Not Dead, But Asleep
by Linda Rex
June 11, 2023, Proper 5 | After Pentecost—Have you ever noticed how there are times when the people you love and care for are the ones who hurt you the most? Think about Hosea, the prophet who was invited by the Lord to marry and care for a woman who was inevitably unfaithful to him, as a witness to his nation’s repeated unfaithfulness to their covenant God. Deep in Hosea’s prophetic word, though, we are given a taste of the underlying theme of death and resurrection: “He will revive us after two days; He will raise us up on the third day, that we may live before Him” (Hosea 6:2 NASB). Ultimately, the salvation of Hosea’s nation was solely dependent upon the goodness and faithfulness of their covenant God, the One who would come himself to redeem and save his people.
Throughout Jesus’ ministry, we see brought forth this same theme of our human need for redemption, and Jesus’ descent into death, and his resurrection and ascension into glory, in order to raise us up into new life. In the gospel passage for this Sunday, Matthew 9:9–13, 18–26, Jesus engaged the religious leaders of his day in conversation regarding his relationships with those who were considered outcasts and sinners. He told these leaders, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. … for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (v. 12, 13b). His acceptance and calling of Matthew, the socially and religiously excluded tax collector was a case in point.
Jesus then went to a synagogue ruler’s home where he found a group of people loudly mourning the death of a young girl. He told them that she wasn’t dead, but was asleep. They scorned his hopeful assurance. After making the scoffers all leave, he and her parents entered the girl’s room to see her laying lifeless in her bed. Jairus’ daughter was beyond any human help. Nothing could be done anymore to save her. But then Jesus took her by the hand, and raised her up. This young girl had nothing to do with her healing and restoration to life. All she and her parents could do was respond in gratitude to the gift of new life which was given.
In the New Testament reading, Romans 4:13–25, the apostle Paul showed how Abraham and Sarah were given a promise of a son, but were powerless to bring the promise to pass. Abraham was too old and Sarah was incapable of bearing children. They believed, albeit faultily, that God would keep his word, but found themselves utterly dependent upon God’s love and grace for it to be fulfilled. Like the little girl in the story who lay lifeless in her bed, due to their barrenness their dreams of holding a son in their arms lay lifeless and empty in their hearts.
In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he showed how Abraham did not receive his promised son because of anything he did, but simply because of his faith, because he trusted in the faithfulness of his loving God. lt is God’s goodness, God’s love, and God’s power which is important here. Abraham could only have hope because of the God of hope who had given him hope by giving him a promise—a promise God was well able and perfectly willing to keep. Abraham’s participation in the process was simply faith—believing in the goodness and faithfulness of his God and trusting him to keep his word.
In the same way, we receive our salvation, our new life, not because we do everything exactly right or obey every law perfectly. Rather, we recognize that we are powerless and unable to do what is needed, that only God can bring something into existence from nothing, and only God can raise up to life what is dead and lifeless. All of us, like the little girl in the story and like Abraham and Sarah facing their inability to have a child, are unable to save ourselves or restore our relationship with God on our own. But the Son of God came, took on our human flesh, to live our life, die our death, and rise again, so that we could have what we otherwise could not have—eternal life, life in face-to-face union with Father, Son, and Spirit, right relationship with God and one another.
When it comes to situations and relationships where there seems to be no hope, no life, no expectation of deliverance, we need to turn to Jesus. When it seems that the church today is dying and nothing we can do seems to be able to lift it out of that place, we need to turn to Jesus. When we are facing death and sickness in any form, we need to turn to Jesus. For he has entered and will enter into our place of residence here on earth, to take us by the hand, having become flesh like us and died as we die, in order to raise us up. God’s promise to us is sure—we see it fulfilled in Jesus. He calls us to trust him, to believe—to allow him to be the God he is, the One who is faithful, loving, and good, and who has and will heal us, reconcile us, restore us and bring us safely home.
It is significant that the sacraments which we practice in the church today point us to death and resurrection. Through baptism (a one-time event) and communion (an ongoing practice), we participate anew with Christ in his death and resurrection, being reminded both of our need for healing, rescue and deliverance, and of our gratitude for his finished work in our place and on our behalf. Together, as we are gathered at the table, we eat and drink anew of the divine gift, with humility, gratitude and praise. We celebrate the goodness, faithfulness, and love of our Triune God, Father, Son, and Spirit.
Holy God, thank you for your faithfulness, your goodness, and your love, expressed to us in the gift of your Son and your Spirit. Today, we see so many places where death, sin, and Satan seem to have the upper hand. We have no hope or life apart from you. Lord Jesus, turn us back to you. and by your heavenly Spirit, restore our faith. Fill our hearts and lives with your hope and love. In your name we pray, amen.
“For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression. That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, ‘I have made you the father of many nations’—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was ‘counted to him as righteousness.’ But the words ‘it was counted to him’ were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” Romans 4:13–25 ESV
[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2023/05/olitnot-dead-but-asleep.pdf ]
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Engraved With Christ
by Linda Rex
May 7, 2023, 5th Sunday in Easter/Resurrection—Yesterday I was wearing a necklace given to me years ago by one of my children. It is a polished stone, smoothed into a pastel pink disc, hanging on a black string. In the center, the stone slopes of into an off-sided hole through which the string is woven. As I held the stone yesterday, I realized it must have taken great patience and skill to smooth that stone into a disc with a hole in it without causing it to shatter or crack.
When reading the New Testament passage for this Sunday, 1 Peter 2:2–10, it occurred to me that in many ways, our Father has done this very thing with all of us as his children. He has, in his Son, engraved upon each of us as living stones, the very nature of Christ, the Living Stone. We are meant to be reflections of God’s image, and Jesus Christ is this very image we reflect by the Spirit, as we respond to him in faith. He has carefully forged into our human flesh, the likeness of God, enabling us by the Spirit to live and walk in right relationship with himself.
In John 14:1–14, Jesus told his disciples that he was going home to his Father to prepare a place for them. Now I understand that this is often understood to mean that Jesus was building, as a good carpenter does, actual buildings for us to live in when we get to heaven. That is a lovely thought, which is quite appealing. However, it is more likely that what Jesus meant was that he was creating a place for us within the life and love of Father and Son in the Spirit. Apart from Jesus’ incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, we in our broken human flesh would have remain alienated in our hearts and minds, and unable to see or live in the truth of who we are as God’s beloved, precious children. This isn’t what God wanted for us, so he sent his Son to do what was necessary to make our oneness with him possible.
In the very special tools of his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, Jesus forged within our human flesh an ability to participate in his own face-to-face relationship with his heavenly Father in the Spirit. In our human flesh, Jesus lived the life we are to live, in dependency upon his Father, led by and filled with the Spirit. He died the death we deserve to die, becoming sin for us and giving us his righteousness in that amazing and thrilling exchange. In Christ, the Father polished off all the sharp edges of our sinful flesh, making us living stones who, by faith in Christ and in the gift of the Spirit, can begin to bear witness to the grace and goodness of God wherever we go. Jesus raised us up in his resurrection, bringing us all up into a new place in the ascension, and sending the Spirit as promised, so we each can participate individually in this wonderful gift of eternal life.
Our response to Jesus Christ and whether or not we believe this truth about God and ourselves is reflected by how we live our lives. In Acts 7:55–60 we read the story of Stephen, an early Christian martyr. He believed that Jesus was the Son of God in human flesh, who had died, but had risen again. As he spoke with the religious leaders of his day, he shared with them the vision he was given of Jesus Christ, once human, who was standing at the right hand of God in glory.
Stephen knew to the core of his being that this was the true reality. But those who heard him believed that he was out of his mind. They could not and would not believe the truth about who Jesus Christ was. And even though they were people who were trying to obey God, they could not get past the stumbling block who was Jesus Christ, the God-man. They could not see the truth of who Jesus was, and therefore they could not see who they were as God’s beloved children. So they stoned Stephen to death.
Standing there, present in this moment, was a man named Saul, to whom they gave their coats while they were busy stoning Stephen. This man was in full agreement with them, and he would soon be dragging believers into prison and forcing them to deny Christ. What he didn’t know at this point was that the resurrected Jesus had his eye on him, and one day soon, while on the way to Damascus, Saul himself would encounter the Living Stone, the Lord Jesus Christ. And when that happened, he would never be the same again.
When it comes to Jesus Christ, there can be no middle ground. He calls us to faith, to trust him and believe in him—to accept him just the way he is, surrendering ourselves to his lordship, his goodness, and his love. Our lives are no longer our own—they are his, to be lived as reflections of the love and goodness of God himself, as we participate in all the blessed things God is doing in this world to bring about his kingdom in its fullness. Will we stumble over the Rock, Jesus Christ, or will we surrender to God’s work of engraving him on our hearts and lives, making us true reflections of our God who is Father, Son, and Spirit?
Thank you, Father, for the life you have given us in your Son, Jesus Christ. Thank you for you Spirit, who is ever at work in us and in our lives, transforming our hearts by faith. Grant us the grace to participate in this process of transformation as we pay attention to your story, Jesus, and what your Spirit is teaching us and asking us to do. And move us to share with others the good news we have come to see and believe in Jesus Christ. Amen.
“… like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord. And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For this is contained in Scripture: ‘Behold, I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious corner’ stone, ‘and he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.’ This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve, ‘the stone which the builders rejected, this became the very corner stone’ and ‘a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense’; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed. But you are ‘a chosen race, a’ royal ‘priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession,’ so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were ‘not a people,’ but now you are ‘the people of God’; you had ‘not received mercy,’ but now you have ‘received mercy’.” 1 Peter 2:2–10 NASB
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The Father of Our Faith
by Linda Rex
March 5, 2023, 2nd Sunday in Preparation for Easter or Lent—During my studies with Grace Communion Seminary I have learned about the different times in history when God by the Spirit brought about a spiritual awakening which led to the transformation and renewal of communities and churches. Many people here in America have been asking God for such a spiritual awakening, and have been encouraged and comforted by the recent movement of the Holy Spirit at Asbury University.
We are reminded anew that the beauty of God’s creative spiritual work in human hearts and lives does not come about by human effort and striving. Spiritual renewal and transformation is something only God can do, and is something that he chooses to do and orchestrates, not because we get everything exactly right and because we deserve it, but simply due to God’s love for us, and his desire to restore, reconcile, and renew us.
In the gospel reading for this Sunday, John 3:1–17, Jesus tells the Pharisee Nicodemus that the only way a person can see or participate in the kingdom of God is if they are born from above. Then he begins to describe how the Spirit moves in unseen and unbidden ways that can only be recognized by their resulting effect on those who have been touched by the divine wind. Our part in this whole process is trust, allowing God to be who he is in every situation, placing ourselves fully at his disposal, allowing him to be who he is as our Savior, Healer, and Redeemer.
The kingdom of God, as the reign of our sovereign King in our hearts and lives, is real and active even today, and we participate in God’s kingdom right now as we yield to and obey the Spirit, following Jesus as he leads us to do our Father’s will. We are reminded that Jesus’ attention was often drawn to the widow’s small gift, the thief’s last cry on the cross, the tax collectors and sinners who didn’t deserve any attention at all. We fall in love with God when we experience the profound reality of his love for us, and his love fills our hearts as the Spirit pours into us, enabling us to know and be assured that, yes, indeed, we are God’s beloved children.
In the New Testament passage for this Sunday, Romans 4:13–17, the apostle Paul takes this even further as he shows that God is the true Source, the Father of all, from whom we receive grace and salvation by faith. Abraham and Sarah were beyond the ability to have children when God promised them a son—and he kept his promise to them. And this son, Isaac, was a descendant through whom our Savior, Jesus Christ, came. Our God calls as real and substantial those things which do not yet exist, and in the speaking of his Word, they become real and substantial.
In the same way, God has called everyone of us his very own, the promised descendants of Abraham millennia ago—and here we are, children of the Father, through Jesus Christ his Son, by his heavenly Spirit. Abraham, our forefather, “the father of us all,” is a reflection or picture of our divine Father, the One who made us and sustains us all—the same Father, who, even when we fell captive to evil sin, and death, drew us all to himself, bringing us back into right relationship with himself, giving us his righteousness, through his Son Jesus. The Spirit calls us even today to embrace this true reality by faith, and to experience the wonder of it through prayer, contemplation, and worship. The Spirit reminds us to place our faith in Jesus Christ, who laid everything down so we could know our Father’s embrace in the fellowship of the Spirit, now and forever, as his beloved children.
Father, thank you for loving us so very much. Thank you, Jesus, for bringing us back home to the Father, to be held in his loving embrace. Thank you, heavenly Spirit, for enabling us to experience and know God’s love. Show us even now how much we are loved and cared for, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.
“What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to Him as righteousness.’ Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation. For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, (as it is written, ‘a father of many nations have I made you’) in the presence of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist.” Romans 4:13–17 NASB
[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2023/02/olitthe-father-of-our-faith.pdf ]
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Do Not Be Afraid
by Linda Rex
February 19, 2023, Transfiguration Sunday—What might God do if you were willing to let him take you somewhere you don’t want to go or ask you to do something don’t believe you were able to do? Is it possible that God might do more than you could ever ask or imagine? (See Eph. 3:20.)
Think of how Jesus was thrust into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. In the midst of that dramatic confrontation, Jesus was pushed beyond human limits. But in the end, he stayed true to his heavenly Father in the Spirit, and all of us as those who share his flesh. And he experienced an amazing victory—a victory we all participate in today by the Spirit. (See Matt. 4:1-11.)
I don’t know about you, but I tend to choose things that I’m certain I can do or can at least figure out and do. When I’m asked to do more than I am capable of doing, the “fear of failure” monster creeps in and removes any confidence I may have that I can accomplish what God is asking of me. The problem with this way of living is that there is minimal room for the Spirit to work great things in and through me, and life ends up often being about me walking in the flesh rather than in the Spirit. And it also means that I am walking by sight rather than by faith.
What about that “fear of failure” monster? I’m caught by the lyrics of the song by Zach Williams which came out a while back called “Fear is a Liar.” Here’s a part of the refrain:
Fear, he is a liar
He will take your breath
Stop you in your steps
Fear he is a liar
He will rob your rest
Steal your happiness
Cast your fear in the fire
‘Cause fear he is a liar“Fear is a Liar” by Zach Williams
How often do we refuse to follow Jesus simply because we’re afraid—afraid of failure, afraid of looking different, afraid of what people might think, and so on? We may even discover that we are afraid of God—of what he might do or not do, and believe that our heavenly Father doesn’t really love us (though Jesus seems to). How often do we let fear get in the way of seeing things as they really are?
Today is Transfiguration Sunday on the Christian calendar. Our reading in the gospel, Matt. 17:1–9, reminds us of and moves us to reflect on when Jesus took Peter, James, and John up on the mountain, and was transfigured before them. In that moment, Jesus’ external form began to reflect the true essence of who he was on the inside—God in human flesh. As eyewitnesses of this fantastic event, these men could not forget the powerful experience of seeing Jesus in this way, and remember the fear and awe which overwhelmed them and drove them face down to the ground in response.
Jesus was not appalled by, nor was he put off by their response. No, he tenderly touched them and told them not to be afraid. He had specifically chosen them to be eyewitnesses of his glory in this moment. It was never his intention to frighten them or to overwhelm them. Rather, he believed this experience was an essential part of their spiritual development and preparation for what they each were going to face in the years ahead when he was no longer present on earth in his human flesh.
Peter was deeply touched by the words of our heavenly Father, who spoke of the belovedness of his Son. Not only was Jesus beloved of his Father, but his Father was well-pleased with him. In that great pleasure of our Father in his Son, we find ourselves swept up, for Jesus was bearing in that moment our human flesh in his person. How is it that our heavenly Father could be well-pleased with his Son, when his Son was bearing our human flesh?
I believe this says something about who we are as those who are meant to reflect the image of God in our persons. We have a divine dignity given to us by God, which was marred by our turning away from God to ourselves and this world. Blinded by the lies we believe about God and ourselves, we struggle to see the truth that God loves us, is committed to our best interests, and desires to live in face-to-face relationship with us now and forever.
It is Christ, coming and taking on our human flesh, to live our life, die our death, and rise again, who brings us into the midst of the fellowship of Father and Son in the Spirit. We can take comfort in the reality that God isn’t opposed to us, but is opposed to evil, sin, and death, and has taken and will take every step needed to once and for all eradicate them from us and from our world. He will not stop until he had finished what he has begun in us—this is our comfort and peace.
What about our fears, especially our “fear of failure?” God’s perfect love expressed to us in Jesus Christ reminds us we have nothing to fear. Jesus, who is God in human flesh, has personally come to us and has touched us, telling us, “Do not be afraid.” Jesus has done, and will do all that is needed in this moment and in the next, as we turn to him in faith and trust him, allowing his Spirit free reign in our hearts and lives. May we trust in God’s perfect love and allow him to do what only he can do—save and redeem us, through Jesus our Lord and by his heavenly Spirit.
Dear Father, thank you for your faithfulness and love, expressed to us in the gift of your Son and your Spirit. Grant us the grace to turn to you in faith, to trust in your love and grace. May your perfect love cast our all our fear, through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.
“For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased’—and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” 2 Peter 1:16–21 NASB
[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2023/02/olitdo-not-be-afraid-edited.pdf ]
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Lord, Increase Our Faith
By Linda Rex
October 2, 2022, PROPER 22—Nowadays, when someone wants to move a grown sycamore tree, if they can afford it, they call up the local landscape company who sends out a large truck with a digger on the back. The workers use this machine’s massive teeth to dig the tree up, roots and all, and to tip it back and up over the truck in order to carry it. Then the workers drive the truck with the sycamore tree on top to its new location, dropping the tree there into the ground.
In reality, a lot of us exercise some kind faith without knowing we are doing it. Looking at this activity on the surface, we may wonder exactly how much faith is needed to move that full-grown tree to a new location. For example, the workers need to trust that the people who put the truck together and the digger together did their job properly, enabling the workers to drive the truck back and forth, and to use the digger to safely remove the tree from the ground. The workers trust that the spade will hold the tree safely until they get it to its new location rather than dropping it in the middle of the highway, creating a massive traffic snarl. The workers trust in the digger’s ability to place the tree safely in its hole, and in the owner’s promise to pay them for their efforts. There is a lot of faith being expressed in this simple act of everyday labor.
In my recent studies with Grace Communion Seminary on the topic of Paul’s epistles, I am learning about his concept of faith. Faith, for the apostle Paul, not only has to do with the trustworthiness of the One being trusted—Jesus Christ, but also about his complete and perfect trust in the Father expressed in his self-offering on the cross. This faith is given to us to participate in by the Holy Spirit, who lives in us. The matter of having sufficient faith to move anything at all has been taken care of by the One who is not only perfectly trustworthy, but who also has total faith in our trustworthy Father—and Jesus enables us to participate in that perfect faith in the Spirit.
When Jesus said that with the faith the size of a mustard seed one could move a tree and plant it in the ocean, he probably had in mind the previous conversation he and his disciples were having about forgiveness. When we come face to face with impossible tasks such as continually and freely forgiving those who deeply wound us, we discover our inadequacy, our inability to do what God asks of us in those situations. It is not a bad thing to realize that our best efforts are insufficient—it reminds us to turn to the One who, by his Spirit, can and will live our best response in and through and out from us.
In our New Testament reading for this Sunday, 2 Timothy 1:1–14, we hear the apostle Paul reminding us to “kindle afresh” or “fan into flame” (NIV) the gift we have been given. Adding fuel to a fire or kindling to hot coals causes the flame to leap up and again begin to burn intensely. Paul is reminding us that there is a fire we are baptized with, the Holy Spirit, and we do not want to “quench” this fire in any way. Rather we want to facilitate and encourage its continued flame.
In speaking of this gift of the Spirit, Paul reminded Timothy that this “sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice” was indeed living within him. Because God by the Spirit was living within Timothy, he did not have a spirit of timidity or fear, but one of “power and love, and discipline”. The indwelling presence of God by the Spirit enabled Timothy to do the ministry he was called into, and it was by the Spirit that Timothy found God’s grace and purpose at work in his life. It was not all up to Timothy, but rather a walk of faith in which the “faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” were expressed as he lived out God’s calling on his life.
When asked by the disciples, “Lord, increase our faith,” Jesus spoke of the tiny amount of faith necessary to pick up and move a large tree from land into the sea. And then he went on to use a parable, which in our culture does not really resonate with us, since so many of us object so strongly to slavery. But what if we looked at it a little differently?
Think of a college intern, Gracie, who works for a fashion designer, Laurel, in hopes of one day she might have her own designs looked at and used. (Sorry if this sounds like a romcom plot.) Gracie spends her days fetching Laurel’s coffee, running her errands, picking up her dry cleaning, and taking care of the designer’s everyday tasks. Gracie doesn’t get paid much of anything since she is an intern—she’s lucky to barely have enough income to cover her expenses with her side job waitressing in the student union.
If Gracie is out running errands for Laurel, is the designer going to call her up and invite her in for tea and crumpets, offering to serve her? No. Instead, Laurel will probably call her up and tell Gracie that while she is running around, she is to stop by Laurel’s favorite dinner spot and pick up a meal to go and to be sure to bring home Laurel’s favorite coffee while she is at it. Gracie will be expected to do all that, finish her errands, and clean off the coffee table so Laurel has a place to eat her dinner. And while Laurel is eating, Gracie will be expected to take the dog Feathers out for a walk and to feed her. And when Gracie shows up and finishes all her tasks, she should not expect praise and gratitude from Laurel, since Gracie is simply supposed to do what she was instructed to do, since she is just an intern.
Now, in the real world, I would like to hope that if there are any Laurel’s out there, that they would reconsider how they treat their interns. But this is a parable, right? It is to help us see in our minds eye what Jesus is saying. The disciples wanted Jesus to increase their faith, and Jesus said that even the tiniest bit of faith can move a large tree to the sea should it be exercised.
The only way any of us has any faith at all is in Christ, as we participate with him in his death and resurrection. It is Christ’s faith at work in us by the Holy Spirit which enables us to do difficult things such as forgiving what seems impossible for us to forgive. And when we do forgive, when we do live like we should, when we do say what is healing and encouraging rather than hurtful, should God stand up and applaud? No, because we are simply doing what we were created to do, being who we were created to be—image-bearers of the divine, reflections of the glory of God in Christ by the Spirit.
It is God’s life at work in us by the Spirit who gets the credit. It is for his glory and to fulfill his purpose. The life of faith begins with a God who is trustworthy and who, in Christ, lives the life of faith we were created to live within, and who gives us, in Christ, the faith necessary to follow him and live in the truth of who we were created to be as children of the Father. I would imagine that even the angels of heaven have delight as does the Father when his children return home to their real selves, living in right relationship with him and each other. But truly, isn’t that where we belonged all along?
Father, Jesus, Spirit, you made us to live in loving, other-centered relationship with you and each other. We cannot and will not do this apart from your life in us and with us by your heavenly Spirit. Thank you for giving us the faith of Christ by the Spirit, enabling us to trust you in any and every situation, as you always meant for us to trust you, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.
“The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ And the Lord said, ‘If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and be planted in the sea”; and it would obey you. Which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, “Come immediately and sit down to eat”? But will he not say to him, “Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink”? He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, “We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.” ’ ” Luke 17:5–10 NASB
[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/09/olitlord-increase-our-faith.pdf ]
God’s Unkept Promises
By Linda Rex
August 14, 2022, PROPER 15—Even though I have experienced many healings from God in my life and have felt his comforting presence with me through this current battle with cancer, a part of me still asks at times, “But what about all those prayers and anointings for healing? Doesn’t God keep his promises?”
It is not unusual for us to come up against the reality that we do our best to trust God and he doesn’t seem to follow through on his promise that if we ask, we will receive. In fact, such seeming fickleness with regards to our sincere efforts to trust and depend upon God might even cause us to turn away from him, as we question God’s goodness, love, and faithfulness.
The book of Hebrews is a powerful testimony to what Jesus Christ, as God in human flesh, did in our place and on our behalf. And chapter 11 reveals a gallery of witnesses to the faithfulness and love of our gracious God, witnesses who experienced a full range of responses from God to their circumstances of life. “By faith,” it says, many of these people experienced God’s powerful intervention in their lives and circumstances as they participated in what God was doing in their world.
But then comes verse 39: “And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised.” Apparently, some people never received from God what was promised. Having faith was not an issue for these people. And they had gained God’s approval by faith. But in spite of their faith and God’s approval, they did not receive what was promised. Instead, they experienced great suffering, loss, deprivation, and even death. How can this be? Why go through all those experiences if they would never receive the promises?
There is an underlying story beneath these stories which we need to keep in mind. All of our stories, as those made in the image of the God who is love, are swept up into his story, creating the history of our lives as a participation in all God is doing in this world. Because we share in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, we have an existence far beyond this current one. And we can participate in that new life both now and in the world to come.
We discover, if we look closely, that our temporary existence in this world is merely a prelude to our full real life in eternal union and communion with the Father, through Jesus in the Spirit. Even if we were restored back to our physical human existence through “resurrection”, we would still eventually die. So, we seek a more wonderful resurrection, one in which we share in the glorified resurrected humanity of Jesus Christ.
It was in expectation of this that Jesus, with joy, faced the challenges, suffering and shame of the crucifixion. The writer of Hebrews calls Jesus the author and perfector of our faith, which means that it’s not all up to us to come up with enough faith to be pleasing to God. Jesus had and has perfect trust in our heavenly Father. His Father did not leave him in the grave after the crucifixion, but kept his promise to raise him up, restoring him to his place in face-to-face relationship with the Father in the Spirit.
So, if faith in a trustworthy God is not the issue, then what? Well, apparently there are times when what God asks of us is perseverance and endurance. He wants us to keep our focus off ourselves and to keep it on Jesus Christ, the one who bore so much suffering and shame on our behalf, for the joy that would come when all those who believe in him would receive in fulness what was promised them—life in intimate relationship with the Father in the Spirit.
In the gospel reading for this Sunday, Luke 12:49–56, Jesus expressed his longing that he didn’t have to wait for the crucifixion to be done with. For our sakes. Because he knew what a blessing and benefit his death and resurrection would be for all humanity. He knew we needed to be able to trust in and rely upon a good, good Father, and that was the very reason he had come—to bring us home to the Father, restoring our right relationship with him.
In this passage, Jesus reminded his followers that following him exacts a cost. And that cost may include being rejected by those closest to us, by our friends and/or family. This cost may include going through situations and circumstances without the answers we prefer—did not Jesus tearfully ask his Father for some way to accomplish his will other than the cross? And his Father, who promised to deliver him (Psalm 22) did not do so on this side of the grave. No, he waited while Jesus suffered horribly at the hands of human beings and while he laid in the grave.
Sometimes the cost of new life is death. I was walking the other day at Fontanel, feeling the presence of God so near to me. And I was enjoying the flowers and the fragrant scents on the air. The trees, grass, and kudzu were so green, and the butterflies were flitting here and there as they gathered the nectar from the blooms. In the midst of all that green, though, were the brown, black, and grey heads of dead plants and flowers. This thought came to me then: “In the midst of death lie the seeds for new life.”
In Christ’s death, we have been given the seeds to our new life. What we do with those seeds is up to us. Just because some circumstance, relationship, or desire comes to the place of death does not mean that is the end. When we look at Jesus Christ, to what extent he was willing to go so that we might be with him and his Father in the Spirit forever, we can discover the seeds to our own new life in him.
What may seem for a moment to be God’s unkept promises may, in fact, be his offering to us something greater, more wonderful, more eternal. What if, instead of focusing on the suffering, the difficulty, or the loss, we focused on Jesus Christ? What if we allowed God to be who he is, our loving heavenly Father, who knows what is best for us and who wants to bring us into new life, deeper into warm fellowship with himself both now and forever?
Heavenly Father, thank you for your love and faithfulness. Grant us the grace to keep our eyes on Jesus and off of the difficulties and struggles of this life. Enable us to walk by faith, trusting in your perfect love and faithfulness, no matter how things may appear at the moment, through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.
“By faith they passed through the Red Sea as though they were passing through dry land; and the Egyptians, when they attempted it, were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace. And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect. Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 11:29–12:2 NASB
See also Luke 12:49–56 NASB
[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/08/gods-unkept-promises.pdf ]
Calling Fire from Heaven
By Linda Rex
June 26, 2022, PROPER 8—As I was preparing to write this blog, I began to hear a noise outside my window. The fury of a thunderstorm was being unleashed, dropping heavy raindrops and tiny pellets of hail on the concrete. The thunder growling from the sky caused the cat napping nearby to raise her head and stare at the sheets of rain flying sideways by my window.
This was a timely event because I had just been reading the gospel account in Luke 9:51–62 where Jesus, on his way to Jerusalem, was passing through Samaria. He had sent some disciples ahead of him to prepare a place for them to stay, but they were rejected by the people in that city. James and John, attempting to be helpful, were indignant and asked Jesus if he wanted them to call down fire from heaven and consume the errant ones. It’s understandable where James and John got their nickname “Sons of Thunder”!
Jesus’ response to their request isn’t in the earliest manuscripts, but it coincides with the apostle Paul’s message in our New Testament reading for this Sunday, Galatians 5:1, 13–25. Paul contrasted the works of our flesh—things like outbursts of anger, strife, dissensions, and factions, with the things of the Spirit—things like kindness, peace, patience, and self-control. The apostle reminded his readers that we live by the Spirit—our true life is in Christ by the Spirit, but we are meant to walk by the Spirit—our daily existence is meant to be walked out moment by moment in every situation in the Spirit, not in our flesh.
Our automatic human response to things like rejection, abuse, or disrespect may resemble that of John and James—we may ignite with passionate fury, seeking the harm of the responsible party. But Jesus’ response is different. Here, he just moved on to another town, recognizing that he could not do the job which he had been given by his Father in that particular town. And he began to talk with his followers about the cost of discipleship.
In the gospel passage for today, Luke described three separate responses to Jesus’ call to follow him. The first person gave an emphatic commitment to Jesus, that he would follow the Messiah wherever he went. But Jesus pointed out that, unlike the foxes and birds, the Messiah didn’t have a place to stay at night. His disciples had requested a place to stay but had been rejected—would this person be willing to accept such rejection and continue to follow Jesus, especially if it meant doing without the basics of life?
Bring this forward to today: As the cost of filling our gas tanks here in America begins to double or triple and the prices of our groceries skyrocket, we are faced anew with the question, will we trust God to care and provide for us? Will we continue to follow Christ when it seems that he isn’t going to make our life easier or more comfortable? What price are we willing to pay in order to follow Christ?
The second person who was asked by Jesus to follow him requested that Jesus allow him to bury his father before he did so. Though Jesus would not want us to harm or neglect our families, the reality is that we often make elaborate excuses for not simply obeying Jesus’ command to follow him. We find reasons that we cannot do as he asks, and we excuse ourselves by reasonable arguments as to why we should be able to continue on our way, unhampered by Jesus’ calling upon our lives.
In essence, Christ was saying to the man, “Let the spiritually dead take care of the physically dead. You go and proclaim the good news. That is the more urgent task.” We can care for and love our families, and still share the good news with the world while we are doing it. Jesus was reminding his disciples that there is an all-encompassing priority about the gospel. As he said elsewhere, seek his kingdom first, and all those things we’re concerned about will be provided.
The third person Luke described in this passage asked if he could first say goodbye to his family before he followed Christ. The disciples would have remembered that Elisha had asked Elijah this very thing when he was asked to follow the prophet, and Elijah had permitted it. But Jesus was describing an even more radical commitment to himself, one in which all took second place, including the customary expectations of society and family.
Jesus told this person that someone who begins to plow needs to keep looking forward, and not look back. Today most people in our nation plow using large equipment. Back then though, there was a single plow, possibly pulled by animals. Unless the person guiding the plow kept their eyes on where they were going, they would not create a straight row, thus ruining the possibilities of a good harvest. If they turned to look back from where they came, the row would end up horribly crooked and their efforts would be fruitless—a good picture of what happens when we take our eyes off of Jesus.
Keeping our eyes on Jesus in many ways is like walking by the Spirit and not by our flesh. The spiritual reality is that true life has come in the sending of the fire of the Spirit. The Spirit’s indwelling is the life the Christ in us, bringing us into fellowship with the Father. We live our lives in moment-by-moment dependency upon and in relationship with God by the Spirit. We follow the lead of the Spirit and in doing so, we follow Christ. We listen to and heed the living Word of God, Jesus, as we, by the Spirit, drink in of the written Word, allowing God to speak deep into our souls, moving us to obey.
We don’t turn back to gaze upon the spiritual death we once were living in, but keep our eyes focused forward on the living Word Jesus. He has set us free—so we live free, abandoning our past associations, plans, and deeds, and we embrace the new life he has given us by the Spirit. Jesus has moved us in his life, death, resurrection and ascension from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. We have no desire to go back to our slavery to evil, sin, and death. So we keep our eyes on him, our mind and heart fixed upon his, trusting him to finish what he has begun in us, no matter the cost to ourselves.
This is a challenging passage for us today. Our world is changing. Times for many are getting more and more difficult. It is a struggle for some to simply find something to eat or a place to live. The good news is we are not doing any of this on our own. We have a Savior who dwells in us and with us, who knows what it means to be homeless and hungry, to be despised and rejected, and yet be held in the midst of the Father’s love. In the midst of the fury of the evil one’s efforts to kill, steal, and destroy, he holds us in his care and will lead us safely home. As we follow him in faith, he will finish what he has begun in our lives. Praise God!
Heavenly Father, as things get harder and harder for us, continue to keep us in your tender loving care. Thank you, Jesus, for understanding us so well and for holding us steadfastly in the Father’s arms. Grant us the grace by your Spirit to pay the cost of discipleship you ask of us, faithfully enduring to the end. Amen.
“When the days were approaching for His ascension, He was determined to go to Jerusalem; and He sent messengers on ahead of Him, and they went and entered a village of the Samaritans to make arrangements for Him. But they did not receive Him, because He was traveling toward Jerusalem. When His disciples James and John saw this, they said, ‘Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’ But He turned and rebuked them, …. And they went on to another village. As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, ‘I will follow You wherever You go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.’ And He said to another, ‘Follow Me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.’ But He said to him, ‘Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.’ Another also said, ‘I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.’ ” Luke 9:51–62 NASB
[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/06/calling-fire-from-heaven.pdf ]
The Price We Won’t Pay
By Linda Rex
October 10, 2021, PROPER 23—One of the things I’ve noticed more than ever recently is how many people contact me in an effort to buy my home—which isn’t for sale. Today someone called me to help me remove the mortgage interest from my home—which I have no interest in doing. And this week I received a note from an auto dealer, wanting to purchase my car—which at the moment, I’m not planning to replace.
There’s a common thread through all of these phone calls, texts, emails, and letters—someone somewhere wants to make a buck, at my expense. I would like to believe these good people are truly seeking to help me in some way, but unfortunately, experience has taught me that this is far from the case. It is a rare individual or business that is genuinely seeking my best interests rather than seeking to line their own pockets.
While reading Amos 5:6–7, 10–15 this morning, I was struck by the way the prophet’s words resonate with our experience in this country today:
“Come back to the Lord and live. … You twist justice, making it a bitter pill for the oppressed. You treat the righteous like dirt. … How you hate honest judges! How you despise people who tell the truth! You trample the poor, stealing their grain through taxes and unfair rent. Therefore, though you build beautiful stone houses, you will never live in them. Though you plant lush vineyards, you will never drink wine from them. For I know the vast number of your sins and the depth of your rebellions. You oppress good people by taking bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts. So those who are smart keep their mouths shut, for it is an evil time. Do what is good and run from evil so that you may live! Then the Lord God of Heaven’s Armies will be your helper, just as you have claimed. Hate evil and love what is good; turn your courts into true halls of justice. Perhaps even yet the Lord God of Heaven’s Armies will have mercy on the remnant of his people” (NLT).
It’s rather rough reading, isn’t it? But so many of the things Amos enumerates are part of our experience today! And in the midst of this truth-telling, there is a call from the heart of God to turn away from evil and to turn to good, to be just and gracious rather than continuing to oppress or deceive others.
What price are you or I willing to pay to live in the truth of who we are as image-bearers of God? What price are we willing to pay to hate evil and love good? If we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that many times the bottom line drives our decisions regarding these things. I find myself preferring comfort, ease, convenience, being pain and stress-free, rather than doing the hard and painful work of taking a stand against evil and for good. I bow to my natural proclivity to mediate rather than to weather the hurricane blast of someone’s resistance to my honesty and declaration of truth. My preferences too often guide my decisions rather than the quiet inner voice of the Spirit telling me to do the hard and difficult thing.
When the rich young ruler came to Jesus and asked him what he needed to do to inherit eternal life, I doubt he realized the innate contradiction which existed in his words. In his world, the more he did what was considered good, the more he had value and worth, and the greater his significance in society and in the kingdom to come. But Jesus held him up to an entirely different standard—God himself. If only God is truly good, and Jesus is the good teacher, where did that leave this young ruler? He had always kept the commandments as he understood them—and Jesus loved him for this. But it wasn’t enough.
Jesus looked the young man in the eye—looked at him with a heart filled with the love of the Father—and saw the root of the problem. He understood why this young ruler would always feel like he was never quite good enough for eternal life. His value, his worth, and his identity were based in what he had and what he did, not in who he was in relationship with his heavenly Father. Jesus told him what he lacked. The keys to the kingdom lay solely in a faith-walk with Jesus, trusting in the Father’s love, and living in obedience to the Spirit. This was a price the young man would not pay—and he walked away heartsick.
This is tough. Are we willing to have Jesus’ loving, yet perceptive view go all the way down into our own souls? Where is our worth, our value, our identity really placed? If it is anywhere but in God himself—centered in the Lord Jesus Christ, in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension—in his gift of the Spirit—we are off-center. If we are trusting in anything or anyone else in this life, we will eventually find ourselves in a place where we have no hope whatsoever. Whether we like it or not, the things of this life—money, belongings, homes, and even people—are only temporary and cannot be depended on in every circumstance. Sooner or later, they will fly away like chaff in the wind.
Jesus told the disciples that it is very hard for people of wealth to enter the kingdom of God. Simply put, when you have everything you need or want, and what you don’t have you can easily get, and what gets broken you can easily replace or fix, what do you else do you need? And if you are so busy taking care of every need yourself, you may find that you have no time to consider the spiritual realities or to encounter Jesus in your everyday life. And apart from a relationship with Jesus, how can you begin to experience the eternal life which is available to each of us right now by the Holy Spirit?
The disciples were aghast at the point Jesus was making. He was telling them that it is an impossible task to enter the kingdom of God. Our best efforts will not earn us a place at the Lord’s banquet table. Eternal life is something we inherit, but we cannot make ourselves children of God. This is a task Jesus did in our place, on our behalf. Jesus, in his finished work and in his life in us by the Holy Spirit, is the one who has made us right with God, bringing us by faith into right relationship with God as his adopted children. We have eternal life in Jesus Christ alone, as we trust in him and in his ministry of adoption.
In Jesus Christ, God has made the impossible possible. We have, in Jesus, all that we need to be included in God’s love and life as his adopted children. By faith in Christ we receive the gift of eternal life. Jesus invites you and me to follow him—but there is a price that goes with that gift of eternal life. It is not the price we might expect. We need to tear up our list of good deeds, and get rid of our dependency upon our piety, and simply follow Christ. This walk of faith or walk in the Spirit requires a commitment on our part, and a willingness to pay the ultimate price.
My heart goes out today to those followers of Christ who experience a very hefty price in this life for their commitment to faith in Jesus. Our brothers and sisters in many areas of the world cannot simply say the name of Jesus out loud in a public place without endangering their lives, their families or income. They are in my thoughts and prayers. I pray God will meet their every need as he is present with them right now by the Spirit in their suffering. As for those of us who live much more freely in this nation, what price are we willing to pay for the privilege of knowing Jesus and having the gift of eternal life? What are we willing to lay down or give away for the sake of following Christ?
Heavenly Father, forgive us for setting our hearts on so many valueless and worthless things that have no lasting benefit. Grant us the grace to lay down everything that we trust in and simply place our faith in your Son Jesus and all he has done in our place on our behalf. Thank you for your love and grace, for providing for our every need, and for your gift of eternal life, through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.
“As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, ‘Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments, “Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness,” Do not defraud, “Honor your father and mother.”’ And he said to Him, ‘Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.’ Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, ‘One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’ But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property. And Jesus, looking around, said to His disciples, ‘How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God! The disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’ They were even more astonished and said to Him, ‘Then who can be saved?’ Looking at them, Jesus said, ‘With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.’ Peter began to say to Him, ‘Behold, we have left everything and followed You.’ Jesus said, ‘Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last, first.’” Mark 10:17–31 NASB
By Linda Rex
September 5, 2021, PROPER 18—Wouldn’t it be nice if we could simply ask God to heal someone and he would? What if we could just ask God to fix a situation—get rid of that political leader, close that company, get those people working—and it would just happen? We kind of like the idea of a vending machine God.
Or, when we think of having the faith to receive God’s “yes” to our requests, we often put the burden solely upon ourselves. We catch ourselves starting to move to the place of asking God for something, only to back away and say, “If only I had the faith to….” I wonder if often the issue isn’t with our faith or lack thereof, but rather with our inaccurate and insufficient knowledge of who God is. We don’t know what our Father’s heart and mind toward us really is and we don’t trust him to have our best interests at heart in every situation.
I suppose that if we knew God well and were walking day by day in intimate relationship with him, we might come a little closer to knowing how he perceives a certain situation and what it is he would do in that situation. Over time, by experiencing his answers to our prayers and his faithfulness to us in difficult circumstances, we might be able to ask with greater assurance for his intervention and receive what we request. But God doesn’t always say “yes.” The reality is sometimes he says “later,” or “no.” And we need to be okay with this.
In the gospel passage for this Sunday (Mark 7:24–37) we read that Jesus was trying to find a place where he could teach and minister to his disciples. He went to the region of Tyre, and entered a house, seeking privacy and quiet—time away from the crowds and their demands on his time and energy. In spite of Jesus’ efforts to remain anonymous and isolated, a Syrophoenician woman came to him in great humility and asked him to heal her daughter of an unclean spirit.
Jesus’ reply seems at first glance to be rather rude and disrespectful. He told her it was not fitting to take food away from the children and to feed it to the dogs. She as a Gentile may have experienced often the use of the term “dogs” by the Jews in reference to herself. But in reality, Jesus used a diminutive term when talking about the dogs, which showed he was referring to puppies or the family pets. He was not insulting her, but rather was explaining that his first responsibility in that moment was to his disciples, those he was training and teaching at that particular time.
The woman was not put off by Jesus’ initial refusal to help. It was quite common for her people and his, like ours today, to have family pets around the dinner table. Her reply to him was witty, saucy, and genuine—she quickly pointed out that the pet dogs could eat at the same time as the children, since they picked up the crumbs which fell off the table or ate those tidbits handed to them by the children. There was a picture of pleasant domestic tranquility in her words, a thing she may have been missing due to her daughter’s current illness. She boldly made her request, no matter the cost to herself or the inherent risk of refusal. She trusted in his ability, and willingness, to do what was needed to heal her daughter—which in the end, he did.
There are many stories in the Old Testament of people who had the boldness to ask a big thing of God, believing they would have his “yes” in response to their request. Jacob, who wrestled all night with God, would not let go until God gave him his blessing—and received it. Elijah asked God to make a visible sign of his power and glory in front of the worshipers of Baal—and he did. Elisha asked for a double portion of the Spirit which was on Elijah—and it was his when Elijah was taken. A woman who lost her son came in great grief to Elisha—and her son lived again. Nothing was too large for these people to ask for—and God happily said “yes” to each of their requests.
What if they had never asked? What if they had believed that God was not interested in what was important to them?
The thought came to me—what if Peter and John had met that man at the temple who had been lame from birth and had said to him, “We don’t have any silver or gold” and then simply walked away? Thankfully, for his sake, they did not just walk away. They offered what they did have, and that was healing in the name of Jesus Christ.
Peter and John had experienced God and his love for them in a profound and deep way. They had walked and talked with the Son of God who had taken on human flesh and lived alongside them for three years. They had sat around the campfire with Jesus and had heard his teaching and preaching. They had watched him be betrayed, be crucified and die, and then had walked and talked with him after the resurrection. The consequence of that ongoing relationship with the risen Lord Jesus Christ was a confident assurance and trust that enabled them to boldly ask for whatever was needed in the moment, even when it was a huge request like making a lame man walk.
If Peter had come across this lame man that night when the rooster crowed three times marking his denial of Christ, would he have responded in the same way? What would have been God’s answer to his request at that time? Peter’s faith experienced a time of testing through which he learned the heart of Jesus and his Father. He came to know Jesus in a way he had never known him before. He discovered God was not only trustworthy, but he was also gracious and compassionate—a faithful God who knew him intimately, and loved him completely and fully anyway. Filled with the Spirit following Pentecost, Peter, and his co-laborer John, had a sense of certainty about what the risen Lord would do in the situation with the man who was lame, and so they told him to walk in Jesus’ name—and he did.
Have you ever had that kind of conversation with God in which you were frankly honest with him, where you boldly asked for what was needed for yourself and others? In the midst of an ongoing conversation with God, a growing relationship with Jesus through the tests and trials of life, there is certainly room for truth-telling—for being genuine in your expression of your anger, your fear, your frustration or your need. Whatever it is, understand that God meets us where we are, not just where we ought to be or wish we could be or believe we should be.
How well do we know God? I find that way too often I make God much, much smaller than he really is. Too often I make him in my image instead of remembering I am made to reflect him. I may understand intellectually that he is greater than my problems or concerns, but my actions demonstrate that I don’t truly believe he is. I may believe that he has the capacity to fix whatever my situation is, but I simply don’t act on that capacity by boldly requesting his intervention in my situation and trusting him to do what is best. When the apostle James said that faith without works is dead, he was pointing out that too often what we say we believe about God isn’t demonstrated by the way we behave in our relationship with him and others (James 2:1–10, 14–17).
It is critical that our fragile human faith be replaced with Jesus’ implicit faith in the Father. The Spirit is working this transformation in our hearts and lives as we turn to Christ and walk in him. We spend time growing our relationship with God through the study of his word, prayer, worship, and other spiritual disciplines. We make room for God to work on our hearts and minds, allowing him to draw us through difficult times and painful situations into closer relationship with him. Our trust in God and in his faithfulness grows as we follow Christ and walk in the Spirit through all of life.
And remarkably, we find that even when we do ask, we are not alarmed when God does not give us an immediate “yes”. Our relationship with God becomes more important than having our way in a given situation. We are willing to trust in God, rest in Christ, allowing the Lord to do what only he can do in the situation, believing he will do what is in our best interests because he loves us and is faithful. We know who he is, that he is trustworthy and faithful—and so we can, in Christ, trust him. We discover that the faith we are needing has been given to us as a gift from God through Jesus in the Spirit. This blessed gift of faith means God’s “yes” is already at work in our situation—we need only rest in Christ and trust in God’s love and faithfulness, for he is trustworthy.
Dear God, thank you for your faithfulness, for being trustworthy, the One we can rely upon in every situation to carry us through and to bring us in the end to where we need to be. Fill us with the faith of Christ by your Holy Spirit, giving us the grace to come boldly to your throne to receive what we need in every situation, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.
“But after hearing of Him, a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately came and fell at His feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of the Syrophoenician race. And she kept asking Him to cast the demon out of her daughter. And He was saying to her, ‘Let the children be satisfied first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.’ But she answered and said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table feed on the children’s crumbs.’ And He said to her, ‘Because of this answer go; the demon has gone out of your daughter.’ And going back to her home, she found the child lying on the bed, the demon having left.” Mark 7:25–30 (24–37) NASB
“What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?… Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.” James 2:14, 17 (1–10, 14–17) NASB