By Linda Rex
LENT—As I walked through the grocery store the other day, I was struck by the amount of choices placed before me of things to drink. Moving through a large open section filled with a wide variety of bottles of wine, I came to an aisle filled with beers, ales, and other cold alcoholic drinks. Beyond that was an even larger aisle filled with flavored and unflavored bottled water. And after that was an aisle filled with cans and bottles of all different kinds of soda pop.
The irony I felt was that God has given us fresh water to drink, but if I were to go anywhere in this country, hold a cup under a flowing fountain of running water, I probably would not be able to drink it. I would have to boil it first, maybe even filter it before I could safely drink it. The risk of illness would limit my ability to enjoy what God originally provided for my health and refreshment.
We live in a “dry and weary land where there is no water” not because there is no clean natural running water, but because we are parched for the living water of God’s real presence and power. Even within our churches today we find ourselves longing for a fresh outpouring of the Spirit’s renewal, yearning to see God at work in our lives, our families, and in our world. We live in a world where the Spirit’s presence is easily ignored and where our appetite for the things of God may be conveniently filled with anything our human flesh might crave.
God has given us so many things in this world to enjoy. They are meant to give us pleasure and to brighten our existence, and to show us the love and grace of our Creator and Redeemer. Yet they can so easily become the focus of our attention instead of turning us to the One who has given them to us for our joy and renewal. Rather than being a blessing to us they can enslave us or distract us from our unity with God through Jesus in the Spirit.
During Lent we may set aside some item, food, or habit in a worshipful offering to God as a means of fasting. This spiritual discipline is not meant to change God’s mind about us, but rather to open us up to the work of the Spirit in a new way. Setting something aside for a time reminds us of our dependency upon God and all he has done for us in giving his Son and his Spirit. We are reminded that our real sustenance is not in ourselves but in Jesus Christ—he is our life, and his lovingkindness is better than life (Ps. 63:3).
It is so easy for us to replace a deep abiding relationship with God with an abundance of cheap substitutes. We wander about from day to day constantly bombarded with temptations and distractions. It is so easy to find ourselves drinking from the well of our flesh rather than the free-flowing crystal waters of the Spirit. Our pause during Lent to attend to the things of the Spirit draws us away from this and turns us back toward our Savior and Lord.
When we feel we are far from Christ, God does not want us to wallow in guilt and shame. This is not his purpose. What he wants us to see is that even though we may believe we are totally lost, Jesus has already come to us, found us and brought us home to the Father. In reality, if we were to turn around and start moving in God’s direction, we would find Abba already running down the road to meet us, longing to embrace us and welcome us home.
God’s thoughts are so far above ours when it comes to the things of love and grace. God doesn’t hold anything against us, but freely and generously forgives us, even before we ever get around to saying we’re sorry. Admitting our guilt and saying we’re sorry merely affirms the reality that God needed to forgive us and so he did. God’s purpose is not to get us to feel bad and to try to do better—it is to bring us back into right relationship with himself so once again we can live in in joyful fellowship and unity with God and one another.
During Lent, our fasting can be a means by which we can attend to our thirst or need for God. A lot of times we don’t realize what’s really going inside of us because we are so distracted by our human, secular existence. Because we are so busy or caught up with the details of everyday life, we may not even realize we have turned away from our Abba and started down the road to destruction.
Our life at work, and in our family, school, and community are full of great relationships and experiences. There are challenges which stretch us and grow us into stronger, healthier people. There are circumstances and relationships which crush us and break us, causing us to wonder how we will ever be able to move on. Our human, secular existence isn’t evil in and of itself. But there is often evil at work in the things of this world and our human flesh has a proclivity apart from God’s work in us to succumb to the pulls of sinful thoughts and desires.
The only way we rise above the downward pull of our broken humanity is to drink in deeply of the free-flowing Spirit. We allow the recognition of our need for God to turn us toward him, not away from him in guilt and shame. Acknowledging our thirst, even hunger for God is an initial step toward healing and renewal. Seeking God in earnest means crying out for his redemptive power and presence, the living Christ, to finish what he has begun in us by the Holy Spirit.
Seeing how far we have fallen is not meant to create in us a determination to try harder. Yes, we want to leave behind old, broken ways of being and doing. But this realization of our need to change is in reality a thirst for the things of God which can only be filled by drinking in of the Spirit of love and grace given to us through Jesus. It is the Spirit who transforms our hearts by faith. He is the One who empowers us to live and walk in truth by the faith of the Son of God.
The spiritual disciplines we practice open us wide to the Spirit, allowing him to penetrate new parts of our being and relationships with his presence and power. Spiritual disciplines have been practiced by Christians for millennia and include such things as prayer, meditation, study of God’s word, celebration, praise and worship, service, truth-telling, humility, simplicity, contemplation, and fasting.
By creating spaces in our everyday lives to open ourselves up to the Spirit and grow in our relationship with Jesus through the practice of spiritual disciplines, we are able to drink in deeply of the living waters of God’s love and grace. We will find ourselves empowered to live in ways which are more compassionate, loving, and in tune with the heavenly realities. We will experience a nearness with Jesus and Abba by the Spirit which will be life-transforming. This drinking in of the life-giving Spirit will quench our thirsty souls in a way nothing else can.
Dear God, you are so gracious and kind! Turn our hearts once again back to you, Lord. Enable us to see our true hunger and thirst are for you and your ways. Thank you, Abba, that you did not leave us in our broken and thirsty flesh, but you sent Jesus heal us, to bring us home to you, and you gave us your Spirit to refresh and renew us. Cause our beings to resonate with your being, Lord. We are so grateful you do not leave us as we are but ever work to make us new through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.
“Seek the LORD while He may be found; / Call upon Him while He is near. / Let the wicked forsake his way / And the unrighteous man his thoughts; / And let him return to the LORD, / And He will have compassion on him, / And to our God, / For He will abundantly pardon. / For My thoughts are not your thoughts, / Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. / For as the heavens are higher than the earth, / So are My ways higher than your ways / And My thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:6-8 NASB
“O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; / My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, In a dry and weary land where there is no water.” Psalm 63:1 NASB
By Linda Rex
The other day I was listening to a presentation in which William Paul Young spoke about the story of his life and the events which led to his writing the best-selling book “The Shack”. This book has been quite controversial, especially since his approach to the presentation of the nature of the Trinity in the book is quite out of the box. Some Christian believers have been and are quite critical of the book and the author, while many millions of people of all walks of life and belief systems have found healing in their souls and in their relationship with God through Young’s writing.
In his presentation, William Paul Young talks about the horrors he experienced as a missionary child and how they created an inner world of shame that nearly destroyed him. In fact, at a critical moment in his life when he could no longer bear the truth of who he believed he was, a friend spoke into his shattered, broken being some simple words which gave him a reason to live. When all he could see was the abyss of his black, dark soul, she pointed him to the divine reality that in the midst of this darkness and death, was a tiny seed. A tiny seed—that was enough to give him hope.
I believe this was what Jesus was talking about when he told his disciples that he would soon be glorified. But his disciples could not grasp the truth that the path to glory was through death and resurrection. Over and over Jesus sought to explain how the kingdom of God would be inaugurated in this new way. At one point Jesus used the example of a grain of wheat which falls into the ground and dies, and through its dying ends up bearing a large amount of fruit.
When a person is sitting in the midst of a soul full of shame and guilt, and no matter where they turn they can see no hope, it is essential that they see the truth about who God is and who they are in him.
Unfortunately, the God many Christians believe in is a God of wrath, who is so holy that he cannot look upon evil, much less be touched by it. This leaves broken people in a very dark place. If God is the only One who can rescue broken people out of their darkness, shame and guilt, and yet he will not sully himself with sin, death or evil, then broken people have no hope.
This view of legal holiness is choking the life out of the Christian church today. And, sadly, it ignores the truth the early believers came to see and hammered out about the God who is Father, Son and Spirit and who is love.
The hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” talks about the broken and sinful nation of Israel pining away in the darkness, waiting for the light of the Messiah to dawn upon them. It is the cry of the ages—we are caught within a web of death created by our sinfulness and brokenness, and the evil one who seeks our demise. Where can we turn, if there is no God who will love us and rescue us?
But God, the God of the Bible, is concerned about a whole lot more than our holiness. He does not stand aloof from our brokenness and darkness. The Scripture says that even before the foundations of the world were set into place, this God who is love, knew and prepared for each one of us. He intended all along that you and I, every one of us, were to share eternity with him. He intended, even before any of us were created, to bind each one of us to himself in the incarnation.
The entrance of the God of the cosmos into our humanity changed the whole sweep of human existence. God in human flesh. This means that forever our humanity is joined with his divinity. There is life in the midst of death. There is healing in the midst of brokenness and darkness.
The simple statement of truth in scripture—Jesus became sin for us—is transformational. God is not too holy to be sullied by sin, death or evil! He took it on, and overcame it, transformed and healed it. He cleansed us and made us new—through Jesus Christ, through pouring into our humanity his glorious divine life.
Yes, of course! If anyone wants to participate in the kingdom of God, he or she must be born again—have new life (John 3). This is what Jesus did for all of humanity through his life, death and resurrection. We share in his life, death and resurrection and are made new. We are transformed because we receive God’s very life in our human flesh. Participating in the eucharist, in eating the bread and drinking the wine, reminds us of the beauty of this gift of God’s of life in Christ poured out into our human flesh.
Jesus’ death and resurrection are not the end of the gospel. There is so much more to the story! Because with Jesus, each of us died and rose again and were carried with Christ into the presence of the Father. Jesus bears our humanity even now in the presence of the Father. (Eph. 1)
This means that when we are sitting in the midst of our shame and guilt, in the darkness and brokenness of our human existence—no matter how dark or lost we may feel and be—we are not left hopeless. There is hope for you and for me! In the midst of all that death we experience and feel, there is a seed. There is life.
Death and resurrection—that is the path to glory. Jesus took it and invites each of us to travel it with him. He will not leave us in our darkness, but holds us by the hand and leads us to the Father. When he is done with us, we will see that in the midst of our darkness, the Father was with us the whole time, holding us and helping us, carrying us through.
Jesus’ words of loss on the cross, where he cried out for his Father and expressed his grief at not sensing his Father’s presence were taken from Psalm 22. In that psalm we see that our human experience of separation from God because of our brokenness is a lie—that no matter how bad things get—God never leaves us.
Jesus, as the incarnate Word, had through all eternity, never been separated from his Father or the Spirit. God, who is a Oneness of unity, equality and diversity was threatened with separation, but nothing could ever separate the triune Oneness—not even death on a cross. Jesus, as a human being may have experienced this silence, but it was a lie—God cannot be separated from himself—he is not a schizophrenic God.
The evil one struck at the very heart of the triune Oneness when he inspired the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. But he could not separate God from himself. Jesus may have died in his humanity, but he entrusted his Spirit to the Father. He trusted God would raise him from the dead. He knew and trusted the Father’s heart, and so he rested in that deep knowing when he died.
In the midst of our darkness, however black it may be, there is always a glimmer of light. In our human death—whatever form it may take—there is a seed, a seed that will bear much fruit. Trust the Father’s heart, that it is good and it is love. God so loved—you and me, in the midst of our darkness, shame, guilt and sin—that he gave us himself. He planted a seed of glory in you and in me. He holds this pulsing, glowing promise of life in his hands, tenderly working until we all shine in glorious splendor like his Son. Trust him to finish what he has begun. Because he will.
Father, thank you for giving us the gift of yourself, in your Son and in your Spirit. Thank you that in the midst of our brokenness, darkness, and death we have the promise of life in Christ. Thank you for giving us hope. We trust you to finish your perfect work in us as you transform us into masterpieces of glory through Jesus Christ and by your Holy Spirit. Amen.
“And Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” John 12:23–24 NASB