society

Leading as a Child

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By Linda Rex

September 19, 2021, PROPER 20—There is a title I rarely hear anymore and it used to be commonly used for someone who worked in a public leadership role. Even the president of the United States, our congressmen, and local leaders were given this title in years past. It takes a very special leader to be willing to be called this and lead accordingly, even though it is an accurate description of what a person should be doing when fulfilling their responsibilities in the public sector.

Being called a servant or treated like a servant has such a negative connotation, many people would prefer not to be called a public servant. This is understandable. However, to be a true leader in the way in which Jesus walked before us, one must be willing to be servant of all. One must be willing to serve those they are leading and not lord it over them. Using power and authority to force one’s will on others is not the way of Jesus. His path is much different.

During his last days before his crucifixion, Jesus began to teach his disciples what would happen to him. He told his disciples that the Jewish leaders of that day would arrest him, torture and kill him, but in three days he would rise again. Since Peter had been rebuked for contradicting Jesus when he first introduced this topic, the disciples really didn’t want to ask any questions. But what they began to talk about among themselves shortly afterward was significant.

Jesus knew what they were talking about, but he asked, drawing out of them that introspection they needed so they could learn. They were concerned about who was going to be in charge in the kingdom—who would be the greatest. In their culture, this was very important, especially in the public sphere and in the synagogue. Their position in these areas, their prominence, was essential to their worth and value. What they forgot was that this was the very thing Jesus had over and over rebuked the Jewish leaders for, condemning their obsession with being noticed and fawned over by the crowds, and for throwing their weight around and harming people in the process.

Jesus told the disciples that the person who wanted to be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven needed to be the servant of all. To lead, in the way of the kingdom of God, is to serve. It is the way of humility, not the way of self-aggrandizement or pride or power. It is the path of being willing to be less than so that others might be more than. What Jesus needed them to see was that his path, and therefore theirs, was the path down the road of self-sacrifice, of laying down one’s life for the sake of others.

To make his point, Jesus took one of the most inconsequential members of their culture, a child, into his arms. A child, at that time, had no rights and really no value, and was totally dependent upon his or her parents for everything they needed. Jesus told them that their reception of a child in his name was the same as receiving him and his heavenly Father as well. The value Jesus placed on that child was his own value and his Abba’s value. Even an inconsequential child was a treasure. How much more each and every person they might meet?

In last week’s sermon we talked about God’s gift of wisdom in the gift of his Son and his Spirit. God’s wisdom at work in our hearts and minds brings about a new way of living and being—a new way of looking at our value and worth and how we interact with the people in our lives. In contrast with the way of the flesh which moves us toward selfish ambition and jealousy which results in “disorder and every evil thing,” the way of Christ by the Spirit, the divine wisdom, is “pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy” (James 3:16-17 NASB).

The apostle James points out that the person who makes peace plants the seed of righteousness. The right relationship we have with God and one another, our righteousness, is a result of the planting of God’s heart and mind in human hearts through Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and in the sending of his Spirit. By faith, each and every person can participate now in right relationship with God and one another—there is a peace with God and others that only comes by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit at work in human hearts and minds. Our issues today with some leaders not being public servants are as a result of them not being willing to trust Jesus—to walk in his way, the way of death and resurrection.

What God calls leaders to is a willingness to lay down their life, their preferences, their benefits, for the sake of those they are leading. It is a real struggle to lead in this society by serving. How much easier it is to take advantage of all the benefits and perks of a leadership position than it is to refuse them, to humble oneself to suffer alongside others who are suffering, to serve next to those who society deems are less than and worthless. We have conflict and quarrels, sad divisions between us, James says, because our desire for pleasure or our envy of others and our longing for what they have outweighs our loving concern for them (James 4:1-3). This is why we need Jesus—we need the Spirit to change our hearts and minds, to bring about a new way of thinking and acting within ourselves as well as within those we lead.

Leadership as a position of service also involves those who follow—they must be willing to be led, and they cannot be led by someone they don’t love or trust. Being a leader carries with it a heavy responsibility. The best leaders are those who lead from a position of humble service, especially in the position of submission to the God who allowed them to have that position of leadership in the first place. Leaders who have forgotten they are public servants need to remember to wash their hands in the blood of Jesus Christ, to surrender to the reality that the only true Lord is the one who was willing to lay it all down for the sake of each of us (James 4:7-8). He calls us to be as little children—the adopted children of God we are, in and through him and by his Holy Spirit—and to trust and depend upon the Father in every circumstance, most especially in the area of leadership and public service.

May we pray for our leaders daily, whether within the church or in the public square, that God’s Spirit would fill them with divine wisdom and a heart of service. Pray that they would serve in humility, setting aside personal interest and privilege, and laying down their lives as Jesus did for the sake of those they lead. Pray also that they might have the strength and grace to be true peacemakers in a world that inevitably is led by the evil one into division and disunity.

Heavenly Father, we need you to pour your heavenly Spirit through Jesus into the hearts and minds of our leaders in every sphere of our lives. We need leaders who are submissive to your will and who are willing to serve and to lay down their lives on behalf of those they lead. Thank you, that we can all share in your servant leadership through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.

“From there they went out and began to go through Galilee, and He did not want anyone to know about it. For He was teaching His disciples and telling them, ‘The Son of Man is to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him; and when He has been killed, He will rise three days later.’ But they did not understand this statement, and they were afraid to ask Him. They came to Capernaum; and when He was in the house, He began to question them, ‘What were you discussing on the way?’ But they kept silent, for on the way they had discussed with one another which of them was the greatest. Sitting down, He called the twelve and said to them, ‘If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.’ Taking a child, He set him before them, and taking him in His arms, He said to them, ‘Whoever receives one child like this in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me does not receive Me, but Him who sent Me.’”     Mark 9:30–37 NASB

When Love Casts Out Fear

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By Linda Rex

April 12, 2020, RESURRECTION OF THE LORD, EASTER—During this pandemic season, the one common note I have heard in the news and on social media is that of fear. The fears we have are multiple and include concerns about politics, health, and economic security. We cannot watch or listen to much in the outside world without being confronted with real concern about many things.

As we enter into the end of the season of preparation for Easter, we are confronted with a reality in which, when we embrace it and believe it, is meant to free us once and for all from fear. Our anxiety about so many things is founded in a belief that we are unloved, left alone in this universe, and that the solution to our problems is all up to us. We may even believe in God, but often, we don’t act like it—instead, we act as if he were dead, laying in the grave we have created for him in our fear, unbelief, and rebellion.

What makes us do this? We were created as image-bearers of God, and so it should be so natural for us to reflect that image. Often, we do reflect the image of our God who is love and don’t even realize it. I see this in the parents who care for an autistic child, an adult child caring for both her family and her disabled parents, a person leaving their work to care for their parent with Alzheimer’s—so many examples exist when we begin to look around us. Where is the source of such humble, self-sacrificing love? It can have no source other than in the heart of God.

Fear often arises out of our inability to connect with others, to find a common ground where two people can be of like mind and interests. Our fears about other people often come to the fore when we don’t understand or accept the ways in which we differ or have opposing viewpoints or preferences. Fear is also created when one person or group imposes its will upon another without an appropriate acknowledgement of their God-given personhood and dignity. Fear is a useful tool to those who want to enslave, control, and manipulate others.

We were never meant to fear God in this way, nor were we meant to live in fear of one another. This is not what we were created for. We were created for connection, for unity, for oneness. We were created to be in relationship with God and man that is filled with joy, peace, and respect. A mutual indwelling, a deep sharing of heart and mind borne out of God’s very nature, is what we were created for. Anything less than this is the stomping ground of fear.

So often we project onto God all of our fear, making him out to be a condemning, cruel master rather than the loving, forgiving Father he is. We believe his sole purpose of existence is to find fault with us and execute punishment which we are so sure we deserve. We know we fall short of all we were meant to be, so we deserve to be punished. This is where fear comes in and causes us to be alienated in our minds from the God who is our Abba, our loving Father.

And this is why the Word of God to us was and is the God/man Jesus Christ. We needed to be freed once and for all from our fear—our terror of God and our fear of death. It is significant on resurrection morning that the ladies who came to the tomb were, in Matthew’s account, told by the angels and by Jesus, “Don’t be afraid.” If there is one thing they needed to know beyond all else in that moment, it was that there was nothing left to fear. The ultimate expression of the love of God had once and for all cast out our fear.

What is needed is for us to wrestle with what it means to live life without fear. How is our human existence different now that Jesus is risen from the dead? What does this mean for us as we face the difficulties of life, the pandemic, our job loss, or our business failure? How do we continue to face all these things with patient courage and grace?

If we are not in tune with the spiritual realities, we can resemble the Roman guards who, at the presence of the angels, were so overcome with fear they became like dead men. They had been diligently doing their best to prevent the disciples from stealing the body of Jesus away. But they hadn’t planned on an encounter with angels, nor with the resurrection power of God himself. The insignificance of their careful grave-watching became evident in the presence of the risen Lord. Nothing could keep the stone against the tomb once God decided it needed to be moved so people could see inside and know Jesus was risen.

The angels gave the women instructions—no doubt from the mouth of Jesus himself: Don’t be afraid; come and see—Jesus is risen; go tell the others; meet Jesus in Galilee. The practicality of the instructions left no place for fear or anxiety—they had things to do! Caught between the two emotions of fear and joy, the women headed back to the city. Wait till the others heard! And then they encountered the risen Lord. Can you imagine how overwhelmed they were with the reality of what they were experiencing? They were overcome with a desire to worship him—our best response to encountering Christ.

What Jesus said to them echoed the words of the angels—don’t be afraid, go tell the others, meet me in Galilee. There was in his words a renewal of the connection he had with them, a commitment to their relationship, and hope for more time together in fellowship with one another. All of these expressions of his continuing love for them removed their fear. They could trust that he was still the Jesus they knew before the crucifixion—he was still their friend and brother—only now he was the risen Lord.

The apostle Paul reminds us to keep our mind, not on what’s going on in the world around us or on everything people are doing wrong, or on the bad things which are happening, but on the things above, where Jesus Christ is seated at the right hand of God in glory. We’re not to have our hearts set on what’s in this transient human society and culture, but on the eternal realities where Jesus is the risen Lord, holding in himself our real life, our true existence. Our zōē life is not in this transient, dying world, but in Christ, held in heaven for us, to one day be revealed in the new heavens and new earth.

This is how we can live each day without fear. Death is not the end, but the passage into our eternal connection with all those who are in Christ. Suffering in this life is not something to fear, but to embrace as participation in Christ’s suffering or resisted as participation in Christ’s efforts to make all things new. Every part of our existence is swept up in Christ where we participate with him in his life, sharing in his love for all humanity as the One who plumbed the depths and brought us up into the divine life and love. We are called to faith, to believe in the reality of what Christ has done in living our life, dying our death, and rising again, bringing us into the presence of Abba.

Fear is a tough taskmaster, and we easily fall prey to it. This time of year, as we celebrate the resurrection, we are reminded of the abundance of God’s love and grace, of the forgiveness which is ours in Jesus Christ. In the sending of the Spirit, God makes possible for us to share in Jesus’ resurrection life. Trusting in Jesus, in his death and resurrection, we are awakened to new life—a life freed from the fear of death and all that comes with it.

Our resurrected Lord comes to you and to me again and again in the presence and power of his Spirit to say, “Don’t be afraid. Tell others the good news. Find your home in and with me.” Live life with a focus on the risen Christ and be busy about his business. There will be no room for fear because there is nothing left in this cosmos which can ever separate us from his love, not even the grave.

Thank you, Abba, for being a God we do not need to fear but can rest in, trusting in your never-ending love. Thank you for your faithfulness, for raising up not only Jesus, but in him our humanity, enabling us to participate in his risen life in and through your Holy Spirit. Grant us the faith to believe, to trust in all that Christ is and has done, that we may share in your divine life and love both now and forever, through Jesus our Lord and by your Spirit. Amen.

“Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.” Colossians 3:1–4 NASB

See also Matthew 28:1–10.

Losing My Identity, or Finding It

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by Linda Rex

This afternoon I was wandering about in a car lot in the blazing hot sun trying to find a particular automobile. I had spent hours researching this project and I was determined to find what I believed would be the solution to my transportation issues. I was growing hotter and sweatier and no closer to my goal, and was beginning to think the whole thing was a bad idea, when a young man in a golf cart stopped me and asked if he could help.

I was grateful to be allowed to explain my dilemma and to take a seat in the shade of the cart’s canopy. My simple request was one he was immediately able to offer me an acceptable answer to. And in the end, the result of his helpful assistance was I ended up in the showroom filling out documents which would ultimately lead to me being the happy new owner of another pre-owned car.

As I was filling out this form and that form, and handing over my license and credit card, and giving my personal information, I grew more and more nervous. I don’t like having to give a perfect stranger this type of information. How do I know whether they will use it only for the purpose for which it is intended? With all the stories I’ve heard about identity theft, I get the willies about freely disbursing my personal information.

My only hope is in the mercy of a loving God. Dear Lord, I thought, please make them blind to what they see, deaf to what they hear and forgetful to what they’ve had access to. It’s kind of chilling for me to be putting myself at someone’s mercy in this way. My only hope is a gracious God looking out for me.

Later I got to thinking about this whole situation and about my discomfort with it. So much is bound up in our identity nowadays. We can’t get a job without certain documents, and we can’t make purchases or have a bank account without specific documentation.

Our identity seems to be boiled down to a social security number, a birth certificate, a passport or a driver’s license. Our place in the world, and our ability to function in this culture, is based on a few facts, numbers and letters. All it takes it is someone to “borrow” that information and we’re sunk.

This put me in mind of what is written in Genesis about our beginnings as human beings. We were made in the image of the God who is Father, Son and Spirit. This God said we are made to live in loving relationship with him and one another, and as men and women, to be like him. And he declared this creation to be “very good”.

Isn’t it interesting what the serpent said to the man and the woman—that if they ate of the tree which was forbidden, their eyes would be opened and they would be like God? I am grateful to the person who reminded me of what God had done in the first place—human beings already were like God—they were made in God’s image. So they did not need to eat anything to become what they already were!

It seems we as human beings have spent millennia trying to become what God has already declared we are. And God came in human flesh to finish what he began by making humanity in his image. In fact, in Hebrews it says Jesus Christ was the exact replica of his Father. In Jesus, our humanity takes on its most perfect form, and he, by the Spirit, is working this out in each of us, making us into the humanity we were meant to be—made in the image of God.

Our identity—something we are usually so busy trying to create and protect—is not really bound up in all the things we think it is bound up in. Yes, we need ways to function in this culture so we can buy, sell, interact and do all the things we do as humans. But even so, our real identity is not something external to us, or something which can be placed upon us. Our identity is not determined by other people, or by our feelings and desires, or by our parents. Our identity is so much more fundamental than that.

Being made in the image of the God who called himself “I Am” means we as human beings are all who God declares we are. The evil one constantly tries to tell us, as he did Adam and Eve, we are not, and we believe him. Just take a minute to think about all the times you, and I, have believed the lying tapes which run in our heads and say, “I am not smart; I am not pretty; I am not loveable; I am going to amount to anything; I am not good.”

These lying tapes even tell us what we are: “I am a jerk; I am worthless; I am a failure.” It seems the evil one always knows exactly what to tell us about who we are so we will be stopped from being those things which truly reflect the divine glory which is ours. He doesn’t want us to shine with the image of God, and so he does everything he can to divert our attention from the truth that we already are God’s image bearers, and in Christ we can live like we are by the Spirit.

The evil one seeks to steal, besmirch and destroy our identity every chance he gets. He even uses human beings to take from us what is rightfully ours, so we lose faith in ourselves, our world, and even our God. How devastating to lose our identity! And yet most of us don’t realize we haven’t lost the identity God gave us when he created us, and which he redeemed through his Son Jesus.

God knows who we really are. And he constantly speaks to us through his Spirit and his Word, reminding us of the reality we are his adopted children, made in his image to reflect his nature and to share in his love and life. This is the truth, and all the evil one’s efforts to steal this from us are fruitless. Because in Jesus, God has bound us to himself with cords of love, and has reaffirmed in his Son we reflect the exact image of the Father, Son, and Spirit. Our true identity is secure in Jesus Christ. And that, we can count on.

Thank you, Father, for determining from the beginning we would reflect your image and likeness. Thank you for sending your Son to become human as we are human so our broken humanity might be redeemed and restored to reflect your glory. Thank you we share in your identity even now. And even though someone may steal from us the items which we use to identify ourselves in this world, we are still secure in our true identity as your image bearers. Comfort us with your tender, protective care—watch over your children and keep us and those things which are ours, safe. Defend us. Our trust is in you, through your Son Jesus. Amen.

“God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” Genesis 1:27 NASB

Terms of Peace

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Serene lake
Serene lake

By Linda Rex

It seems in many places of the world today that the very foundations of our society and our earth are being shaken. We are facing challenges in how we care for our air, land and water, and in how we care for one another.

The current upheaval in the United States as well as in other nations regarding how we treat people different than ourselves—whether it be a difference in race, in culture, in belief system or national heritage—has some pretty significant implications for the future.

We’re seeing people groups being moved en masse from one place to another. We’re seeing people lose everything of personal value due to economic devastation, political upheaval or natural disasters. And we’re seeing the continued curse of genocide and prejudice and persecution wherever people live today.

It seems that none of these things are new events. If we were to look back through the history of humanity, we would find that all of these things have in some form or fashion happened before. Indeed, as was recorded in Ecclesiastes millennia ago, there is nothing new under the sun.

But it seems that there are a whole lot more of us around today. And we have access to a lot more information about one another than we ever had before. In so many more ways we are interconnected to one another whether we like it or not and whether we want to be or not. We cannot escape the reality that we are all individually and collectively responsible in some way for what has happened, is happening and will happen to one another moment by moment.

It seems that the harder we try to create peace in the world, the more guilty we are of enslaving, harming and destroying one another. We find that even our “peace officers” are accused of being murderous and abusive. And unfortunately, it seems that such accusations are too often justified.

Some of us long to be just left alone—to be left in peace. We want a lifestyle or religion that will give us some inner tranquility, some rest from all this inner and exterior distress. We’d like a safe place where we won’t have to worry about someone taking advantage of us, or harming us, or disrupting our world.

One of the hardest things for us to come to terms with, I think, is the reality that we were created for relationships, and that relationships are, in all honesty, messy things to live in. There’s no such thing as a perfect relationship, since—at least as far as I am aware—there are no perfect people in the world.

We have expectations of one another, and of God for that matter, that are far from reasonable or realistic. We step on toes without even trying because—whether we like it or not—we are all different people, with different personalities and opinions and upbringings, and we seem to inevitably rub against one another in unpleasant ways.

And our humanity—our inclination to live, walk and talk in unhealthy and unkind ways—seems to be really good at destroying our inner peace as well as the fragile peace with have with other people. This is why God didn’t leave it up to us to create peace. He knows that peace, whether peace among people or peace within ourselves, is something we as broken human beings cannot come up with on our own. He knows that no matter how hard we try, we are going to mess up our relationship with him and our relationships with one another.

And so God made his peace with us—a covenant of peace with Israel that included all humanity in Jesus Christ. And Jesus, in breathing on us the Spirit, poured into our hearts God’s peace. His words of peace echo through the ages:

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” (John 14:26–27)

Peace is a gift from God. It is something that happens when the real presence of God is welcomed and embraced by broken human beings seeking to live in peace with God and one another. This is why a group surrendered to Christ and seeking to live in love with one another and with God can be such a stunning and rare vision of peace and harmony in the midst of a broken and chaotic world. They are living in response to and are participating in the gift of peace they have been given by God. They are a reflection of the divine.

God has not and will not change his mind about the gift of peace he has given to all humanity in Jesus Christ. He has made a covenant of peace with all humanity in his Son and calls each and everyone of us to participate with him in this divine life and love. As long as we are living in this broken human flesh and in this broken physical world, we will struggle. But in the midst of our struggle, God offers us his peace.

Question is, will we submit to his terms of peace? Will we give up trying to create peace on our own, and surrender to his way of being and living? Will we let him call the shots in our relationships and in our lives? Will we wave the white flag and yield to the Prince of Peace?

Holy God of Peace, we acknowledge our inability to create and sustain peace in our hearts, in our relationships, in our families and in our world. We agree that we desperately need your peace. Wash away all that divides us and pour out on us anew your gift of peace in the Holy Spirit. We surrender and accept your terms of peace, through Jesus Christ and in the Spirit. Amen.

“’For the mountains may be removed and the hills may shake,’ But My lovingkindness will not be removed from you, and My covenant of peace will not be shaken,’ Says the LORD who has compassion on you.” Isaiah 54:10 NASB