Spirit

Living in the Breath

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by Linda Rex

I love it when I drive home from East Nashville and there is a sky full of puffy clouds just starting to glisten with colors from the sun setting in the background. Every time I see the sky, it looks different, and as an artist, I am always amazed by how creative God is as he paints the sky with clouds and color.

Is it possible that our God spends each moment making our world a beautiful and stunning work of art, using all the elements he put into motion millennia ago? What if he intentionally breathes into our world each moment, bringing into our existence his new life in some new form or fashion? What if, while his mercies are new every morning, so are his sky, his clouds, and the breathing of his breath of life on all he has made?

Before Jesus came, it seemed the Spirit’s active intervention in human affairs was only in inspiring particular prophets, priests and kings to do a specific work in preparation for the coming Messiah. But the silent, unobtrusive, self-effacing Spirit was also holding all things together, even though humanity had chosen the path for all things to return to the nothingness from which they had been made.

During the long history of the nation of Israel, God was known as the Helper of Israel (Psa. 146; Isa. 41) In the coming of the Son of God into human flesh, we find Israel’s Helper is present and real here on the earth in Jesus Christ. He lived, died and rose again, and in the ascension which we celebrated last Sunday, we find Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father, with all humanity—even all things—reconciled to God in him. Our Helper is the Living Lord Jesus Christ, who is always at work in this world and in our lives and hearts.

The apostle John shares in his epistle: “we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). There is an Intercessor present with the Father, intervening for us moment by moment in every situation and circumstance. There is no reason any of us should fear coming before God and sharing ourselves fully with him, even if we have fallen short in some way. We can trust Jesus Christ is praying for us, interceding for us, and helping us no matter how bleak things may look to us at the time.

Here we see the amazing goodness and love of God at work. It was not enough that he would give us his own beloved Son in this way, to help us and to intercede for us. But he also gave us Someone who would be even more intimately involved in our world, our lives, and even in our very being.

Jesus said before he returned to his Father he would send another Helper like himself (John 14:16–17). This would be an Advocate who would intercede on our behalf with God and with others. Jesus returned to his Father and sent us this Helper, the Holy Spirit (John 16:7) to be with us forever.

If the Spirit has been present and involved with creation and our cosmos since the beginning—hovering over the waters and acting when the Word spoke all things into existence—what was so special and necessary for the Spirit to be sent by Jesus? If God has sustained all things for all these millennia, then why did Jesus have to go so the Spirit would come?

We need to pay attention to the details here. This universe would not exist except for the grace and mercy of the living God. The breath of God, the Spirit, gives life. (Acts 17:25; Psalm 104:29–30) Apart from God, all things return to nothingness. The life-giving Spirit is ever and always at work in this cosmos to breathe God’s life into all things.

God in Christ reconciled all things to himself, whether the things he has made, or every one of us human beings—nothing is excluded (Colossians 1:19–23). Even the evil which acts as a parasite on all that is good and holy was taken up in Christ and overcome. Jesus is the Victor over sin, death, and the evil one!

In Christ all things were made new and are being made new—in and by his Spirit at work in the creation. The decay into nothingness has, in Christ, been reversed. And part of that reversal involves us as human beings. We were created for intimate relationship with the God who made us out of nothingness. But we turned away from this God to the creation and to one another, as though we had no need of him. We fell into the evil one’s trap of trying to be lord of the universe ourselves. But God has other plans for us.

Before any of this came into existence, God intended for us to be his image-bearers. We were to bear his image, not only in our relationships with God and with others, but also by having the very presence of the living God within us—in our very hearts and minds. We were to be the bearers of God’s living Presence, the Holy Spirit. And remember, where the Spirit is, so are the Father and Jesus Christ. So God himself was to dwell, or take up permanent residence, within the human beings God would and did make.

God, in Jesus Christ, took on our humanity, in its brokenness, shame and rebellion. God encountered the worst of who we are, even within his being in Jesus, and was not altered in the least. No, in his life, death and resurrection, he translated us from the kingdom of darkness into his kingdom of light. Jesus forged a perfected humanity in which the Spirit would permanently reside. And when he ascended, he poured out from the Father his Spirit on all humanity, so all could receive and participate in this perfect gift.

So we find ourselves in this place, living on this amazing earth, wondering where our next meal will come from, how we will pay our bills, and what to do about the fight we had with our spouse this morning. And we pay so little attention to what really matters—we are living in God’s presence, breathing in the very Breath of God himself. We are God’s children, made in his image, redeemed in Christ, meant to have an intimate relationship with him, and to live in the truth of the humanity forged for us in Christ.

There is a way of living and being we were created for—a humanity we see in Jesus which lives in total dependence upon the Spirit and in perfect obedience to the Father. We can embrace this truth of our being and fully participate in the relationship with the Father by the Spirit Jesus brought us into, or we can stubbornly hang on to our independence of God and our rebellion against his ways of living and being. God protects our freedom to choose.

Either way, the Spirit never ceases to breathe his life into us and the world around us. God’s mercies continue to be new every morning. Every sunset sky is a new expression of God’s creativity. And we never stop having an Advocate and Helper in Jesus, and in the Holy Spirit who also intercedes for us when we cannot express the deepest yearnings of our heart (Rom 8:26).

Our Abba continues to hold a seat for us at his table, loving us unconditionally as he does, and he expectantly watches at the door for us to come over the horizon so he can run to meet us. We have nothing to fear, and everything to hope for. Life in the Spirit through Jesus with the Father forever—it is ours right now.

I don’t know about you, but I’m heading home—there’s nothing in this world worth hanging on to. One day it will all be gone and all that will be left is what God intended in the first place. I’m thinking his plan is a lot better than mine, and a whole lot more fun in the long run. And the best part? Having these amazing relationships and this loving family to hold and embrace for all eternity. Now that is something worth going home for.

Abba, thank you for drawing us to yourself through your two hands of love, Jesus and the Spirit. Thank you for saving us a seat at your table and a place in your heart. Grant us the grace to surrender to your will and your ways, and to turn away from ourselves and the world around us, and to turn to you in faith, through Jesus our Lord and by your Spirit. Amen.

“You send forth Your Spirit, they are created; and You renew the face of the ground.” Psalm 104:30 NASB

Alert to the Spirit’s Work

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By Linda Rex

Lately I’ve been reading a book my regional pastor gave me called “Deep Mentoring”. This is a great book about engaging others in deep meaningful relationships in which both people are able to grow and develop. Wherever we are in life, there are areas in which we are given the task or responsibility to lead others, and we need to grow in our ability not only to lead ourselves, but also to help others grow as leaders.

An important part of this mentoring process is learning to pay attention—to see where people are on their journey, where they are headed, and what God is doing in their lives to bring them to that place. When you prayerfully pay attention, then you begin to join with them in those places and bring God’s grace and truth with you there.

So now I’ve been more and more conscious of the need to pay attention—especially with regards to what God is doing in a particular person’s life during a certain circumstance. I’ve never realized before how little I pay attention to what the Spirit is doing. I’m too busy either trying to work it out myself, or I’m distracted by other things which are going on at the same time.

On that night so long ago, Jesus told Nicodemus, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8 NASB) Jesus pointed out the reality, we cannot see what the Spirit of God is doing, but we can see and experience the results of it. The problem is not with our ability to see the Spirit. It’s more we aren’t paying attention to what he is doing and has done, and what he is wanting to do in a person’s life, because we’re paying attention to the wrong things.

It would be like seeing someone standing in a field staring up at the clear blue sky. Around both of you, the leafy branches of the trees are waving back and forth, and the green and brown grasses are bending and straightening as the wind plays with them. But the other person remarks about how still and quiet the day is: “This is so boring. Nothing’s happening.”

We can share their blindness and agree with them, or we can notice what the wind is doing, and point out all the things which are happening because the breeze is blowing over the meadow. It all depends on what we are paying attention to, what we choose to notice, and how we respond to what we see.

It’s easy to be blind to what the Spirit is doing with and in our children since we are so close to them and see them most every day. We may forget to pay attention to their efforts to be kind and to serve others because what we tend to pay attention to may be their annoying habits and disobedient behavior.

We may never have considered their unique learning style or creative nature which drives the way they think, act and interact with others, is part of the way they image the God who made them. It is so easy to go through our days never recognizing and affirming the ways in which our children reflect God and are growing in Christlikeness, though we may give them plenty of kudos for getting good grades, cleaning their room, and practicing piano.

Sometimes because of the everydayness of our life with our spouse, we lose sight of those things which make them unique and special people. We stop seeing what God is doing in their lives, and what he has done through them in our lives. It’s possible to over time allow the hurts between two people to bring them to the place the hurts are the only things which can be seen, rather than seeing how the couple is bound together in the oneness of Jesus Christ through the Spirit.

It’s easy with the people we are closest to, to come to the place we stop noticing. We stop paying attention to what is God is doing in their lives and how he wants us to be a part of that. We can fail to realize one of our purposes in being in their life is to be the image of God to them—to reflect God’s grace and truth, his love to them, and to notice all the things Spirit is doing in their life and to point them out.

We may think we are supposed to be the leader in a relationship, but sometimes the reality is we need to be following rather than leading. We all have times in which we are blind to what’s really going on. We need that person who we think is a follower, or who we think should be the “submissive one”, to step up and speak the truth in love to us. But can we receive the truth of God’s image in Jesus Christ being reflected back to us when the Spirit moves this person to speak?

More and more I am realizing God’s whole purpose in “condemnation” and “judgment’ is not to punish and destroy evildoers, but to eliminate all of the evil which they embrace and are beset by so they are able to be fully who God created and redeemed them to be as his beloved children. God means all this for our good—he’s not out to get revenge for all the badness—he’s just wanting to remove the blindness and badness so the true reality of the goodness and love of Christ in each of us can shine unhindered.

As we grow in our relationship with God and our relationships with others, we participate in God’s work of transformation of ourselves and those others. We go through struggles and difficulties, and God uses them to grow us up in Christlikeness when we turn to Christ in faith and respond to the Spirit’s work. We walk alongside others, and go deeper with them, sharing with them the positive and negative parts of our walk of faith. And we create space for the Spirit to go to work in them and in us, to grow us up into greater Christlikeness, so we can more accurately reflect the image of the God who made us and redeemed us.

One of the best things we can do then, is to obey Jesus’ command to be alert. God is coming and is present at every moment by the Holy Spirit. Jesus is at work in us and in each person we encounter throughout the day. Ask God to make you aware of what Jesus is doing by his Spirit. He wants us to notice, and to participate in what he is doing through prayer, speaking the truth in love, and ministering the love of God in Christ to each person in whatever way the Spirit directs us to. When we learn to pay attention, we may be surprised by all the things we discover Jesus is up to!

Thank you, Abba, you are always at work doing things in this world we never even notice. Make us aware more and more of what you are doing through Jesus and by your Spirit, and enable us by your grace to respond appropriately. Help us to notice more and more what you are doing in the lives of those around us, and enable us to share in healthy and loving ways the truth of what you are doing and wish to do by your Spirit. May you complete your perfect work in each and every one of us through Jesus our Lord and by your Spirit. Amen.

“Be on guard, so that your hearts will not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life, and that day will not come on you suddenly like a trap; for it will come upon all those who dwell on the face of all the earth. But keep on the alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” Luke 21:34–36 NASB

Do I Believe God Cares?

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by Linda Rex

Lately this has been on my mind a lot—do I really believe God cares about that thing I’m wrestling with at the moment, whatever it may be? What do I really believe down to the core of my being about the kind of Person God is?

Intellectually I can say to myself, God is good and he loves me and he cares about the issue I’m having with my car tire, my teeth, or my finances—you name it. But when it comes down to it, how I act with regards to those things says pretty loudly what I really believe about God and his goodness towards me. The difficulties I run into in my day-to-day life and how I engage them demonstrate what’s going on in my heart and the depth of my faith and trust in the goodness of God.

As I grow older I find myself reflecting back on all the ways God has intervened in my life and circumstances to bring good out of evil and to redeem broken situations. He has protected me from certain disaster over and over again. He has provided for me when I did not deserve to be provided for. And he has placed loving, caring people in my life to demonstrate his love toward me and my family.

If I were to say God does not really care about what is going on in my life or about me personally, I would not be speaking with integrity. My experience over the years has been that he does care deeply about me and my dear ones, and is a faithful, compassionate, forgiving God. But I don’t always make decisions or live my life in the truth of that reality. Often I act as though this were not true.

In any area of life we can act as if God just doesn’t really care even though we believe he does care. We read stories in the Scriptures about people who do this very thing. They show our common humanity, our core sinful nature which Jesus came to deal with and to eradicate.

Jesus did come and demonstrated in a deeply significant way God cares about every detail in our lives, even to the point of sharing our own flesh and blood existence. Jesus did not hold himself aloof from any of our brokenness. He touched the leper to heal him. He defiled himself to call a dead man back to life. He lived our life and died our death.

When the untouchable woman touched his garments, he called her, “Daughter.” He did not reject her or condemn her. But rather, he met her in the place where she came to meet him, in her humiliation, her brokenness, her suffering and loneliness.

She must have believed something about the goodness of Jesus to get her to that place where she was willing to brave the crowds who had isolated her. Mark 5:27-28 says, “…after hearing about Jesus, she came up in the crowd behind Him and touched His cloak. For she thought, ‘If I just touch His garments, I will get well.’” She acted as though this were true, making her way through all the people so she could just touch Jesus’ cloak, and indeed found in doing so, she was healed.

What’s interesting is it appears in this story as though she was hoping to get away without being noticed, to hide again in the crowds. But Jesus would not allow that. He insisted she be a full participant in his life and in her healing.

He cared about her healing, but also about the relational aspect of her life which was missing. Her rejection by others, her isolation, her loneliness, and her shame needed to come to an end. He made a point of connecting with her, of drawing her out, and of bringing her to the notice of those around her. And he encouraged her to be at peace—a peace which was such a far cry from what she had lived with during all the years she had sought healing from every source imaginable.

Obviously, she thought he didn’t care about those things otherwise she may have been more direct in her approach. So we find this woman acted on what she believed to be true about Jesus, but Jesus took her even farther than she expected to go. Jesus met her where she was and brought her to be where he was. He didn’t just heal her physically. He also healed her in many other ways.

We can learn from this and many other stories in the Scriptures about how we deal with our struggles with believing in the goodness and faithfulness of God. We may be questioning God’s love and faithfulness, and be unsure of God’s goodness. But we can still act as if God were a good God who loves us and wants what is best for us rather than acting as if he were not. It is our choice.

Sometimes God allows us to wrestle with this and we find ourselves having to act as if God really does care about the details of our life and our struggles when it feels as if he does not. When we continue to act as if God really does care about what is going on we may find our whole approach towards the difficulty changes. We may find Jesus meets us more than halfway, and carries us through a difficult time to the other side, while helping us to grow in faith, hope and love in the process.

We just need to remember while on the one hand God cares about what we care about, on the other hand, he is more concerned about our growth as his children into the fullness of who he created us to be. He is working to grow us up into the likeness of his Son, and struggles are a necessary part of this transformation. And he will not stop until he has accomplished what he set out to do—that is something we can count on.

Dear Abba, thank you for being a God we can trust and depend on. Thank you for your faithfulness and your tender loving care. Grant us the grace in every situation, no matter how significant or insignificant and no matter how difficult or easy it may be, to act as if you are the loving, caring, faithful God you really are, through Jesus our Lord and by your precious Spirit. Amen.

“Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, has appeared to me, saying, “I am indeed concerned about you and what has been done to you in Egypt.’” Exodus 3:16 NASB

“And He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your affliction.’” Mk 5:34 NASB

Just As You Are

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by Linda Rex

Sometimes it’s hard to accept the reality God knows us much better than we know ourselves. We like to believe we are good, well-meaning people who will always do or say the right thing in every circumstance we face. We hope we would never do or say anything cruel or hateful. We think in our heart of hearts we would never betray a friend or ruin a friendship because of greed or resentment.

But indeed, God does know us better than we know ourselves. One good example which comes to mind at this time of year is the story of Peter, Jesus’ disciple. Here Jesus was facing his death by crucifixion, knowing the reality of what he would be facing in the next few hours at the hands of people like you and me. He’s giving his disciples his last words, and says, “Where I am going, you cannot come.”

Peter is a good friend of Jesus—a real pal. He says to Jesus, “Lord, why can I not follow You right now? I will lay down my life for You.” (John 13:37) Peter is in earnest. He really means it. He’s going to be the best friend Jesus ever had—he’s going to go all the way with Jesus. He’s just like you and me. We have the greatest intentions in the world to go all the way with Jesus, to go all the way with our family, our friends, our spiritual community.

But Jesus is very pragmatic about our humanity. He says to Peter, “Will you lay down your life for Me? Truly, truly, I say to you, a rooster will not crow until you deny Me three times.” (John 13:38) Jesus just calls it as it is—“Peter, you don’t really know yourself as well as you think you do. You’re going to betray me and deny me just like any other human being would.”

Indeed, Jesus knew and accepted Peter’s brokenness as a part of who he was at that point in his life. Jesus knew in a few short hours, he would be on his own, wrestling with the evil one in a spiritual, physical and emotional battle he did not humanly want to fight. He was not unfamiliar with the failures of the human race, but felt keenly the weakness and frailty of his flesh.

It is instructive that Jesus quoted from Psalm 22 during his last hours on the cross. I was reading this psalm again this morning and was struck by the way King David put down in words the way we as human beings would treat the Lord when he came in human flesh. How many times as he was growing up did Jesus hear this psalm read? Did it put him in mind of what he was going to have to endure at the hands of the human beings he came to save? This psalm certainly describes in many ways what Jesus ended up experiencing before and during his crucifixion.

Isn’t it interested how the God who inspired this psalm, knew us better than we know ourselves? In fact, he inspired the writing of this psalm, he ensured it was preserved, and he used it as an instructive tool during his last moments before he died. The Word came to earth, knowing we would do these things to him. He was not put off by our brokenness or our capacity for betrayal and animosity. He allowed none of our human capacity for evil to prevent him from keeping his word to us that he would save us from evil, sin and death.

That the Word who is God would take on our broken humanity expresses the true reality of God’s love. As God, he had the capacity to submit himself to our human experience while remaining pure of heart, soul and mind. Rather than rejecting us or turning away from us, God joined us in our darkness and brought us up and out into his Light.

It is unfortunate that often we portray God as being so offended by sin he cannot be in the presence of it. If that were the case, we all would have been annihilated millennia ago. Seriously—what makes us think God is this way?
I think one thing which makes us think God is this way is we are this way. We get offended by a person’s problems or faults, and so we reject the person who does not meet up with our standards. We draw lines in the sand and when someone crosses them, we count them unworthy of a relationship with us.

But God doesn’t do this. He comes into our brokenness and works from within to transform and change us. He sends his Spirit into faulty human hearts so God can take up a permanent habitation there, healing us and transforming us from the inside out. He comes to the one, who like Peter, betrays him or denies him, and reconciles with him. On God’s side of the equations, there is nothing left standing between us and him.

Because God already knows us so thoroughly and completely, and loves us anyway, we can be upfront and honest about our failures and weaknesses. We can own our brokenness, telling the truth about our “messies” to God and to others. One day there won’t be any secrets—so we might as well learn how to be transparent, open and honest with ourselves and one another—living in the grace and love of God now as we will for all eternity.

Our heavenly Father has not allowed anything to come between us and his love. There is nothing which stands between us and him. This Good Friday we remember the gift of love God gave by embracing us in our broken humanity and drawing us up into life in the Father, Son and Spirit. We are beloved, cherished and held in God’s love and life, both now and for all eternity. Praise God!

Thank you, Abba, for your faithful love and grace. Thank you, Jesus, for being willing to take all our evil and broken ways upon yourself and redeeming them. Thank you, Spirit, for working all this out in Christ and in us. For your glory, God, and by your power, in your name. We thank you. Amen.

“All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will worship before You. For the kingdom is the Lord’s and He rules over the nations.” Psalm 22:27–28 NASB

When Life is Too Much

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by Linda Rex

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I find God brings us right back to a place we have been with him before so we can see the same thing over again in a new way. Let me explain.

Many years ago, when God was rearranging my head and heart with regards to what I believed about him, I went on a search to learn all I could about living in relationship with the Holy Spirit. You see, I had been taught most of my life to that point that the Holy Spirit was merely the power of God or what God was made out of. The Holy Spirit was an essence, a thing, but most certainly not a Person, for that would mean I would have to believe in the Trinity, which I (misinformed as I was) believed was a pagan belief.

But coming to know the Holy Spirit as the Person he/she/it really was blew my mind, and rearranged everything I knew about God and myself. And all of a sudden, I began to see I was missing one of the most important things a person could know about life and how to live it—that I am beloved, I am never alone, and God is living within me in the Person and Presence of the Holy Spirit, transforming me from the inside out. And this Person is Someone I can (and should) interact with, follow, obey and worship.

To go through life struggling, powerless over sin, self and Satan, is not the desire of our heavenly Father. This is not what he created us for. Jesus didn’t come just to leave us as orphans. No, he sent the Paraclete, the other Helper like himself, so we could and would participate in the divine relations between the Father, Son and Spirit, and come to see and believe the truth about who God is and who we are in him.

Sometimes God allows life to get difficult and complicated. Sometimes he calls us into places of ministry and renewal which are beyond our ability to handle. And our human tendency is to either throw up our hands in defeat, or just knuckle under and do the best we can in the situation. But neither of these things are what God wants us to do in these situations, because we would be missing out on God’s best.

Our solution to life’s problems, challenges and opportunities too often is a new, well laid out plan or program, which we implement to the best of our ability in the situation we are facing. Now, I am not knocking well laid out plans or effective scaffolds we can work within. What I am pointing out, though, is this human tendency to be self-reliant rather than dependent upon God. I think being faced with more than we can handle is an opportunity to humble ourselves and acknowledge the reality we need Someone beyond ourselves to save us and help us.

Relationally, it is really difficult to live in relationship with someone who speaks and acts as though we are unimportant and unnecessary to their existence. It is really hard to parent a child or care for another person who believes they can do everything on their own when they don’t have a clue as to what they are doing—it’s so painful to watch them suffer the consequences of their stubborn willfulness and independence, and to not be allowed to guide and help them. But we put God through this all the time.

Indeed, in the wisdom of God, Abba has brought me again to the place he brought me many years ago—a place he brings me to a lot. This is the place where he brings all of us over and over again—the place where we must come to see, believe and admit, we are powerless over sin, self, Satan, and all those things in life we think we are capable of controlling or feel we are responsible for. We need to see, believe, and confess the truth—we need Someone beyond ourselves to intervene, and to empower us, to heal us, and to deliver us.

And this, I believe, is what the apostle Paul was talking about when he said it is in our weakness we are strongest. It is the place of emptiness and weakness where God pours in—not so we become a stagnant pool, but so we might again pour out into others and back into God, emptying ourselves so he might fill us again. This is the perichoretic life we were created for and redeemed to participate in. This is what some call the divine dance—the life which ever existed and exists and will exist in the inner relations of Father, Son and Spirit.

To always have everything under our control, or to always feel as though we need to save the day or to chronically attempt to do so, is to live dishonestly. This is not the truth of who we are, nor what we were created for. This is living in a dream world—where we are masters of our universe and we are in control of everything which happens in it. This is just not the way things really are.

And to live in this way is to be like the person in the square dance who decides to do a do-sa-do when everyone else is doing an allamande left—it creates havoc and pain for everyone involved. It’s like we become a tepid, salty lake rather than remaining a flowing stream. Something of God’s life flowing into us and out from us becomes quenched or stifled. And those around us no longer benefit from the overflowing spring of God’s Spirit and life, for it’s as if a quenching of the Spirit occurs in our relationships with them. When we feel we must always be in control of everything which is happening or what others are doing, or always be the strong one who has it all together—this grieves the Spirit, and strains our relationships. And it’s just not living or walking in the truth.

Can you or I, or anyone else for that matter, keep ourselves safe in every situation? Do we have to make sure everything is done perfectly, so nothing bad will happen? How many things like this do we take on, thinking somehow we are capable of controlling the outcome? How often do we play God? I’m learning I do this more often than probably I would ever want to admit.

So once again, I am moved to the place where I am grateful for God’s grace, in the gift of his Son, and the gift of his Spirit. God’s mystery at work in me and in my life reminds me the best place I can possibly be is the place where I recognize my weakness, my powerlessness, and my inability to control the outcome.

It is when I acknowledge this and turn to Christ, and open myself to the Spirit’s presence and power, God goes to work and begins to do new things in me and in my life and ministry. It’s on his terms, in his timing, and in his way—it’s a walk of faith. But this is the only place I want to be, because I’m moving in step with the Father, Son, and Spirit in the midst of the divine dance, and it’s such an adventure!

Thank you, Abba, for including each of us in your divine dance, for sweeping us up into your life and love. We are utterly dependent upon you for all things, and confess our weakness and need, our inability to be what we ought to be and so to do what we ought apart from you. We pour ourselves out so you may fill us anew, Holy Spirit, and finish what you have begun in us, through Jesus and in his name. Amen.

“And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9–10

Owning Our Stuff

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By Linda Rex

Yesterday, as the sun peeked out occasionally from storm clouds and a cool breeze kept us wishing for a jacket, we sat outside the church and talked. Good News Fellowship was stepping out of our comfort zone and had invited the community to stop by for the administration of ashes on Ash Wednesday.

Although no one from the community joined us for this event, or for the Community Ash Wednesday service which followed, it was still a good opportunity for us to reflect on the reality of what Christ has done and is doing in our lives.

As a denomination, in the past we have not celebrated this particular day or tradition. But our pastoral team felt it was an opportunity for us to open our doors and begin to step outside of them, offering others an opportunity to share with us the good news of what God has done and is doing in our lives.

As I studied the common practices for the observation of Ash Wednesday, I was struck by the focus on our humanity—“from dust you came, and to dust you will return”—and by the emphasis on repentance and penitence. As we move into the Lenten season, a season of fasting, prayer and repentance, Ash Wednesday provides a good marker and way of getting us focused on and looking forward to the events of Holy Week and the resurrection of Jesus.

It is a good thing to be reminded we are made from dust and will return to dust. There is a sense of humility which comes from realizing apart from the grace of God, we would have no existence at all. In fact, we only exist because of the love and grace of a God who determined before time began we would share in his glory.

I was reminded, though, that any thought of repentance or penitence needs to be kept within the reality of who God is, who Christ is, and who we are in him. We begin not by gazing at ourselves, our faults and failures, but first at the God who created us and made us his own. This God isn’t focused on our limitations or our weaknesses, but on the relationships he created us for, and on the love he has for us.

One of the lectionary readings for Ash Wednesday this year was Joel 2:1–2, 12–17. These particular verses leapt out at me: “Yet even now,” declares the Lord, ‘Return to Me with all your heart, and with fasting, weeping and mourning; and rend your heart and not your garments.’ Now return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness and relenting of evil.” (Joel 2:12–13 NASB) The prophet Joel placed the call to repentance within the framework of who God is, just as God had described himself to Moses so many centuries before, a God who is compassionate, gracious and slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness and truth (Exodus 34:6-7).

God indeed wants us to own our stuff, to face up to the truth of how we fall short as human beings. But he more importantly, wants us to face up to the truth of who he is—the kind of God who is loving and forgiving, not cruel, condemning and rejecting. In giving us his Son Jesus Christ, God didn’t push us away in our brokenness, but rather brought us close, joining with us in our sin and shame, washing it away, and drawing us into deeper relationship with himself.

In fact, one of the first things which occurred in Jesus’ life after his baptism, when he heard the words of blessing from his Father “this is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased”, was being, in effect, “cast out” into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit to be tempted of the devil. This forty days of fasting and testing, this penitence, was done on our behalf, for our sake. Jesus took the road of repentance we need to take, where we own our stuff and we choose to turn to God in faith rather than make our own way to glory.

As we enter this season of penitence, this Lenten season of reflection on our need for deliverance and salvation, I feel it is essential we begin with the reality of God’s love and mercy rather than just ending with it. Start with owning what is ours—the gift of forgiveness, and love which comes from the heart of our loving Father—as well as his Spirit who works in us our transformation and healing. And in the light of that, we look at our fallenness and need for grace.

When we keep these things in that order, then repentance is not a move toward despair and despondency, but rather a move toward joyful gratitude. We are compelled to say, “Thank you, Lord, for your mercy.” This is why I could not bring myself just to tell people as I administered the ashes “You came from dust and you will return to dust.” For me, it seemed to leave them in the dust in despair—that doesn’t seem to be what God had in mind. Why else would we have Christ at all?

To me repentance is an essential part of our walk as followers of Jesus Christ. We confess our fallenness, our brokenness, our ungodly ways of living and being. But we do it all in the context of the forgiveness which is already ours and available to us in Jesus Christ. We act as if we are forgiven and act as if we are healed. This is why I felt compelled to use these words in the administration of the ashes this year, “You came from dust, and you will return to dust. So thank the Lord Jesus for joining you in your dust and lifting you up to glory.”

Perhaps I will see things differently in the future—God is always working to heal, transform and renew. But in owning our stuff, I believe we not only need to own our fallen and broken ways of living and being, but also the heart of our loving Father who in Christ and by his Spirit says to us, “You are my beloved child in whom I am well pleased.” Owning our stuff means owning the reality we are forgiven, accepted and cherished by the God who calls us his own, and living and acting as though it were true.

Thank you, Heavenly Father, for the great love which compelled you to not only create us out of the dust of the earth and to breathe your life into us, but to also send your Son to join us in our humanity and to raise us up to live with you in the Spirit. Grant us the grace of true repentance and faith, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Psalm 32
A psalm of David.
Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight! Yes, what joy for those whose record the LORD has cleared of guilt, whose lives are lived in complete honesty!

When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long. Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat.

Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.” And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.

Therefore, let all the godly pray to you while there is still time, that they may not drown in the floodwaters of judgment. For you are my hiding place; you protect me from trouble. You surround me with songs of victory.

The LORD says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you. Do not be like a senseless horse or mule that needs a bit and bridle to keep it under control.”

Many sorrows come to the wicked, but unfailing love surrounds those who trust the LORD. So rejoice in the LORD and be glad, all you who obey him! Shout for joy, all you whose hearts are pure!” (NLT)

Running from Relationship

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by Linda Rex

Do you ever get the feeling you would like to leave everything and everyone behind and go hide in a forest somewhere where no one can find you? Sometimes we can get so sick of all the human drama in our lives, we would prefer to live the rest of our lives alone on some island out in the Pacific. Indeed, especially for us introverts, being left all alone with just our thoughts and our personal pursuits may sound a lot like heaven.

However well-intentioned our escape from humanity may be, we cannot escape the reality we were created for loving relationship with God and each other. Often the struggle is not with the relationship part of this, but in that we have to do relationship with other people who may be difficult and hard to understand. We may struggle with knowing how to communicate well, or with understanding what to do in certain social situations. These things don’t come naturally to everyone. Some of us really wrestle with the daily necessity to interact with other human beings.

On top of that, we often experience relational hurts, both as children and as adults. Those hurts we receive as children directly affect our ability to form and retain healthy attachments with others as adults. Extremely unhealthy relationships affect our response to healthy ones, whether we realize it or not. What we do to one another as human beings has consequences in our ability to live in loving relationship with one another the way God created us to.

I remember years ago talking with my pastor after services and telling him he scared me. He would really get into proving his point in his sermon and half scare me to death because he would raise his voice while doing it. In the environment of a tiny congregation, it felt as though he was yelling right at me.

I realized after a while the problem wasn’t with him raising his voice to emphasize a point—that can be a necessary part of preaching. The problem was with me—it created a flashback to the times in my marriage when I was yelled at and things were thrown when I didn’t measure up to a certain someone’s expectations. I could not cope with the raised voice in church because I related it to the intense emotional dumping I had experienced in the past in my significant relationship.

Now, I suppose if I had been raised in a family where emotional dumping was the natural course of human interaction, I might have known how to deal with it, or at least how to cope with it. But in my experience, family members kept things to themselves and did not have emotional outbursts. We were a family of introverted nerds, so communicating with others was always a challenge for all of us, with the possible exception of my mother.

In my family’s way of looking at life, we would have all been healthier and happier if we could each have had an acreage in the country where we didn’t have to interact with our neighbors, or worry about property lines or stray pets, or all the other annoying factors involved in human interactions. In fact, in many ways, in our effort to have any relationships with others at all, we avoided any real interaction with anyone.

What I’m trying to say is, we can live in relationship with others while at the same time not really having any real heart-to-heart, authentic, transparent interactions with them. We can have such effective walls in our hearts and minds we don’t allow anyone to really get close to us and find out the truth of who we really are inside. These protective walls are what we create in our effort to survive in a world where people hurt people, and they are magnified by an understanding and belief in a God who is critical and condemning rather than loving and forgiving.

Healing from these kinds of wounds takes time, and can require a wealth of healthy experiences with people who build us up rather than tear us down. Sometimes we need to spend time with a qualified counselor who can walk with us through our wounds and enable us to find the healing which is available for us in Jesus Christ. In other words, the best way to heal from relational wounds is within the context of healthy relationships—with our kind, loving, and forgiving God and with other kind, loving, and forgiving human beings.

I have found over the years God grows us up as his children by placing us in situations where we are forced to learn how to deal with difficult people. And he does this, not just for our own sake, but for the sake of the one who is being difficult. It is in our relationships with one another that we come to see ourselves more clearly.

God’s design in creating us in his image was for us to reflect the image of God to one another. When I’m interacting with another human being, it is an opportunity for each of us to experience in a real and personal way what it looks like and feels like to live in the relationship of love and grace which exists within the Father, Son, Spirit relations in the Godhead. When we fail to live in outgoing concern, compassion, understanding and grace with one another, we fail to reflect the nature of the God who created us in his image. The Light we are to reflect is diminished, and we walk in darkness instead of in the light.

There is no room for hatred of another human being in God’s economy. That irritating ungodly person who is so annoying is our brother or sister who was also made in God’s image to reflect God’s likeness. That person is also a beloved child of God for whom Christ lived, died, rose again and sent his Spirit. That person we wish would go away and just jump off a cliff in the process, is someone God loves just as much as he loves you and me.

Part of the problem with isolationist Christianity is the neglect of the reality we were intended to love one another by rubbing up against one another relationally in such a way Christ is formed more perfectly in each of us and we experience the reality of God’s infinite love and grace in the process. If the divine Word was willing to set aside the privileges of divinity to enter into our human darkness as Jesus Christ to take on our humanity and experience all the negative consequences of such an act, how can we deny this to our brother and sister human beings?

Indeed, we can forget in the midst of all the struggles we are going through today in our world the example forged for us by Jesus Christ. The path through relational healing is often through the crucifixion—it will be painful and difficult and will include dying in some way. Dealing with unpleasant and difficult, and even toxic people requires being willing to die to our preferences, and being willing to suffer uncomfortable conversations and situations. We may need to stand to and oppose those who are doing evil. We may need to tell someone the truth about their abuse or addiction and force them to get help with it. We may need to draw some boundary lines in our relationships and enforce them, lovingly and graciously.

But this is what it means to love, to truly love one another. Exposing the love and grace of God at the heart of all true relationship is a challenge. It is also a process—a journey we take in relationship with the God who created us, and who loves us and who has, in advance, forgiven us for all our failures and shortcomings. Instead of running from relationship, may we take a bold step today and begin looking for safe, caring, respectful people to begin the process of relational healing with. And may we turn to Christ for the grace and power to learn to love and be loved as God intended.

Thank you, Father, for creating us in such a way we are meant for relationship with you and one another. Grant us the grace to open ourselves up to new relationships and to heal our brokenness within the context of healthy relationships. Teach us how to love the unlovely, and to forgive the unforgiveable, while at the same time calling others deeper into loving relationship with ourselves and with you. We know all of this is possible only in through our Lord Jesus Christ in whose Name by whose Spirit we pray. Amen.

“On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true Light is already shining. The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him.” 1 John 2:8–10 NASB

Walking Humbly

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by Linda Rex

While I was still attending worship services up in Illinois many years ago, we decided one Sunday to change things up a bit during the worship service. We were a very small fellowship group and we gathered together to sing, and to pray and to hear God’s word together. But this particular Sunday we popped popcorn and watched a movie together.

The movie had its funny points and its deeply moving points. And the verse which continually jumped out at me was Micah’s prophetic word, “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:8 KJV).

It occurred to me this morning as I read that verse anew in my morning devotional time, we tend to see this verse as something we have to do as part of our walk as followers of Jesus Christ. It is a challenge for us as human beings to always do what is good, especially when doing good means different things to different people. Indeed, what is truly good?

And what does it mean to be just? Sometimes our efforts to be just turn out to be cruel and unjust in the end. And we’re not always sure of the best way to show mercy, because sometimes the most merciful thing we can do for people is make them face up to their irresponsibility and codependency. And walking humbly with God? That’s another story altogether. We tend to naturally be very arrogant as human beings—when do we ever truly acknowledge our dependency upon the God who created us and sustains us?

If we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit this whole way of living life does not come naturally to us, even though it is what we were created for. God made everything in the beginning, including humanity, and declared our intrinsic being to be good. And yet we think, feel and act in ways which so often are not good. The critical thing for us to understand is God is the source of our goodness. In fact, it is his goodness which is necessary in this instance, since all our goodness falls short.

We do not execute justice as we ought, especially when we determine what is right or wrong based on personal preference, or prejudice, or cultural preconceptions. Too often the weighing in factors are money, power, and prestige rather than what is truly just in God’s sight. God is the One who sees all, even down to the dirty depths of the human heart—and he is the only one who executes true justice. For God is the only One who truly sets everything right in the end.

And so we come to walking humbly with our God. Even God’s chosen people in the Scriptures, the nations of Israel and Judah, did not walk humbly with God. Even though they knew the way to live and walk with God, and the need for them to be a light to the nations, they chose to go their own way. They stubbornly chose their own path, and so reaped the consequences of their choice.

But there was one person who knew the path to walk. He was the only one who lived out the truth of this verse. It took God coming to meet us in our brokenness for there to be a human being who could and would live out the truth of walking humbly with our God. This God/man, Jesus Christ, who was the divine Word in human flesh, is the One who did justly, who loved mercy and who walked humbly with his Father, the Lord of all. Jesus Christ did what none of us could or would do, and he offered himself voluntarily to stand in our place.

Jesus taught us the path to true humility. He set aside the privileges of divinity to join us in our humanity, willing to experience every part of our human existence, even to the point of the unjust indignity of being tortured and crucified. He did not seek his own path, but yielded completely to his Father’s will, and even yielded to the unjust demands of us as human beings in allowing himself to be mistreated and murdered.

In Philippians 2:5-8, the Apostle Paul describes the beauty of the humility of Christ in the midst of our humanity:

“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (NASB)

It’s hard to imagine some of the world leaders we have today being willing to do this very thing. Some executives in large companies would never consider doing what the Word did in setting aside his position and power for our sake as human beings, so we could be included in God’s life and love. Who in their right mind would do such a thing? Yet, we have this eyewitness account: Christ did it.

And this is where we find the resources to live in this way too. In the gift of the Spirit, Christ shares with you and with me, the heart of humility, justice and goodness which is his very own. He offers us his real humanity, the one we were meant to have from the beginning, and says to you and to me—believe. Believe this is true, this is yours, this is who you really are—and live as if it were true.

In our relationship with God in Christ by the Spirit, we find an understanding of what being truly just really means, and in time, we find ourselves being more and more just. As we study Jesus Christ, and get to know him personally in a deeper and deeper way, we find ourselves discerning more clearly it is not so much about what is good or evil according to our human understanding, but about what gives life, the true life which is ours in Jesus Christ. Doing what is good has to do with living in the reality of who we are in him, not in our carnal, broken humanity.

And in our relationship with our Abba in his Son by the Spirit, we find ourselves learning true humility—the path of walking humbly with our God which is only found in Jesus Christ, our Immanuel, who is God with us. Christ’s humility becomes ours. We come to recognize we cannot and do not walk humbly with God as we ought, so God came to walk with us and in us. God stoops down and lifts us up into relationship with himself in Jesus, and by his Spirit enables us to walk in relationship with him moment by moment. It is what God has done and does today and will do in the future which matters here—we only participate in Christ’s perfected work of humility.

So this is how we live out this verse. Christ in us by his Spirit does justly, loves mercy, and walks humbly with his God. Christ in us is for us, in us and with us all we need to live in a loving, perfected relationship with our eternal God. Immanuel, God with us, calls us to participate with him in his life and love, for he has shown us, in his life, death, resurrection and ascension, all which God requires of us. And so we live our lives in gratitude.

Thank you, Abba, for calling us into life with yourself, and for giving us your Son and your Spirit so we may live in you and with you forever. Dear Christ, be for us, as you truly are by your Spirit, the genuine justice, mercy and humility of our lives, so we may walk humbly before you. In your Name 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

Peace on Earth

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doveornament

by Linda Rex

Have you ever had one of those days when no matter where you turned, something horrible was happening or had happened, and someone’s life was shattered and broken? Do you ever have your heart so broken by what’s happening around you you think you will never be able to put it back together again?

There is so much awfulness going on around us today. It seems like there is no end to the horrendous things people do to one another. No matter how hard we try to make this a healthy and happy experience, we still lose dear ones and children. And it can seem like that’s all there is to this world. The possibility of hope in the midst of all this can seem very small.

This time of year during Advent we celebrate the coming into a dark and forbidding world of a ray of light, a beam of hope—the coming of God into our humanity to share our struggles and sufferings and to bring us new life. How fitting it is that our common desire for a messiah, a rescuer, was met with the gift of a little infant who bore the very Presence and Being of God himself.

The problem is we prefer God to rescue us on our own terms. During Jesus’ life here on earth, he was expected to be the Conquering King messiah, when he was really meant to be the lay-down-his-life Suffering Servant messiah. Our expectations of how God should rescue us often drive the way we see him and the way we experience our world, and they need readjusted.

Truth is, while this God/man Jesus Christ was on earth, he healed a lot of people, but he didn’t heal everyone who was sick. He may have thrown some vendors out of the temple, but he didn’t get rid of them over and over while he was here. He may have raised Lazarus and the young man in Nain from the dead, but he did not raise all the other people around him who died while he was here on earth.

It’s hard to picture this about our Savior, but he did not stop the slavery he saw about him. Nor did he intervene in every situation to stop the Romans from crucifying people. No doubt he saw and experienced much suffering and grief while he was here. But he didn’t stop it all and fix it all right there and then. His Father had something much different in mind.

Our way of dealing with things so often focuses on the right-here-and-now. It seems we need to be given an eternal perspective—one which focuses, not on morality or a pain-free life, but on relationship. Relationships can be difficult, messy and painful, and we so often prefer not to deal with the truth of the issues which are going on in our own hearts, much less those going on in the hearts of those around us.

The engagement of human hearts with the Divine Heart of love is something which takes us down paths we don’t want to go. We want peace, joy, love, happiness, hope. But we don’t want a relationship with the One who gives us those things, nor do we want to live in agreement with the truth of the reality for which we were created. I’m just being real here: We prefer to live in our own little bubble of reality, rather than in the truth of who we really are, the humans God created us to be—people who love God and love one another with outgoing, self-sacrificing love and humility.

God—Father, Son, and Spirit—has such a deep respect for our personhood, which reflects the divine Personhood, he does not impose his will on us, but rather invites us to participate in the true reality of life in the Trinity. There is a way of being we were created for which reflects the divine Way of Being, and we can live in this way, or in a way of our own devising.

We can decide for ourselves how we are going to use our bodies, our belongings, our world, or we can surrender to the reality we are not God and begin to use them all in the way God created them to be used in the first place. God has given us incredible freedom, and does not ever impose his will unless it is imperative to accomplishing his ultimate purposes in the world—to bring many children into glory.

So often we want God to straighten up things in the world, but the minute we begin to experience the possibility of him intervening, we get all upset, because he isn’t doing things the way we want him to do them. We struggle with the real dichotomy within our own human hearts—our desire to love and be loved, and our natural human rebellion against allowing God to be the supreme lover of our soul.

This puts us in a very difficult position. We are experiencing the consequences of our human rebellion against the Lord of the universe, but we are angry with God because we are experiencing these consequences. It is not our fault when we get mugged by someone or our loved one gets murdered—we did not do anything to deserve this suffering. It is not our fault someone dear to us developed cancer and died—they were a good person, so why did they have to die—we didn’t deserve this.

And this is all true. So many of us are experiencing the consequences of things others have done and which are not our fault. Others of us seem to get away with everything and never suffer any consequences. It all seems so unfair. And it really is, in one sense.

But from the viewpoint of the Divine grace of God, neither was the suffering and death of the little infant who lay in a manger that Bethlehem night. Here was God’s supreme gift to humanity—his very Person in human flesh. And we did to him what was in our hearts—we rejected him, abused him, and crucified him.

At no point did Jesus refuse to embrace the truth of the evil in our human hearts. Yes, he shed great tears and earnestly sought a different way, but in the end, he surrendered himself to the truth of the darkness in human hearts. And by doing so, he opened a way for Light to enter the world. In his life in this dark world, his suffering and crucifixion, he bore all that we go through, and then he died and rose again—to offer us hope in a new life, a new world to come where we could truly begin to experience life in the Trinity as God intended.

The Light of God entered the world, but then in Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension, we find that the Light of God has entered human hearts. The Spirit has been sent of offer us our new existence in relationship with the Triune God of love. Our experience of the new life Christ has forged for us is found in the midst of this relationship of love—in true community with God and others.

If we were to look around us and even within our own hearts, we might find instead of darkness, the glimmer of the hope created for us in Jesus Christ by the Spirit. Opening our hearts to the Light of God, we might find that this Light is shining all around us, in other human hearts, in difficult and painful situations, in the offering of joy and happy relationships in the midst of a dark world. The Light has come into the world—will we open our hearts and lives and embrace the wonder of this precious gift? Or will we continue down our own stubborn path of resistance to the truth of how things really are?

Either way, we have been given a hope, a joy, a peace we did not deserve. God has declared his heart toward us is love and grace. He has ordained peace on earth, in and through his Son Jesus Christ and by the gift of his Spirit. And one day, we will begin to experience the truth of this in a way we cannot even begin to imagine now.

Today and in this moment, we can participate in this gift by receiving it, opening it up, and enjoying the blessings of all God has given us in this gift of his Son. May you each have a very blessed Christmas, enjoying all the blessings of life in Jesus by the Spirit as Abba’s good and perfect gift. Merry Christmas!

Dear Abba, thanks for giving us the best of all gifts, your Son in the form of a baby in a manger. How can it be you love us so much you would give us your very heart?! Forgive us—so often we are unappreciative of your many gifts, especially this One Who was meant to bring us near to you in real, intimate relationship for all eternity. May we set aside all our expectations of you, and receive in true humility all we need for life and godliness—your most precious divine gifts—your Son and your Spirit. In your Name we pray, amen.

“The true Light, who shines upon the heart of everyone, was coming into the world. He entered our world, a world He made; yet the world did not recognize Him. Even though He came to His own people, they refused to listen and receive Him. But for all who did receive and trust in Him, He gave them the right to be reborn as children of God; He bestowed this birthright not by human power or initiative, but by God’s will. The Voice took on flesh and became human and chose to live alongside us. We have seen Him, enveloped in undeniable splendor—the one true Son of the Father—evidenced in the perfect balance of grace and truth.” John 1:9-14 (The Voice Bible)

The Path of Peace

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christmas_lights_clipby Linda Rex

When I was growing up, I learned at an early age that God had rules for everything. He decided what I could eat and what I could not eat, when I could eat certain foods and when I couldn’t. He decided what I should wear and what I shouldn’t wear, and when certain things should be worn and when they shouldn’t. In fact, it seemed as though God was making sure I did everything exactly right so he could bless me and I could be happy, or punish me if I went astray.

I suppose, looking back, there was something helpful about having some order to my existence. But I realized early on I had an inner resistance to this constant dictation as to what I had to do or not do. There was a rebellion deep within me to being controlled in this manner. And of course, this was seen as being sinful and evil. I did a lot of repenting and I worked really hard at “being good.”

The irony in all of this was I wasn’t made any better or any worse by all this effort. If anything, I was so busy putting on my appearance of having my life in order, I was missing out on real life—real relationship with God and with others. It was only in those relationships where I dropped the façade—with my high school buddies, for example—and where I was genuine and transparent I actually experienced true communion with others. The rest was just pretense.

When God finally got through to me with the reality of his grace and Who he actually was for me, with me and in me, I realized I was one of those people Jesus quite adamantly criticized when he was here on earth. I was a Pharisee—a white-washed tomb—a viper in the woodpile.

To come to the realization that you have all the glitz but none of the reality is a painful, difficult process. It takes experiencing the loss of all the things you cherish and coming to the end of all the things you count on to carry you through and to make you “good enough.” It means discarding all your previous notions about Who God is and who you are as his creature. And this is a tough road to travel, because our humanity and the culture we live in encourage us to stay where we are—in the façade.

One of the things I had to learn about God was he is truly free—free to be Who he is, apart from my expectations of him or preconceived notions about him. He is free to do whatever he wants in this world—which is often the exact opposite of how I was taught and believed he would act in certain situations. God is free to be Who he is, not Who I think he is. The Lord of the universe is truly that—Lord—and I am not (shockingly enough!).

But that freedom God has is always tempered by his boundless, deep love, which surpasses our comprehension. The God I grew up with was punitive and angry. And it was not helpful my personal experience of a father reinforced this belief in many ways. But when God revealed himself to me in Christ by the Spirit, I came to see this wasn’t Who God really was. The God of grace and love has always loved me and you and meant for us to be included in his divine life. This is amazing!

The other amazing thing is God gives each of us freedom—freedom to choose, to embrace or reject him, to live in harmony and unity with him and others, or to live in opposition to everything which is good and honorable and to experience the consequences of living in that way. It is hard to image God doing that, but he did and he does. Freedom to live in loving communion with him and each other, or not—it’s as simple as that.

One of the topics which kept coming up last night at a social gathering I attended was the way each of us has a unique history or genesis, but we are all intertwined and interrelated in some way. Indeed, it seems a person cannot assume someone they do not like is not at all connected with them because we have, as the centuries have passed, intermingled our DNA with one another. We are all bound together in a common humanity.

The joys of fellowship and community are a consistent thread throughout human existence. And this is what we seem to cherish most about our family and community celebrations such as Christmas. At the core of our being, we are drawn to one another in ways we don’t even realize—we are created for community and so we are drawn to it as a part of our very being.

This type of loving community, this interweaving of lives with one another in harmony and grace and peace, cannot be built by making rules and enforcing them. This is a work of the Spirit which takes place in the heart. God does not control us or force us into relationship with him and others, but invites us, draws us close, and compels us by his deep, perfect, and gracious love.

I pray you will each experience the blessing of true spiritual community this Christmas in many ways in your lives. I pray your families will experience healing and comfort and encouragement in the midst of all which pulls us apart and divides us. And I pray you will have a blessed and wonderful Advent season, through Jesus, our Lord, and by his Spirit. Amen.

“What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life—and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us—what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.” 1 John 1:1–3 NASB