service

When Running Gets Tough

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by Linda Rex

I was deeply grieved and concerned by the events that transpired at the Boston Marathon yesterday. No doubt the marathon runners had spent months and even years training, preparing to run in the event. Those who came out to watch had loved ones who were running in the race. Each of these people who were at this event, whether participating or watching, had a story—what brought them there and what they hoped to have happen at the event.

Then the unforeseen occurred. Someone, somewhere, sought only to wreak havoc on other people’s lives. They sought to harm, not to heal or to help. And they had no conscience about who they hurt, for even those who were there to tend to the wounded were harmed.

In the aftermath of such carnage, it is easy to give trite responses. I hope that I will not do that today. But I do want to call the people of America back to their heritage of resilience in the midst of struggle and suffering.

Throughout the decades of our existence as a nation, we have faced many struggles and tragedies. Native peoples and settlers alike fought to survive. Many endured the tragic loss of dear ones through war. The troughs of depression and recession have had their victims as well. Other devastating events like 9/11 have left their mark.

But there is a deep inner strength that, in years past, our people called upon to carry them through these times. Some gave in to their fear and some yielded to the call of traitors and easy money. But there have been others, many others, who looked upward and inside and found a deep faith to carry them through the hard times. This faith gave them the courage to stand against evil and its ravages. This faith gave them strength and endurance as they ran the difficult marathon of life.

In American society today where everything except perhaps our relationships comes easily for most of us, there are not as many occasions available for us to learn the skill of resilience. Many people may complain about their bills or about making ends meet, but most of them have food to eat and a place to live and a way to earn their living, as well as money for the pleasant things of life.

If people cannot make ends meet and end up on the street, there are programs and people who will feed them and may even give them a place to stay the night. There are food banks, shelters, mission houses and soup kitchens galore. This shows the compassion of our people and the love God places in our hearts to care for one another.

But what if you are the one who finds out you are going to be evicted and you know you have no place to go? What if you are the one was laid off unexpectedly and now you don’t have any money even to pay for the groceries? What if you are the one who is facing the consequences of years of mismanaging your money and overspending? What if you are the one facing an unexpected, tragic loss like those experienced yesterday in Boston?

We come to these crossroads in life, these forks where we must make difficult choices. We can give up, give in, or we can do the hard, grueling work of training like the marathon runners preparing for a race. We can bewail our loss and lose our heart for living and running the race when tragedy strikes us, or we can reach upward and inward and draw upon the deep spiritual resources of our faith in God and persevere. These are opportunities to grow in resilience, in endurance and patience, if we are willing to see them in that light.

Undergoing the loss of a loved one, the loss of a limb, the loss of home, family or occupation is not for sissies. It is tough. We need each other and we need to remember we are deeply loved by Someone who is much greater than ourselves and our circumstances. It is the crisis of faith, the final leg of the race, where we need the inner strength to push ourselves to our limits and beyond if necessary. And we are never alone as we do this, if we are willing to allow others in. May God continue to carry you through your tragedies and struggles this day, and may we offer one another the encouragement and support as it is needed.

Loving Heavenly Father, your heart is broken by the many ways in which we harm and hurt one another, and by the pain and suffering that comes from it. No doubt, Jesus, your heart goes out to those grieving and suffering in Boston, as well as elsewhere throughout the world where tragedy has occurred. Lord God, may your divine Spirit pour out upon each of us your comfort, peace and love. Give us strength of heart, courage and faith to endure the struggles and grow in endurance and resilience. Let your compassion, healing and help be evident as we care for one another in difficult times. Thank you for your faithful love in Jesus. Amen.

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Heb 12:1–3 (NASB)

When In the Now of Suffering

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by Linda Rex

In my last blog, “Beyond the Now of Suffering” I talked about how to rejoice when you feel your world is crumbling or has been profoundly shattered. It is only in Christ that we may have any joy at all under such circumstances and it is a joy that looks in hope towards the future. But, as I stressed, in the midst of our heartache we are never alone in our grief and suffering—God in Christ by the Spirit is present in the midst of it, weeping and aching with us.

God does not want us to deny or ignore or try to fantasize away our suffering. God does not ask us to pretend tragedy did not happen or that loss will not or did not occur. Nor does he ask us to have a “stiff upper lip” and just brave it out, pretending that everything is okay. Living in denial, emotional numbness or in a sense of false spirituality is not healthy, nor is it godly.

There are many examples from the human life of Jesus that express his compassion and willingness to share in another person’s grief and suffering. He did not deny the real grief of Mary and Martha when their brother Lazarus died. In fact, he wept with them. Yes, he pointed them beyond his death to the hope of the resurrection, but he also shared in their grief and did not minimize it in any way. This is the heart of compassion and understanding that God has given us in Christ.

I am reminded of the story of when Jesus was traveling to the city of Nain. He met a funeral procession on his way. The mourners were weeping over the death of the only son of a widow. In that culture, this was a real tragedy because, not only did she lose someone very dear to her, but now she would be forced to find some way to provide for herself whether through begging or some worse occupation. She was really at a place where there was no hope or future for her. The text says that when Jesus saw her, his heart went out to her. He was filled with compassion.

Jesus does the same for each of us today. Just as Jesus faces our suffering today with a heart of compassion, he comes alongside us as well to ease our burdens and to find a way to help us through our tragedies and difficulties to a new place. He may, in our case, not raise the dead as he did in hers, but he will bring our dead and dying circumstances and situations in time to a place of new life. Meanwhile he ministers to us in many ways.

Jesus ministers to us through the person and presence of the Holy Spirit. When we turn to Christ in our struggles and suffering, we are blessed with the real comfort and peace that comes through the ministering presence of God through the Spirit. I have had widows tell me how they have experienced the nearness of God in a profound way after the death of their spouse. They have been comforted and encouraged in a real way through his ministry and grace. This is something we can ask God to do for those we know who are suffering or going through a time of darkness.

Jesus also ministers to us through his body, the universal church of God. We are surrounded by people of faith, whether from our church or not, who offer us consolation, encouragement, support and real, human assistance. The people of God are the physical “hands and feet” of Jesus for us in the midst of our tragedy and struggle. It is important for us as believers to be sensitive to the needs of those in the midst of crisis and not to belittle or minimize or spiritualize away their suffering. God meant for us instead to express Jesus’ heart of compassion and comfort toward them in the midst of it. God meant for us to be “place-sharers” in their lives—to be present with them as they go through it—not trying to fix it or them, but just being for them the real presence of God in the Spirit in that moment.

Finally, Jesus ministers to us through his Word, whether through the Scriptures, the spoken word and through “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” Many a person has been revived at a point of crisis through hearing a song on the radio, receiving a card in the mail, being given a note of encouragement, or by listening to an inspired message. These are all real tangible gifts we can extend to others in their time of need or assist others in being able to receive.

God finds ways to bring us real help and strength in the midst of our human existence which includes suffering, struggle and difficulty. He does not leave us to muddle through somehow on our own. Nor should we expect others to do so either. If we have any heart of compassion at all, we should be finding ways to ease the suffering of others, not adding to it by our insensitivity or by ignoring it or minimizing it. For as members of the body of Christ, we do not suffer alone; when one person suffers, we all suffer.

Holy God, thank you for the wonder of your great compassion and tenderness for us in the midst of suffering and tragedy. We praise you that nothing in our lives escapes your notice. Thank you for the real ministry of your Holy Spirit, of the body of Christ and of the Word of God when we are in need. Remind us now of ways in which we might bless the lives of others who are suffering this week in a real way. Encourage and strengthen each of us who are in the midst of tragedy and loss right now in a real way so that we might bear these things we are facing that are difficult and painful to bear. We are grateful that we never have to walk through these things alone—you are always with us. Triune God—Father, Son and Spirit, we need you now, more than ever—please send your comfort, your peace and your grace, through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

“But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.” — 1 Corinthians 12:24b-27

Beyond the Now of Suffering

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by Linda Rex

I sat with a friend one day as she told me the sad story of her husband’s tragic accident. He lingered for several agonizing days and then passed on. It was heartbreaking. I was sorry to lose his friendship as well as to watch her grieve the loss of her dearest friend. In the midst of this horrific event, how could we rejoice?

The only joy we can find in such times is in our knowledge that we may look forward to spending eternity with this dear one because of what Jesus Christ did for us. We look forward to a wonderful future spent in the presence of the Triune God, enveloped in and included in the triune life and love of Father, Son and Spirit. Next to this eternity of joy, peace, and heartwarming meaningful occupation in God’s presence, our time of struggle becomes extremely brief and almost insignificant. It’s all a matter of perspective.

This is why Paul repeatedly calls us to keep our minds and hearts on heavenly things rather than on earthly things. It is our focus on the heavenly things that gives our struggles and trials meaning.

It is a given that we will struggle in this life and may even have to suffer extreme trials. It is a given that at some point we will have to experience grief and sorrow. It is the nature of the human condition.

But our human condition is the reason why Christ came. God saw us in our pain and suffering, and in the person of the Word, he came and joined us. He became human in the person of Jesus Christ, living like us, grieving with us and dying our death for us. The answer to human suffering is found in God’s choice, made in his divine freedom, to take on and transform human flesh by living as a human being, dying, rising and ascending to heaven, taking our transformed humanity with him into the love and life of himself.

God, who is love, revealed himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ. God taught us, in Jesus Christ, that true love is forgiving, self-offering, and self-sacrificing, humble and serving in nature. Jesus, in rising from the grave, transformed our humanity, making us new in him and drawing us into the very presence of the triune God for all eternity. There is no suffering, grief or sorrow we experience in this life he will not share in. He feels it keenly himself.

So in the transient suffering of this life we are not alone. We can rejoice that Jesus Christ shares in it with us and that by his Spirit he strengthens us and carries us through these dark times. And in the end the whole purpose of all that we have suffered and gone through will be revealed in him when we are transformed into his likeness as glorified human beings and spend eternity in joyful unity with the triune God, sharing in his love and life forever.

Dear God, thank you that we are not alone in our suffering and trials. Thank you for being with us, in us and for us through them all in Christ by your Spirit. Thank you for giving us an eternal, living hope to carry us beyond them to a glorious future with you. Grant us the grace to endure and to be transformed by your gracious efforts in our trials and suffering into your glorious and radiant sons and daughters who will love and serve you faithfully forever. We pray in your name, Father, Son and Spirit. Amen.

“In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials,…” 1 Peter 1:6 (NASB)

A Faded Inheritance

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by Linda Rex

Have you ever experienced the transience of an inheritance? I spoke one time to a lady who had worked all her life to save up a pension and to set aside money for her retirement. All of that money was slated to be given to her children upon her death. It was to be a substantial inheritance for them.

However, due to an unexpected and unfortunate set of circumstances, the lady ended up needing long-term care. As she was receiving her care, she ended up in the hospital for an extended length of time. Within six months, every penny of her children’s inheritance was gone and she was left living on Social Security. She could not believe that all those years of doing without to save those funds ended with nothing to show for it. She was devastated.

But this is the nature of human inheritances. They are transient and easily fade away. A simple fluctuation in the economy can eliminate thousands of dollars in value. To many people, it is a tragedy beyond belief. Or is it?

In reality the greater tragedy is to place one’s dependency there rather than on an eternal inheritance that cannot fade away. God has an inheritance waiting for you and me—a living hope—who is Jesus Christ, our living Savior who rose from the dead in triumph over self, sin and Satan, and death. This inheritance cannot be stolen or spoiled.

We need to invest daily in our eternal inheritance by growing in our relationship with God in Christ through the Holy Spirit. For this is eternal life, to know God and to be known by him. Our daily walk with Jesus, our care and concern for one another shown by good deeds are ways of investing in our eternal inheritance. We cannot earn this inheritance because it is a gift in Christ from God to his children. But we can invest in it.

Jesus said not to worry so much about the physical but to invest in the eternal instead. Our inheritance will never fade because it is secure in Christ as we trust in him. One day we will share eternal glory with all our brothers and sisters in Christ forever. For this we give God thanks and praise each moment of our lives.

Lord, thank you for the many blessings you give us in this life. Help us, though, to set our hearts and minds on what is eternal and will last forever rather than on things that are transient and can fade away. Help us to make choices with eternity in mind—to do good and share with others, and to invest in our relationships with you and with others. Thank you for this living hope and inheritance that will not fade away which you have freely given us in Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” –1 Peter 1:1-3

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.