By Linda Rex
This morning as I was getting ready for the day, I paused to watch a news story with my mom. It was showing the many refugees from Iraq and Syria who were crossing into Europe in a desperate effort to find peace and safety. Later I came across a news story on the Web about how the German government in one area had to ask the people to stop being so generous to the refugees—they were being overwhelmed with provisions.
It seems on the one hand we have a horrible situation occurring in which people are being murdered, assaulted, and driven out of their homeland, while on the other we have gracious and compassionate people offering help in an impossible situation. Good and evil juxtaposed in the midst of tragedy and despair.
But isn’t this the human condition? Haven’t we come to this same place over and over?
I was talking with a person a while back who believed that Jesus is coming back on the day after the Jewish holy day of Atonement. He had his reasons for this belief all figured out and in his mind they made sense. It made me think back to all the times when I was growing up and heard different preachers telling me similar predictions which never came true.
When we look around at the horrors and tragedies going on in the world today, our hearts as Christians cry out, “Even so come, Lord Jesus!” We want to be free from our human messiness and finally have justice done to those who are evil, and receive our reward for our faithful obedience to Christ.
It is easy to see God’s judgment as the final revelation of God’s wrath against evil human beings and governments. The events described in the Revelation of St. John are understood by some as a forecast of what’s going to happen when Jesus finally returns and makes everything right.
In the midst of our broken humanity, which we face day by day, we can’t help but admit that we are unable to fix our problems. We cannot get people to stop shooting one another, no matter how many gun laws we enact or guns we take away. We cannot get people to stop divorcing each other, no matter how many counseling sessions we offer or warnings we give about how it’s going to hurt the children.
Little toddlers still go to bed hungry and teens are still sold as slaves. Large companies still misuse resources and foul the earth. People still use people and crimes are still committed. Wherever I turn, I’m hearing Christians declare we’re at the very end now because our American social system is allowing gay marriage. Our human brokenness meets us at every corner—we cannot escape it.
When I think about all this, I can come to the conclusion that the only thing we deserve as humans is to have God come in judgment and destroy us. And quite honestly, I’m not so sure that Christians are that much different than the general population, especially considering how far short we fall from the ideal. So even though we think we’ve got a good thing coming, we’re not necessarily deserving of any different treatment from anyone else if we are to get what we deserve.
It seems to me that we, humanity as a whole, are all in the same boat. The only difference is that some of us believe that Jesus Christ is God in human flesh, and that he came to save sinners. If Jesus came to save sinners, then all of humanity is in the category of people who are saved by Jesus Christ, his life, death, resurrection and ascension.
For believers, our faith in Christ is a gift from God and it is undeserved. It does not make us superior to or more perfect than anyone else—if anything, it is a participation in the judgment Jesus took upon himself—he became sin for every human being and offered himself in our place when we deserved total destruction. In many ways, our participation in Christ is also our willingness to be offered on behalf of others so they might be saved as well.
So all this nastiness going on in the world, this evil which preys upon the good God created all things to be, is not something God intended for us. We allow and participate in evil because we are human and it is our proclivity to do so. But God works in the midst of it to bring light into the darkness. He brings his love into the hate we much too often give ourselves over to. He brings mercy in the midst of judgment.
Indeed we need Jesus to come again and set everything right. But Jesus has come and put everything on the right basis already—founded upon his very being as God in human flesh. He has established perfected humanity and invited each of us to live it out in relationship with him in the Spirit. He has offered each of us the power to live beyond our human brokenness in a new way of living and being that is predicated upon his power and love. He has sent his Spirit to indwell human hearts—so that we can have a new being and a new creation.
And yet he says to us, “Believe.” What we believe about him, about our world and about ourselves is a good indicator of how well we will live out the truth of our being. This world with all of its tragedies, devastations and evils is a good description of what happens when we refuse to believe that Jesus Christ stands in our place and is for us our perfected humanity. The ravaged, abused earth is a good reflection of what happens when we refused to acknowledge any Lord other than ourselves. We are, sadly, reaping what we have sown.
But isn’t that what judgment is? And God’s purpose in judgment is not to cause us pain but to bring us to the place where we choose light over darkness, where we choose to believe he is the only one who can save us. God’s judgment brings us to the realization that our way isn’t the way things really are. Our true reality as human beings exists in the person of Jesus Christ, God’s Son. It is when we start living in agreement with this truth that we find true freedom and real eternal life.
What so many of us want today is the cosmic destruction of all that is evil and the triumph of all that is good. But if we were to be honest with ourselves, none of us are ready yet to fully give up our autonomy. We still want to be able to call our own shots about things, even if we are Christians. Too often our beliefs are external to us rather than internal and a part of what drives us in every area of our lives. We are way too good at keeping God and Jesus at the fringes of our existence.
If Jesus told us today to stop doing something he believes is not what is best for us, would we do it? Even if it meant breaking off a relationship, becoming the laughingstock of social media, or ending up in jail? Or being singled out for genocide? Is God’s judgment on evil and his gracious love at work in you and me today to transform and cleanse us in such a way that we become all that we are meant to be in Jesus right now? Do we truly believe and trust in Jesus Christ? Is he our loving Lord? It’s worth considering.
Thank you, Father God, that your heart toward us is loving and good. Thank you for giving us yourself in your Son and in your Spirit so that we might be healed and transformed. Thank you for not leaving us as we are in our brokenness and darkness, but working endlessly to transform and heal us, and to bring us into your eternal light, through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.
“For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.” John 3:17–19 NASB
In the Midst of Dying audio by Linda Rex
by Linda Rex
I’m seeing more and more that what we unconsciously say and do often reflects a belief about who God is and who we are in relation to him that is unhealthy and even wrong. Even our language as followers of Christ is often filled with a deep anxiety that God’s not going to come through for us. Deep down we believe that if we don’t get things exactly right, the outcome is not going to be good.
I hear this a lot of times when people are talking about the growth and development of things they believe God wants them to be doing, such as ministries or churches, or even families. There is an underlying belief that if they just get all their ducks in a row, so to speak, then everything will turn out wonderful. If they follow this particular plan or complete these specific tasks in the correct order, then something awesome is going to happen. And if they don’t, all hell will break loose.
This God-concept also shows up when I talk with people about the darkness or chaos in their lives. And truly, how can I blame someone for seeing God in this way, when everything they are experiencing or have experienced in their life tells them it is true? What could I say that would convince them otherwise?
I know what it feels like to have everything you believe in fall into pieces at your feet. I know the pain of deep betrayal by those you trusted and counted on, including God. I know how it feels to be surrounded with mountains of problems that can’t be climbed. The despair that goes with such hopelessness can be overwhelming.
Whether we like it or not, we are faced with these ultimate questions over and over in life: Is God trustworthy and good? Does he really love me? Will God come through for me when I need him? Can I count on him? Does he really forgive sinners?
For whatever reason, we are never fully satisfied with the truth about who God is and who we are in relation to him, no matter how many times we are told it. It seems as though we have to experience the truth before we allow it to shape us and transform us. God spends our lifetimes bringing us through one circumstance after another, showing us the truth of his goodness, mercy and love.
It is refreshing to come to the realization that the whole issue about the success or failure of anything isn’t whether I’m doing it right, or someone else is doing it correctly, or whether we’re just letting God do it all himself. The real foundational paradigm is participation—sharing in relationship—doing it together. It’s not really about what you’re doing, but about doing it together, in relationship with God.
We get worried about the goodness and badness of things, and are agitated about having everything fulfill the perfect plan (whoever the architect may be). But God is interested in the process and in sharing life with us. It’s the conversations we have with him as we are doing this, the building of intimacy with him, that he cares about. It’s the knowing and being known that matters.
I read somewhere that what children remember most about their childhoods is not necessarily the gifts they were given, but the special times they spent with certain people doing things that were meaningful. It was the relational sharing, the sacrifices made, the unconditional love and grace in the midst of brokenness that was most significant.
Likewise, it is the abusive and harmful significant relationships that are so devastating to children. When authority figures or trusted people do not image God’s love and grace, but the brokenness of our humanity to children, it causes them to question these very core beliefs about God and who they are in the midst of such a dangerous, chaotic world.
We find ourselves then, as grownups, faced with all the same stuff, and our response hinges upon these fundamental beliefs about God, ourselves, and each other. William Paul Young said recently at Grace Communion International’s Converge 2015 conference that it took him 55 years to get the face of his father off the face of God. Personally, it has taken me much of my own life to see God in some way other than how I believed a father was, since my only experience with a father was with my own dad.
Thankfully, as we grow in our relationship with God, he works to change how we think and feel about him as Father, Son and Spirit. That’s what’s involved in repentance—changing our minds and hearts about God, who he is and who we are in relationship with him. We begin to see how we were totally wrong and we turn around and go the other way.
It takes great faith to be caught in the midst of devastating circumstances and still be able to say to God, “I trust you.” It takes a deep assurance of God’s love to stand strong in our relationship with God when it looks by all appearances as though he has turned and walked away. It takes great humility to allow God to work out circumstances in whatever way he thinks is best, when we would rather take the easy road, or go our own way.
This Holy Week teaches us that Jesus paved the way in all these areas. Even though he asked his Father to find a way different than the cross, Jesus yielded to his Father’s will and wisdom and took the high road to the cross. His final words to God, even when he was experiencing the silence of our humanity, was that he entrusted his Spirit to the Father. He knew his Father well enough to know that he was not leaving him or going away. Nothing can or will divide the Trinity.
There is a deep rest that Jesus created for us in his relationship with the Father by the Spirit. He proved that even in the midst of dying and death, there is resurrection. Our God can be completely and totally trusted. His love never fails. However bleak things may look or feel, the truth is that God’s got it. He’s going all the way with us, to and through the cross and tomb, to the glory of the resurrection. In the end, all that matters is that he was with us through it all and will be with us forever.
Thank you, Father, that you are indeed who Jesus showed us you are, and that your Spirit never stops working to show us the truth about who you are. Thank you that we are held each moment in life and in death in your loving embrace, and that you have given us the hope of the resurrection. We trust you to finish what you have begun in us, just as you finished what you planned before time began through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.
“For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; Nor has He hidden His face from him; But when he cried to Him for help, He heard.” Ps 22:24 NASB
by Linda Rex
Often we read the sermons of Jesus in which he advocates doing good to our enemies rather than giving them what they deserve (Matt. 5:39). Our natural response may be to say how ridiculous it is to even think of trying to do this in real life. What we experience in the normal course of events is most often the exact opposite.
A story I came across the other day in the Old Testament popped out at me, because it actually illustrated this specific principle at work. Of course, it was many millenia ago, and involved two kings who were at war with one another, and a prophet who was diligently doing the will of God.
The story goes like this. The nation of Aram was at war with the nation of Israel. Every time the king of Aram went to attack the nation of Israel, the prophet Elisha would warn the king of Israel about the ambush. This kept the Israelites safe from attack.
After a while, the king of Aram got ticked off, and began searching for a traitor among his officers. Apparently their military intelligence was working properly this time, because one of the officers told him about the prophet Elisha and what he was doing to inform the king of Israel about their plans of attack.
So early the next morning, Elisha’s servant woke up to find his beloved city of Dothan surrounded by the Aramean army with its soldiers, horses and chariots. Needless to say, he was terrified, and anxiously asked Elisha what they should do.
Elisha first asked God to give his servant an assurance of his presence in the midst of this terrifying situation. So God enabled Elisha’s servant to see that God’s army with its horses and chariots covered the hills around the city. They were perfectly safe in the midst of this danger.
Then Elisha asked God to cause the soldiers of Aram to be blinded so they couldn’t see where they were or where they would be going. Then he proceeded to tell the commander that he would lead them to the city and person they were looking for. And off they went to Israel’s capital city of Samaria.
There in the middle of Samaria with the Israelite army surrounding them, Elisha asked God to give the Arameans back their sight. Now they saw that they were totally at the mercy of the Israelites, their enemies! At that point the king of Israel asked if he should kill them.
How simple it would have been to kill all of those enemy soldiers! They had no hope of escaping, and they were guilty of harassing the Israelites with their constant attacks. It certainly would have been just, if looked at from that point of view.
But Elisha pulled out the “do good to your enemies” principle and told the king of Israel he should give them food and water and send them back to their master. So the king held a great feast, made sure they were all well supplied and then sent them home.
What’s interesting is the small statement at the end of this story—the soldiers from Aram quit raiding the Israelite territory. Now if the king of Israel had gone ahead and killed all those soldiers from Aram, it would have probably been the “just” thing to do, but it would have only escalated the tension between the two countries. It would have initiated real war. But in doing good to their enemies, the Israelites, guided by God through Elisha the prophet, invoked the power of grace and service. And hearts were changed, at least, for the time being. So how is it possible to really do this in real life?
First, we see that Elisha was living in a relationship with God in which he was in tune with God’s heart and mind, and he was trusting in God’s love, grace and protection. He was living in obedience to God, doing as God asked, even when it was difficult or dangerous.
Secondly, we need to see beyond the physical into the realm of God’s kingdom life. There is a spiritual reality that exists beyond our humanity. We participate in the spiritual realm through Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit. God is with us, in us and for us. We have no reason to be afraid.
Thirdly, we need to follow God’s lead, and allow him to take us wherever he wishes us to go. He will give us the ability to see what’s really going on when the time is right. He will help us to know what to do to best resolve the situation without revenge or violence.
Lastly, we need to choose grace and service rather than revenge or cold justice. Looking at the situation through the eyes of Christ, we can ask, what would be the most gracious, hospitable thing to do? How can I offer this person God’s love in the midst of this?
The reality is that even our efforts to do good in response to evil may end in suffering, loss and abuse. Christ called us to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. There is a need for caution, wisdom, and seeking counsel and help from others in the midst of dangerous or potentially harmful circumstances. But at the same time we can apply God’s principle of grace and service in the midst of it all, and experience God’s blessings as a result.
Father, thank you that you are faithful in the midst of difficult and dangerous circumstances. Grant us the heart, wisdom and strength to do good to others, no matter their response to us. Grant us courage, faith, and obedience so we will follow you wherever you lead. Show us how best to love others with Christ’s love through the Spirit in the midst of adversity. In Jesus’ name, by your precious Spirit. Amen.
“But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:20–21 NASB
(You can find the story in 2 Kings 6:8-23.)
by Linda Rex
This morning I was thinking about all the ways we go about trying to find or create our own significance in this world. As we grow up, we want people to notice us, to see that we are somebody. Unless, of course, being invisible is a safer way of being for us.
But this drive to be noticed, to be considered worthwhile, motivates approaches to life and living that are not always healthy and sound-minded. I came across the story of a young man who discovered this power of significance the day he first rode a bull in a rodeo competition. Somehow, being the guy at school who rode the bulls gave him a feeling of self-worth and made him believe he had value he would not have had otherwise. It was only after he began to evaluate the cost in terms of suffering and loss of life that he began to look for other ways to establish his significance.
It is interesting to flip through the channels on the TV and to look at all the shows based on this whole premise—if I’m the best at this then I’ll be somebody—if I do this thing in this unique way, everyone will notice me. Watching one of the newest sitcoms the other day, I realized that the whole concept of a person trying to be somebody, to be noticed, to be approved of, to be a good person, drives so many of the plotlines. It’s just our story as human beings.
And this story is as old as the history of humanity. My morning reading in the Old Testament today was the 15th chapter of Samuel. God had given Israel the king they requested and his name was Saul. He started out a pretty humble man, but in this chapter we find that somehow being significant and important supplanted his humility.
God instructed King Saul to lead the Israelites into battle against a particular king and told him to destroy everything associated with that particular group of people. God wasn’t being cruel—he was just exacting justice and was inviting his people to be a part of that process. (He does that today in a similar way through our armies and police forces, though he typically doesn’t call for genocide any longer.)
In this case, though, the point the writer was making was that King Saul hadn’t grasped the importance of following God’s instructions exactly. He won the battle, but he kept the king alive and brought the best of the cattle and animals, ostensibly for an offering to God. Then he built a memorial to himself. Note: the memorial built was to the king, not to God, the One who had given the king success in battle.
Needless to say, God was ticked, and so was Samuel. In the unpleasant conversation that followed, King Saul was more concerned about the opinion of the people and his significance with them than he was about the reality that he had alienated himself from the God who made him king in the first place.
Sometimes the price we pay for some type of significance and worth and value is too high. Sometimes we lay down our most important relationships in payment for this feeling of importance and power. We give over the only things that in the long run will carry us through eternity—our relationships with God and each other—for the sake of our moment of glory. Is it really worth the price we are willing to pay?
I think it is instructive that Jesus Christ spent the majority of his earthly existence refusing to accept any pats on the back for being the Messiah. Instead he focused on being a servant. Over and over, he reminded his disciples of the inverse values of the kingdom of God: the least are the greatest; the servant will lead; the dead will live; the rejected are those who are most valued by God.
In being God in human flesh, Jesus had every right to expect people to make everything be about him. Yet, instead, he pointed people to his Father. Whatever he did, he did in, with and for his heavenly Father. It wasn’t about him. It was about the will of God.
How clearly Christ demonstrated that our human existence isn’t about us finding some significance in ourselves or in what we do! It’s not about us at all. We don’t find our value and worth in anything we say, think or do. We only find it in God and in his Son, who enveloped our humanity within his own and gave it ultimate significant, worth and value in himself.
So when we live wrapped up in trying to find some value and significance in our own feeble, human way, we will find in the end only emptiness and loss. Human applause and approval are fickle things. They come and go like the weather changes.
But when we surrender this search to the will and purposes of Almighty God, and seek Christ and value his significance and worth, we find that we are cherished, valued and significant ways that really matter. We are God’s treasure. He has every intention to share his life and glory with us in Christ forever. And that’s something worth sacrificing everything for.
Heavenly Father, we confess that too often we make life all about us, and about what others may think or feel about us. Forgive our self-centered, self-seeking ways of being, and grant that, in Jesus, we might live God-centered, other-centered lives instead. Grant us the grace to obey you first and foremost—to surrender our wishes and wills to you, Almighty God, no matter the cost to ourselves. Thank you for the grace you give us, and for your precious Spirit who awakens us to our true value and significance in Christ. Thank you for counting us as precious, valued and significant forever. In Christ, we pray. Amen.
“Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel, saying, ‘I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following Me and has not carried out My commands.’ And Samuel was distressed and cried out to the Lord all night.” 1 Samuel 15:10–11
By Linda Rex
I was reading some short quips from a book called “Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations” when I came upon the following:
Until recently, most astronomers believed that our sun could maintain its present heat-energy output for at least another eight million years, because its hydrogen supply is only about half exhausted.
More recently, however, this theory has been reappraised. It is now believed that once a star (our sun, by the way, is just a medium-sized star) has expended half of its hydrogen, it is in danger of experiencing a nova. This means that a star the size of our sun gets brighter and hotter for a period of about 7 to 14 days—then becomes darker.
There are about fourteen novas a year in the observable universe. Many astronomers believe that our own sun may be about to nova because of the increased sun-spot activity. (1)
This kind of statement usually peaks my interest, but this time, since it was not written by a scientist nor was it found in a scientific journal, I had to seriously investigate its truthfulness before I took it seriously. In fact, statements like these than can provide fuel for the fire for those of us who like to make apocalyptic warnings and prophecies.
For example, if I were to read something like the above quote, and then read 2 Peter 3:10-12, I might develop some real concerns about the end of the world coming soon and what it will be like:
10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. 11 Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! (NASB)
Wow, it sounds on the surface that the world could really end in a flaming ball of fire at any moment! Here’s where we start preaching hail, fire and brimstone. Get your act together now or you’re going to end up in the burning flames.
Reading through the titles of so many articles on the Web also brings to mind other types of “end of the world” scenarios or other forms of possible disaster: everyday foods that create cancer, a mysterious disease causing paralysis in children, women in India being poisoned by medicine—the list goes on.
The common thread here, I believe is fear. Fear is the one thing that keeps us from seeing, hearing and believing the God of the universe loves us and holds us in his hand. Fear grabs hold of us and blinds us to the truth that we are surrounded with and held in God’s love. It is God’s perfect love which casts out our fear and removes the torment that comes when we feel we have to hold everything together ourselves.
It is worth pausing a moment to ask ourselves exactly how much it would matter in the long run if everything ended now. What if I did accidently take a medicine that ended up killing me? What if my next medical checkup does show I have cancer? What if the sun really were to go supernova tomorrow? Is there reason for panic?
None of us are really truly prepared for the thief in the night, though some of us may have a watchdog and others of us have an alarm system. The thief in the night comes when he comes, and probably when we least expect him and most definitely do not want him. But if we are alert and prepared, it won’t be as much of a catastrophe as it would be if we were totally clueless.
I believe the issue here is realizing just who we are and who we belong to. Since we are loved by a gracious, long-suffering God who came himself in his Son Jesus Christ to rescue us, we really don’t have anything to fear. We have our early warning system in the Holy Spirit who dwells within us. We are God’s children, children of the light not children of the darkness, and he is looking after us.
When we live moment by moment in close relationship with God, we know and recognize the signs of the times. We are guided by and led by the Holy Spirit. We know and obediently respond to Jesus as he calls to us to follow and to obey.
Then we, as children of light and not darkness, will not be overwhelmed by anything that comes our way. Rather, we are prepared and aware and will respond in accordance with God’s will for us before and in the midst of each situation in which we may find ourselves.
It won’t matter then whether or not the sun picks tonight to be the moment it decides to go supernova. If we get the medical report that signs our death warrant, we will be able to face it headfirst, in faith. We will trust that in the midst of it all, God is holding us and will bring us through to that glorious day when we will meet him face to face, and it will all be okay.
As we live and walk in the light of God’s Word and in the power of the Holy Spirit, we soberly approach our future with faith, hope and love. We are alert to the things in our lives that may distract our attention from the one Being who has, at every moment, our best interests at heart. We’ll be able to weather every storm that comes because we are anchored in Christ, in our eternal relationship with the Father, through Jesus and in the Holy Spirit.
So bye-bye to all these apocalyptic worries. We focus on Christ, not on the headlines. We focus on living in love and grace with others the way God lives in love and grace with us. We weather the storms of life in Christ, carried by his faith, hope and love. And all is and will be well.
Thank you Father, that we have nothing to fear. Though the stars may fall, our sun may explode and our world fall apart or burn up in flames, we are held close in your hand. Nothing but love fills your heart for us. You want us to be with you always. Grant us the grace each day and each moment to trust in your perfect love for us that you have shown to us in Jesus, and by and in the gift of your Spirit. Give us the grace to believe and to trust you in every circumstance we face, that you will bring us through. Through Jesus, our Lord and Savior, we pray. Amen.
“But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober.” 1 Thess. 5:4–6
(1) Tan, P. L. (1996). Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times (p. 740). Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc.
by Linda Rex
I was watching an old classic TV series recently called “Nanny and the Professor.” For those of you who are unfamiliar with this show, it is about a nanny who helps a professor care for his three children. She has a Mary Poppins-type knack for knowing exactly what is needed in every situation. She always seems to know who’s at the door before they knock or who’s on the phone before it rings. At the beginning of each show, we hear the question being asked about all the amazing things Phoebe Figalilly does: “Is it Love or is It Magic?” And it is left up to the audience to decide.
I think sometimes that the current interest in all types of spirituality blurs the lines for us between what is magic and what is love. Whether we like it or not, our view of God and spirituality is influenced by our culture and all that we see and hear in the media. What we believe about love and being loving is also affected.
The apostle John wrote: “God is love.” That, I believe, is a true statement. But what does it mean?
Does “God is love” mean that love is God? No. Love is a relational property, something expressed. Love in itself is not a being. God is a being, who is Father, Son, and Spirit, who lives in love—love describes his being. It describes how he lives in mutual submission, caring and oneness—in perichoresis.
So if God is love, does that mean that God has to always do nice things for us? I mean, if God is love, how come there are so many nasty things going on in the world—so many hurt people, ruined lives—so much rampant evil? How can God be love and let that happen?
Well, no, God isn’t Phoebe Figalilly who’s going to make everything wonderful for us all the time. And he’s not obligated to do that, even if he is love. Love doesn’t equate automatically with being nice all the time.
And love doesn’t equate with God giving us what we want all the time. That’s a magical God that we can control and use. Magic is something we use to try to manipulate spiritual realities.
But God doesn’t work that way. God is completely free to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, however he wants. He’s totally free, but he’s also totally love. And he loves us enough that he does not allow us to control, manipulate or use him. He does, rather, allow us to influence him as a child may influence a parent to say yes to his request for a new puppy.
God teaches us, through Jesus, that real love is serving, sacrificial and never works in opposition to what is right, pure, holy and true. Real love is relational in a heavenly way. Real love calls out the best in people—raising them up to be all that God intended them to be when he created them in the first place—a true reflection of himself. Sometimes this means saying “No” or putting boundaries in a relationship. Sometimes real love hurts, causing or experiencing suffering, in order to help and heal.
Much of the evil and suffering we see and experience is the result of our own choices and our own stubborn willfulness. We inflict it on one another, even sometimes without realizing we are doing it. Sometimes love allows people to feel the full impact of the consequence of their choices—not to hurt them, but to motivate them to repent and change. God does this with us.
I think there is a huge difference between magic and love, one that God demonstrates to us through his Son Jesus Christ. Real love can be seen and experienced in a personal relationship with God in Christ by the Spirit. Real love can be seen and experienced as we reflect God in Christ by the Spirit in our relationships with one another.
But God isn’t interested in our magic incantations, our self-help programs, or worship rituals that we use to try to somehow get God to do what we want—to try to fix problems or heal people. God can do that all by himself and often does do that without any of our help. He likes to include us in his miracles—but only as participants, not as magicians. It’s not about magic—it’s all about love.
“Holy God, forgive us, please, for all the times and ways in which we try to manipulate, control and use you. Forgive us for seeing you as something to fix things with rather than as a person to relate to in love. Thank you that your great love goes beyond anything we can ask or imagine, and that you have our best interests at heart all the time. Perfect us in your holy love in Jesus. In your name, Father, Son and Spirit—you who alone are God. Amen.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Jn 13:34–35
By Linda Rex
It never seems to fail that when someone I know is suffering through a really bad experience and is finding it impossible to bear any more suffering, that a well-meaning soul will say, “God never gives us more than we can handle.” I cringe inside because I’ve experienced the reality that sometimes God does give us more than we can bear. So when I hear that phrase, everything inside of me wants to scream out, “He does too!”
This is an unfortunate reading of 1 Corinthians 10:13, which actually talks about temptation to sin, not about suffering or affliction in general. In the NASB it reads:
“No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”
The context of this verse, then, focuses on temptations rather than afflictions or trials. In my opinion, overwhelming trials and afflictions are not what Paul is talking about here.
When reading Paul’s epistles, we see that he talks a lot about trials, afflictions and sufferings that are beyond our ability to bear. He talks about participating in Jesus’s sufferings and death so that we can share in his life. We learn from Jesus and his apostles that it is in dying that we live. It’s all about death and resurrection.
And suffering and grief are not just random events that have no purpose or value. They may be tools of the darkness and be designed to defeat and destroy, but the Light has come in Jesus. All these things must submit to the lordship of Christ, and fulfill the will and purposes of Almighty God. As the scripture says, we overwhelmingly conquer in Jesus.
The point is that God has in mind our perfection, our full reflection of his image. He also has in mind the renewal of all things. We don’t see the things God sees, nor can we fully understand his purposes or his methods. Our view is severely impacted by the pain and sorrow and suffering we may be going through at the moment and we may be unable to see that God does redeem and heal and restore in the end. Our humanity limits our ability to grasp the significance and purpose of all we experience in our lives.
God does indeed allow us to be “burdened excessively, beyond our strength”, even to the point where we despair of life. We are constantly “delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake”, but for a reason. God is refining us “as silver is refined.” He is teaching us to quit trusting in ourselves and to start trusting him completely. He is teaching us to die to ourselves so that he may fully live in us and through us. He is reminding us that we are the clay pots in which his divine Presence dwells.
The key to it all is what we believe about God and about Jesus Christ. Do we believe, really believe, that Jesus is who he said he is—the Son of God and the Son of man, and that he lived, died and rose again in our place? Because in the end, death is destined to end in resurrection. Just as Jesus died and rose again, so we too will have times when death seems certain, if not preferable, but which will in the end result in God raising us up to new life.
There is healing after loss, after divorce, after abuse. There is restoration after brokenness and destruction. We don’t always experience it immediately or completely, but God has declared it done and complete in Jesus Christ. He is our assurance that there is never anything he won’t go through with us, in us and for us. He said that nothing can separate us from the love he has for us in Christ.
So when God gives us more than we can bear, we can ask him for the grace to bear it. We have the opportunity to trust Christ to be for us in the Spirit all that we need in our moments of despair, struggle and grief. God doesn’t always take away the difficulty—we may have to go through it completely from one end to the other. But he will never fail to bring us in the end to the glorious result he had in mind from the beginning. So don’t lose heart. Don’t lose faith. Because Jesus is a risen Lord and God is faithful and he is love.
Dear God, in the midst of our struggle, loss, despair and grief, remind us that you have given us a risen Savior, a resurrected Lord, who has brought us, is bringing us, and will bring us, to new life in himself in the Spirit. Grant us the grace trust you to do what is best in every situation and to carry us through to a glorious and joyful end in your presence forever. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
“For You have tried us, O God; you have refined us as silver is refined. You brought us into the net; you laid an oppressive burden upon our loins. You made men ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water, yet You brought us out into a place of abundance.” Psalm 66:10-12 NASB
“For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us,…” 2 Cor. 1:8–10 NASB
“After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” 1 Pet. 5:10
“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” 2 Cor. 4:7–11
By Linda Rex
Recently, just for the fun of it, I’ve been watching some old episodes of Lost in Space. Since these were made back in the 1960’s, it’s amusing for me to see what was considered science fiction back then—reel to reel tapes and punch card computers, dials and buttons. The clothing and hairs styles of course are very 1960ish. And all these space adventures took place in the 1990’s and 2000’s (We aren’t even doing manned intergalactic space travel yet and it’s 2014!).
The ongoing pain-in-the-neck on the Robinson family’s space voyage is Dr. Zachary Smith. He seems to be the picture of every worst human trait—greed, dishonesty, laziness, and so on. He’s always finding a way to get out of having to work and spends his time getting himself and everyone else into dangerous predicaments. Whenever there is the slightest issue or problem, he goes into a despairing decline: “Oh, the pain…”
Vainly the Robinson family tries to reform him, but to no avail. Over and over, they swear they’re going to cast him adrift or abandon him to his fate because he deserves it. But once again, they choose love and grace over giving Dr. Smith what he deserves.
One night as I was working on a project and watching another episode of the series it occurred to me that in many ways, this whole thing was like a picture of the divine perichoretic relationship and us as humans. How often we are like Dr. Smith—annoying and offensive and downright diabolical. And yet, the Father, Son and Spirit continue to make room for us in their relationship of love and unity. We deserve to be cast adrift, to receive the full consequences for our choices, our unloving and corrupt behavior, but once again, God covers us with grace in Christ and brings us home.
Sadly, like Dr. Smith, we can receive warnings, corrections, and even the conviction of the Holy Spirit, and yet keep returning to our old, comfortable way of doing things. We can have a mirror held up and be shown our shortcomings and yet keep on following our destructive path.
But this isn’t how it needs to be. Because we have a God who is committed to us becoming all that he created us to be in Christ. He has formed us in his own image and will not cease to work toward that end in conforming us to the image of Christ.
One way in which we participate in this process is by choosing to allow the difficulties, strains and struggles of life to be used by God to transform us. We allow God to use sorrow and pain as a means of discipline—not punishment, but rather as a training tool. We let the strong winds of suffering build spiritual muscle in us.
We permit God to make changes in the way we think, believe, and act by responding to his Spirit and filling our minds with his Word. We choose to do the hard work of growing up in Christ rather than making every excuse in the book to keep from having to face the truth about ourselves. We, for the moment, choose sorrow over laughter—taking seriously God’s call to follow Christ wherever he leads on whichever path he chooses to take.
Unlike Zachary Smith, we don’t have to spend endless space miles caught in the corruption of human sin and depravity. When God goes to work, we become new people. It takes time—our whole life. But as we willingly participate in what God is doing to transform us—turning to Christ daily, trusting in his grace—change will come. Who we are at the beginning is not who we will be in the end. We have God’s word on that.
Thank you, Lord, that you have promised to perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish us. You have given us the privilege of sharing in your eternal glory in Christ. We trust you will finish what you have begun, in the name of the Father, Son and Spirit. Amen.
“Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom.” James 4:9
“After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 5:10–11
By Linda Rex
I love reading. I have a stack of books that I gathered while doing my thesis that I wanted to read but didn’t have the time to enjoy. Now that my schoolwork doesn’t take up all my down time, I’ve begun reading some of these, a few chapters each day.
This morning I was reading a chapter in the book “Authentic Faith” by Gary L. Thomas. This book is an interesting overview of certain spiritual disciplines that we as the Christian church in America sometimes overlook. I feel that learning and practicing spiritual disciplines as a means of putting ourselves in the presence of God and opening ourselves up to the Holy Spirit to work is an essential part of our spiritual formation or growing up in Christ.
So, as I started to say, I came across the spiritual discipline of mourning. Now I would have to assume that mourning is not something we as human beings would naturally choose to do. If anything, I’m thinking that most of us do everything we can to avoid feeling pain or having to deal with difficult situations, horror or suffering. Taking painkillers for pain is considered normal behavior in our society. So much so that they are often abused. And many people use other forms of dealing with pain that are not always healthy—alcohol and drug abuse for example.
Unfortunately, the reality is that pain, suffering and grief are a part of our natural human condition. I believe one of the reasons such suffering, evil and pain are a part of our world today is because we as human beings do not practice the spiritual discipline of mourning. When an evil is perpetrated against another human being—we may make that a big news story in the media or on the Web, but how does it affect us personally? Do we feel the pain that goes along with the evil? Do we weep at the injustice and groan inwardly at the carnage? Are we then motivated by our sorrow to right the injustice or to heal the hurt? Rarely.
I don’t know about you, but too often I find my own self turning away from the story because I can’t bear the pain. I turn away and miss God’s invitation to mourn with him over the suffering in his world. I fail to participate in Christ’s suffering by refusing the opportunity to weep and sorrow over the injustice and depravity I witness. I too often am blind to the grief of others or am insensitive and thoughtless in responding to their suffering.
This week many Christians the world over participated in the observance of Ash Wednesday. The observance of this day marks the beginning of the season of Lent, which precedes the Easter celebrations marking the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Lent is typically the season in which Christians practice penitence, fasting from certain foods or items in acknowledgement of their need for and appreciation of God’s grace.
One of the things I think we can overlook as we consider the concept of mourning evil, grieving losses, and practicing penitence, is that these things are not something we as Christians have to do all on our own as though they are something we owe God, ourselves or each other. Rather, we practice penitence, repentance, grief, and mourning as a participation in Christ’s grief, penitence, repentance and mourning. It’s never something we do on our own—we are joined with God in Christ by the Spirit, and we share in his grief, his suffering, his mourning over loss, sin, evil, pain and injustice.
Just as Jesus obeyed God’s call through John the Baptizer by being baptized on behalf of all humanity for the remission of sins, so also did he obey the will of the Spirit who led, or drove, him out into the wilderness where he fasted for 40 days. In the midst of Jesus’ penitence on our behalf, he came face to face with evil. And he did not look away.
He did not give up his penitence to stifle the hunger in his stomach. The devil was right that Jesus could have made the stones into bread, but Jesus never used his divinity to serve himself. He only used it to serve others and to serve us.
Jesus did not give up his penitence, his identifying himself with us in our humanity and sinfulness, even to prove his identity as the Son of God. Nor did he pursue his own shortcut to glory by submitting to evil and turning his back on humanity. He chose the path of humility and humanity, of being the Servant Messiah even when it meant he would be treated like a common criminal, rejected, crucified and murdered by those he came to rescue.
Jesus went all the way with us and for us. And as the perfect reflection of God, he demonstrated to the core of his being that God is for us and against evil in any shape and form. If God in Jesus was willing to choose to do this so that we could be and would be free from the clutches of evil, how can we do any less ourselves?
Significantly, after Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem to the adoring cries of “Hosanna”, one of the first things he did was to weep over the city who refused to repent and receive the Messiah God had sent them. He grieved over the pain, the suffering, and the evil. He mourned.
Even though we can have great joy that God in Christ has once and for all triumphed over evil, we also are privileged to suffer and grieve with God over, and in the midst of, the pain, injustice and evil of this broken world. God has given us eternal hope in Jesus and we can, in the midst of all that breaks our heart, point suffering and grieving people to the One who suffers and grieves with them and for them. We can, in Christ, participate in God’s work to relieve the suffering and right the injustices in the world. In the perichoretic life and love of Father, Son and Spirit, there is room for the depths of grief and suffering, the struggle against evil and injustice, just as there is room for the fullness of joy everlasting. For this we live in gratitude.
Lord, we are grateful for your grace, for the reality that we are never alone in our grief and sorrow. You grant us the privilege of participating in your suffering just as you, Jesus, took on our humanity with all its weakness, suffering and brokenness. Grant us the grace to cease our efforts to kill the pain, and to begin to just walk in the midst of it with you, allowing you to redeem all that is evil, hurtful and unjust, and to cause it to serve your purposes rather than the purposes of the evil one. For you, God, will and do have the last word in all these things, and we trust you to love us and do what is best for us no matter what. Gratefully, in your precious name, Jesus, we pray. Amen.
“For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later.” Romans 8:16–18 NLT