me the most meaningful experience of worship or expression of my spiritual relationship with Christ, but I do believe it still needs to be a part of how I express my faith in and love for Christ and others. As the apostle James said, how can I say I have faith and not be willing to offer physical help to the needy? (James 2:14-17)

It’s been instructive for me to go through the process of trying to find a home near the church in Nashville so I can minister not just to my church members, but also to our church community. I did not succeed in finding anything I could afford right in the church neighborhood, although I did find one nearby. The main reason I could not move next to where we meet as a congregation was because of the lack of affordable housing.

One of the ladies at the meeting this morning helped to explain some of the reasons for my not being able to find something affordable in the neighborhood. What is happening is people who are on the lower end of the income spectrum are being displaced, their homes replaced with more expensive dwellings, and then they are not being given any type of replacement home they can afford.

Some of those being lost in the shuffle are those with physical or mental disabilities. They are on a fixed income and often find themselves on the street because they lose their housing. What I heard this morning was that there are about 20,000 people, including families, who need housing immediately—these are people who earn between $0-15,000/year. Developers are happy to build affordable housing, but not for this group of people. They will build them for the workforce, who earn $15,000 and up. So these people remain homeless or without sufficient housing.

And it is also significant that the employment rate is high, and yet there are still large portions of the population who live below the poverty level. One of the reasons is that employers are learning it is cheaper to replace one full-time person with two part-time people who do not qualify for any kind of benefits. I have experienced this reality—living without benefits often becomes a necessity when one loses their full-time position with an organization—it just comes with the territory. But it also puts you at great risk.

It is also very difficult and expensive, not to mention exhausting, to try and maintain two or three jobs just so you can pay the rent and utilities and feed your family. But this is what people are having to do now—not just in the Nashville area, but all over. Whatever people may say, greed and expedience are very often the driving force in many businesses today—whether secular or Christian organizations—not care for our fellowman or woman.

I am grateful I was reminded again of the need for us as human beings to care for the marginalized and those in need and to take time away from our own personal concerns to care for those who have significantly less than we do. We need to consider those who are being taken advantage of, who are considered the lost and the least of these—for this is what Jesus did and what he calls us to do today. May we indeed, “do justly” more and more as time goes by.

Abba, I pray for those who are being lost in the shuffle, who are being ignored, stepped upon and mistreated. May we be more mindful of those without so that we can and will share with them all you have given us. Give us the heart of your Son for the lost and least, and his will to do justice in the midst of the greed and injustice of this broken culture. Through Jesus and by your Spirit we pray. Amen.

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8 NASB