Receiving Abba’s Words of Love
By Linda Rex
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 23, 2020, TRANSFIGURATION—Today I can walk into any supermarket or department store near me and be met with an effusive display of Valentine’s Day gifts, flowers, and cards. Many people today will be taking their loved ones out for coffee, lunch, or dinner, and some may even decide that today is the perfect day to pop the question, “Will you marry me?”
For the most part, I think that we all love a good love story, especially when it has a “happily ever after” ending. It’s almost as if, written into our very being, is the longing to love and be loved. Without this, our lives become shadows—a constant steady motion forward, but no interweaving of our lives with others around us, except at work or play. The longing for deep connectedness is real, but many of us don’t slow down long enough to ponder its source and to seek its resolution.
One of the ways in which we long to be loved is often a deep inner longing to hear our father, or mother, say, “I love you.” How many people today live their lives in a effort to somehow win the approval and affection of a parent? Many times, we don’t even realize we are doing this, and it is after years of passionate struggle to succeed and gain significance that we finally awaken to the reality that we will never gain either, nor can we ever work hard enough to gain the love and approval of another person. Love is not earned—it is a gift we give one another.
Sometimes our wounds go so deep that even though we are surrounded by loving people, we are unable to receive the love they desire to give us. It is very easy for us to close our hearts to others, to put up walls that are so high that no one can enter in and touch us. We may prefer to live life behind walls—relationships involve risk, especially intimate ones. But we will never truly experience real life, real living, until we are willing and able to let someone else know us deeply, and to love us in the midst of our messes and failures.
Jesus spoke to his disciples about the oneness between him and his heavenly Father, and in his prayers, he expressed their intimate oneness. Jesus goes so far as to say, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3 NASB). We were never meant to live life alone and unconnected, empty of relationship. Deep connectedness is what we were created for. We were meant to share in the oneness which has always existed between the Father and the Son in the Spirit.
At the transfiguration, John, James, and Peter witnessed the Father’s expression of love for Jesus, his Son. Being in the presence of God, they were terrified. Instead of feeling warmed by the presence of a loving, affectionate Father, they were filled with fear. Jesus’ immediately said to them, “Don’t be afraid.” They needed to have a clearer picture of what kind of God they were obeying—not a punitive God to be afraid of, but an affectionate Abba to love.
The reality is that our conception of God is often distorted by our experiences, most especially our own relationship with our parents or other people, even well-meaning Christians. We can allow these distortions to get in the way of encountering God on his own merits, and end up refusing to receive the love and grace God offers us. God has been as loving as possible with us in giving us Jesus and his Spirit, and often surrounds us with loving people, but we can and do resist and refuse his love.
This unfortunate, because God really wants to give us the “happily ever after” ending. He wants us to live in joyful, loving connectedness both now and forever. This is why he went to so much effort to prepare for and orchestrate the coming of the Word into human flesh, to live our life, and die our death, raising us into glory.
There is a hidden glory in every human being. Just as in Jesus the disciples discovered the hidden glory of God’s very being, in each of us is an inherent design, a script which reflects the very being and nature of God himself. We were made in the image of God, after his likeness, to live in the same oneness, interconnectedness of unique equal persons, as do the Father, Son and Spirit. Our inclusion in this holy love is by faith in Jesus. There is no distinction made between any of us as human beings—our common humanity is centered in Christ and we share in his glory, both now and forever.
Why do we as humans so often choose fear of God over receiving this immense, overwhelming love of God? Why don’t we allow ourselves to be loved? Perhaps one reason is that love often calls us up out of our worst into our best—love may ask us to change things we don’t want to change, to give up things we don’t want to give up. And love can hurt at times. Love requires vulnerability, transparency, honesty—requiring us to lay ourselves out at the mercy of others. Sometimes loving in this way means we suffer immeasurably—like the living Lord who became human only to end up crucified.
It is much easier to fear God and to try to be a good person, to earn his love and affection, than it is to lay ourselves fully in his hands and surrender to his love. To earn God’s love, we can follow a list of rules or set up systems in our lives that make us feel like we’re being good people and we’re obeying God. It doesn’t require openness or authenticity—it looks good on the outside, and we’re always in control. But it does not get us any closer to God—in fact, it may actually become a god in itself, separating us from any real relationship with the Lord.
To come, as Jesus teaches us, to the cross and lay ourselves at God’s feet, knowing our only hope is his love and grace, is the perfect place to encounter the living Lord. It is acknowledging our failures to love God and each other that paves the way for God to enter in and be for us what we cannot be. It is in expressing our need for God and our desire to know him better that we find ourselves growing in deep connectedness with him. When we understand our need for the daily bread of his love and grace, his Word to us, and our words in response to him, then we are beginning to understand what it means to receive Abba’s words of love.
Today is a good day to practice the spiritual discipline of silence and solitude. Find a place where you can be undisturbed—preferably somewhere in nature, where you can experience the beauty of what God created for your joy. Give yourself a few moments in silence to still chaotic thoughts, and then tell God you are there to hear his words of love. Ask him to help you to receive them and to believe what he says to you is true, and to guard you from any lies the deceiver may use to confuse you. Then just sit for a time in the silence. If your thoughts wander, just give them to God, and ask him again what he has to say to you. You may only hear silence or you may hear Abba’s words of love in your heart. Either way, you are on the path to deeper connectedness with God—and opening yourself to hear and receive the words of love Abba has for you.
Thank you, Abba, that you meet us wherever we are, and in your love, work to bring us to where you are. As we take the time to listen to your words of love, enable us to hear and to receive them, and to begin to live as though they were true. Thank you that you have already expressed your love to us in the gift of your Son and your Spirit. We are grateful. 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.” 2 Peter 1:16 NASB
By Linda Rex
It’s been interesting to watch companies alter their advertising strategies to accommodate public concerns about body image and eating disorders. It’s good to see positive changes about these things. Helping young people have a healthy view of themselves as they grow up, and treating everyone, no matter their appearance, with respect and dignity is a worthy cause.
But there is another change I’d like to see in our media and advertising strategies. Unfortunately, sex sells, and so often it is used to sell even the most mundane products. Sometimes I’m appalled at how often the word “love” is used to refer to having sex with someone. Selling sex and calling it love seems to be the media strategy of the day.
As I sit impatiently through another lengthy ad about some pharmaceutical product, I am appalled by our addiction to pleasure filled, pain-free, hedonistic living. It seems like we are in general as a culture addicted to sex for its own sake. Sex is no longer experienced as a sacred event in which two people in the real presence of God share a deep intimacy unique to themselves alone within a covenanted relationship.
This isn’t a condemnation of sex outside of marriage. Rather, it is an acknowledgement of a lack of knowledge and discernment about love, what it is and what it is not. It is an expression of my grief that we are missing out on something beautiful, precious and divine. It is a realization that we are not living in the truth of who we are and who we were meant to reflect in our love and sexual relationships.
How we treat sex and sexual relationships says a lot about us as human beings. So does how we view love and love relationships.
There is a substantial brokenness at the heart of each one of us that causes us to run from a deep, committed relationship with God. And in running from intimacy with God, we also run from intimacy with one another.
We are happy to experience physical intimacy, because for a while it feels a lot like real intimacy. But real intimacy demands so much more from us—vulnerability, commitment, sacrifice, humility, submission, surrender—all the things we’d prefer to have to live without. We are happy to live with the counterfeit because the real is so demanding. And when a real relationship fractures or ends in death, the pain is excruciating. And we don’t want to deal with the pain.
Living in intimacy with God goes right along with this. We can be content with a superficial relationship with God—he makes no demands, we’re free to set our own limits. Or we can go deeper—surrendering all of ourselves, making ourselves fully vulnerable to God and others, sacrificing for his sake, living in commitment to him and his will in full submission to him—this is a real and deep relationship of love. But that means that God calls the shots in everything, including our sex and love life.
We can compartmentalize our relationship with God. We’ll be at church on Sunday or watch the evangelist on TV, send in a few bucks here and there for a worthy cause—and we’ve done what God expects, we think. Then we can go on about the rest of our life anyway we want. And God allows us to do that.
But this is so much like having a casual, physical relationship with someone and then walking away whenever we decide we’re done. We can have an occasional feel-good relationship with God, say that we love him, and then go on with our lives. We can dismiss him as someone we use and discard as the situation requires.
God meant for all of life, all that we are, to be a part of our relationship with him. That includes love and sex. As King David wrote in Psalm 139, God is present at all times in the Spirit. There is no part of our lives that is lived outside of God’s presence and power. And as Jesus bears our human flesh in the presence of the Father, all of our humanity is deeply and completely open to and known by God.
Love and sex are meant to be outward- and upward-focused rather than inward-focused. There is a sacredness to our relationships and our sexuality that precludes casual expression. Our bodies, souls and spirits, as well as those of others around us, are held as precious, to be respected, cherished and honored, not just used for self-fulfillment or self-indulgence. Love is something so much deeper than a casual sexual encounter—it is an expression of the divine.
In giving us his Son Jesus, God calls each of us to go deeper with him in a relationship of love—to love him with all that we are. And he calls each of us to love one another in the same self-sacrificing way Jesus demonstrated for us as he lived, died and rose again as a human being. We called out of darkness into God’s light, to take the path of transparency, integrity, sincerity and purity.
Taking this path in no way diminishes the pleasure and beauty of sex or love, but rather it concentrates it, giving it an intensity, freedom and power it would not otherwise have. And because sex and love are expressed by human beings in broken ways, we should accept that they are only glimpses of the divine. They were never meant to be the ultimate experience in themselves, but to create in us a thirst for something beyond this life that only God can satisfy.
I hope and pray that at some point, we as human beings, made in God’s image, born to be in relationship with God and one another, will draw the line and stop allowing ourselves to be manipulated, used and controlled via our sexuality. And when someone talks about love, it will not just be about sex, but will also be about commitment, compassion, service, giving, sharing, understanding and sacrifice. May God hasten that day!
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Holy Father, forgive us for not understanding or appreciating the precious gifts of love and sex you have given us as human beings. Open our eyes to see that in Jesus and through your Spirit we live moment by moment in your presence, that all of our life is taken up in you, including our sexuality. Grant us the grace to live in true intimacy with you and one another as you intended from the beginning. Through Jesus our Lord, and in your Holy Spirit. Amen.
“And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” Philippians 1:9–11 NASB
God Up Close
By Linda Rex
Do you ever wonder just what to believe?
Sometimes there are so many sides to a story, I begin to think that someone is just making it all up. It’s hard to narrow it down to what actually begins to resemble truth. It’s really hard to get to the bottom of it all.
Whether or not I am able to come to some sort of conclusion is often dependent upon who is giving me the information. Is he or she trustworthy? Can I believe what they are saying? Are they reliable? Dependable? Can I trust that they are telling me the truth?
If I trust someone enough to believe that what they are saying is the truth, I will act upon that knowledge. What happens next is very much dependent upon whether or not he or she was telling me the truth. And whether or not my relationship with this person continues to be meaningful and deep depends upon whether or not they were telling me the truth.
I think most people can agree that trust is at the heart of and essential to any meaningful relationship. Trust is something that can be broken and lost. On the other hand, it can be built over time as two people spend time together and come to know each other intimately through shared experiences.
In the series Star Trek—Enterprise episode “Babel One’, we find that two warring nations who are working to establish a treaty intend to meet together at a place called Babel. The Enterprise is escorting the Tellurite ambassador and his party to Babel when they receive a distress call from Shran, an Andorian whose ship has apparently been attacked and destroyed by a Tellurite vessel.
Shran has over time, come to understand and respect the Starfleet captain Jonathan Archer through several shared experiences in which each assisted the other in spite of their mistrust of one another. But now, with both the Andorians and Tellurites on the starship, the rancor between the opposing groups comes to a head. The deep question that lies between every one of these people and a solution to the problem is, “Just who can I trust?”
Isn’t that really what is fundamental to life and to any relationship? Trust. Who is there that I can really count on when things get tough? Who can I believe? Who’ll be there every time in every situation when I need them there? Who’s the one with the answers that are reliable and dependable in every circumstance?
And just like in this story, it is often not immediately apparent just who is telling the truth. The Andorians believe the Tellurites attacked and destroyed their vessel, killing over 70 of their people. The Tellurites believe the Andorians have been attacking and destroying their vessels for years. What neither party is aware of at that moment is that there is a third party imitating, attacking and preying upon both nation’s starships. Finding out this truth is essential to the establishment of trust—of a basis for a meaningful relationship between the two nations.
In other words, it is essential for the development of a healthy relationship and the fostering of good will between the two parties that they begin to get up close and personal. There needs to be a transparency—a revealing to one another the deep secrets of the soul which they prefer to keep hidden. There needs to be an opening up, a vulnerability—which could very well open them up to attack or betrayal. And there needs to be a realization that sometimes it’s not about one or the other, but often something else entirely that is causing mistrust in the relationship.
When we read the story of God “testing” Abraham, we find that God is wanting to learn something about him that he could not find out just by talking with him. God wanted to know whether or not Abraham trusted him completely, and whether or not he truly loved God, down to the core of his being.
It is instructive that when God called to Abraham, he did not run and hide, make excuses or try to rationalize away God’s instruction to offer his son as a sacrifice. He said “Here I am” and he went and did exactly what he was told to do. He trusted God that in spite of what he saw and heard, in spite of the circumstances, God was going to keep his word and work out whatever needed to be done so that Isaac and his descendants would inherit God’s promises.
When we know God well, and over time have built a relationship of trust with him through shared circumstances and going through tough times together, we are happy to do whatever God’s will may be for us at the moment. Although God doesn’t ask people to sacrifice their children today, he does often ask us to sacrifice things we think are important—popularity, prosperity, giving in to our passions and desires, favorite unhealthy habits and improper ways of relating to others. Whether or not we do as God asks is dependent upon whether or not we trust him completely, fully, to the nth degree.
We grow in faith, in trust, over time as we walk with God through the circumstances of our lives. As time goes by, we see that God is faithful, compassionate, longsuffering and truthful. We find that he is completely dependable.
And we learn to trust God as we look at his Son, Jesus Christ. We get to know God’s story, the story of his Son and how he lived, died and rose again, and how he now intercedes for us moment by moment in the presence of the Father in the Spirit. In Jesus Christ, we see God up close. We see God’s nature, character, heart and mind. We get to know God for who he really is—a trustworthy Person Who we can believe and count on.
So when we are faced with that age-old question, “Just who can I trust?” we have a place to start. In our relationship with God in Christ through the Spirit we have a basis for trust. We have shared experiences which teach us God is trustworthy. We have God making himself fully vulnerable to the place where Jesus was willing to suffer and die at the hands of the ones who he came to love and make himself known to. We have a trustworthy God—will we trust him and place ourselves fully into his care, believing his word and doing whatever he asks in every situation? Will we believe?
Trustworthy Father, today I trust you to keep your word to me, to be faithful and loving and compassionate in every situation, and to finish what you have begun in my life and in my heart and mind in Christ. May I always reflect your perichoretic faithfulness and trustworthiness in everything I say and do. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
“Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’” Ge 22:1
“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, ‘in Isaac your descendants shall be called.’ He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type.”’ Heb 11:17–19