who we are
By Linda Rex
Sunday, April 5, 2020, PALM SUNDAY, 6th SUNDAY IN LENT—As I sat on a bench with my husband on the greenway at Fontanel this afternoon, I watched families and couples taking advantage of the opportunity to get outside to walk in the fresh air and sunshine. Everyone we met smiled and shared hellos with us as they went by. Even the guys in the catering van that drove by greeted us and smiled.
In the real world away from the social networking and politicized news reports, it was comforting to experience some real human connection, even if it was brief and from a distance. Perhaps this is the real takeaway from all that is going on right now—we were created for relationship, and anything that tries to prevent that or destroy it in the end will fail. We are interconnected with one another as human beings in ways which go beyond the physical—we are connected at a deep level which extends beyond the limits of evil and death.
The reason I say this is because so often our suffering and struggle in this world is caused by unhealthy or estranged relationships or ways of relating, and our healing is equally so often found in the rebuilding and renewing of relationships. Today we are normally too busy to go deep with one another and are unwilling to do the difficult relational work that is necessary for true connection. We have many distractions which prevent us from sharing at an intimate level with most people in our lives, and many of us prefer to avoid the discomfort of dealing with interpersonal issues when they come up.
Maybe if we gave serious thought to how Jesus lived when he was here on earth, we might think differently about how we live our lives. At that time, Jesus lived in a culture and setting in which life was slow enough that people really knew everything about everyone else. They knew their family and their neighbors, and all the people they interacted with on a daily basis. In a big city like metropolitan Nashville, it’s easy to hide. It’s easy to pretend we have it all together just long enough that people think the best of us and trust us. Our social networking is very convenient for creating facades which impress people without risking their criticism or disappointment.
But what happens when we slow down long enough for people to really get to know us? What happens when people begin to find out who we really are? We can only pretend for so long. Eventually as people get closer, they begin to figure out our flaws and those things which we do poorly and how we fail or fall short. What we do then reveals how deep our true humanity goes. To love and be loved is to be truly human, as is to forgive and be forgiven. To do any less is the sphere where inhumanity flourishes and poisons our existence.
The disciples and others traveling with Jesus into Jerusalem on that day celebrated his arrival with shouts of “Hosanna!”, calling out to him their hearts’ cry for deliverance from their Roman oppressors. Luke records in his gospel the messianic tone of this celebration, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord; | Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” This resonates with the angelic chorus at Jesus’ birth, “Glory to God in the highest, | And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased” (Luke 2:14 NASB).
The cry, “Hosanna!” is the cry “O, save!”, the crowd’s call to a deliverer to rescue and save them. Laying out garments before Jesus as he humbly rode in on the colt of a donkey showed their willingness to be his subjects and to allow him to rule. It is significant that as Jesus rode through the city, not everyone was taken up in this celebration of his arrival. As we read in the other gospels, there were those who told Jesus to shut the mouths of those shouting “Hosanna!” These people did not want the Jesus to be their deliverer or savior, and would one day soon participate in having him crucified.
The real question of the day on the people’s lips is a question we each need to come to terms with though, “Who is this?” Indeed, who is Jesus Christ? What right does he have to ride into Jerusalem and be celebrated as the expected messiah, the deliverer of his people? What makes Jesus so special, so worthy of people’s adoration and trust? Isn’t it enough that he is a prophet?
Actually, no; there is so much more going on than this, and we need to come to terms with it. We need to accept the reality that when we are faced with the catastrophic events in life, with the economic and political distresses of our culture, our efforts to make things right are flawed and ultimately ineffective. Indeed, we cannot count on our government to always do what is right and most helpful for everyone in these situations—they are going to let us down. Our scientific advancements have limitations—there is a learning curve, and a need to balance our technology with human kindness and wisdom, which we so often don’t do.
No matter which way we turn, we come up against the reality that we as human beings face so many things in life where we end up saying, “hosanna” and often don’t even realize what or who we expect salvation from may very well, in the end, fail us.
Maybe instead of seeking deliverance from our problems or sufferings, from the fearful things we face in this world, we should work towards an honest assessment of what’s really going on. Let’s be truthful about all this: in this moment, as we sit in silent reflection, what is the foundational issue at work in all that is happening around us? Could it be that we do not understand who we are? Is it possible that we do not understand who our deliverer and savior really is? Indeed, where are we placing our faith? Who is it we are counting on to deliver us?
The capacity to reach out and help others while risking our own health and economic well-being comes from an inner wellspring which has its source in the living Lord. This is the God/man who rode that foal into Jerusalem, allowing the people to celebrate his arrival. He was not afraid of what he faced, but was willing to allow events to take their course, for the hatred of his foes to reach its peak, so that he would experience the crucifixion that was necessary so humanity could be freed once and for all from its efforts to be its own savior and redeemer.
As God in human flesh, the person Jesus Christ took a place of humility—receiving the praises due him but refusing to allow these to determine which path he trod. He didn’t seek, nor did he need, human approval and praise, even though it was rightfully his. He sought, rather, to know those he met and to bring them to the place where they knew him, not as a politically motivated strong-arm deliverer, but as a humble brother who was willing to lay down his life and allow himself to be mistreated and murdered for the sake of every human who has ever lived.
Our need to control what is happening in our world, to ensure a positive outcome of what is happening around us, causes us to live so often in fear—fear of what might happen, fear of what is happening around us right now, fear of what others may say or do. Our fear so often governs our decisions and the way we run our lives and our world. Perhaps it is time to lay down our fear and allow God’s love to cast out our fear once and for all.
God’s perfect love casts out all fear because it was expressed in our Lord Jesus Christ laying down his life for us. He lived our life, died our death, and rose again so that each of us may by faith and in the Spirit participate in his perfect relationship with our heavenly Father and in loving relationship with one another. Turning to Jesus means turning away from our trust in anything other than God himself as the solution to our difficulties and problems. It means not having the answers, but trusting that in God’s perfect time, the answers will come or will be found. It means we may not experience the resolution to our issue that we seek, but may need to be willing to receive the one that is there or the one that will one day be ours in eternity.
During this time of upheaval, while hard decisions are needing to be made, while sacrifices are asked of us, and relationships are held at a distance, let’s seek to go deeper with God and with each other. Let surrender our efforts to be our own savior and humble ourselves to allow Jesus to be who he is—our Savior and Lord—allowing him to guide and provide what is needed in this time of crisis. Let’s turn away from ourselves, from the things and people we count on, and turn to the one who was willing to and did lay his life down for us—Jesus our Lord.
Thank you, Lord Jesus, for coming to us, to share life with us and to offer yourself in our place and on our behalf. Thank you for allowing us as human beings to pour out on you all the horrors of human depravity and inhumanity, while through death and resurrection bringing us to participate in your holy relationship with your Abba in the Spirit. Grant us the faith to trust, not in our own human abilities and efforts, but solely in your faithful love, that all may be to God’s glory and praise, in your holy name. Amen.
“The crowds going ahead of Him, and those who followed, were shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David; | BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD; | Hosanna in the highest!’ When He had entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, ‘Who is this?’ And the crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee.’” Matthew 11:9-11 NASB
“O LORD, do save, we beseech You; | O LORD, we beseech You, do send prosperity! | Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the LORD; | We have blessed you from the house of the LORD. | The LORD is God, and He has given us light; ….” Psalm 118:25-27a NASB
by Linda Rex
The other night in our weekly discussion group, we talked about why God allows bad things to happen to innocent children and to “good” people. I put “good” in quotes because in reality, the goodness any of us do have is merely a reflection of and participation in God’s goodness. So why does God allow people to harm others, especially the innocent and those who are defenseless?
This can be a difficult question to answer sometimes, because not everyone is open to the possibility of owning responsibility for the way we as humans live our lives and the many ways we hurt and abuse one another. It is as if we want to hold God responsible for our faults and shortcomings.
It’s God’s fault, we say, that so-and-so abused his neighbor’s child, and so he grew up to be an abuser of children. It’s God’s fault that priest or pastor was unfaithful to his wife and destroyed his marriage. Sounds whacky, doesn’t it? Is it really God’s fault we make stupid choices and hurt each other?
Think about it. Say, you are a parent and you have three children, and you send them to play outside. You tell them to behave themselves and to not get into trouble. You want them to get along and have fun while they are out there.
In about an hour, you begin to hear screaming and crying, so you go out to investigate. One child is on the ground, with a big bump on her arm, obviously in great pain. Another child is yelling at the oldest child, tell him what an idiot he is. The oldest child is holding a large stick, with which he quite obviously hit his sister. Now I ask you—how could it possibly be your fault that your daughter got injured and all your children are quarreling?
Well, we could say it is your fault, because you sent them outside to play by themselves. You didn’t go with them. We could say it is your fault because you didn’t watch them every minute they were out there, telling them what to do and what not to do as they were playing. We could say it is your fault this happened because you allowed your children to play with sticks. There’s a lot of ways in which we could place the blame on you—but would you really be at fault?
Placing blame nearly always happens when we are not willing to be responsible for what is ours. If you want your children to grow up into healthy adults, they need opportunities to learn how to play nicely with others. Part of that learning process is having minimally supervised playtime where they have to apply what they have learned about getting along with other children. As they negotiate the rocky road of relationship building, they will make mistakes, and injuries will happen. As parents, we just try to minimalize the hurts while maximizing the learning.
God didn’t just send all humanity out to play though, and then ignore them. That’s the difference. What he did was to take on a human body in Jesus Christ, and join us in our humanity. He experienced, just as we do, the ups and downs of human life, including the unjust and degrading imprisonment, torture and crucifixion at the hands of the Jewish and Roman authorities. He allowed us as human beings to dump our worst on him so he could redeem it and turn it into his best.
Because, in Christ, the worst we as humans have done has been turned into our transformation. We have a new humanity which Jesus forged in the midst of all he lived and suffered while he played with us here on earth. We don’t have to stay in the brokenness which is ours, but can embrace the gift of a new way of thinking and being, and Christ’s way of living together. He illustrated for us and formed in us the unity amid diversity in equality the Father, Son and Spirit live in, and sent his Holy Spirit so we can live in this way with one another.
But we as human beings have always insisted on doing things our way. Just like stubborn, rebellious children, we believe we know what is best, and that our way is the only way that matters. And we are reaping the results of this way of believing and behaving. And God is not at fault in this—we are.
It’s okay to accept the reality we are messed up human beings. We hurt each other. We hurt ourselves. We do not live the way we are meant to live. And that’s why Jesus came—so we could share in the truth of real loving relationship with God and one another.
God doesn’t prevent all the bad things from happening to us, but rather takes them and uses them as a means to heal and restore relationships with him and with others. These bad things, if we are willing to place them where they belong—at the feet of Jesus, become our stepping stones to a greater maturity and a deeper walk with the God who created us.
Assuming responsibility for what is ours is key. We need to own the truth when we mess up our lives. As human beings, we need to accept the reality we are broken and flawed people. This is not God’s fault, other than he allowed us the freedom to choose, so he would not have robots or animals, but persons who could live in loving relationship with the divine Persons.
God has given us personhood. And this personhood means there are things which are ours and things which are God’s—and the line really doesn’t become blurred, except in Jesus. He, as the perfect God/man, is the one who takes what is ours and transforms it, healing it, and restoring it to the place where God meant for it to be in the first place. Jesus made and makes for us the decisions we ought to have made but didn’t—and then by the Spirit—he gives them to us.
But we are always responsible for what is ours—God doesn’t do for us what is ours to do. We receive what Jesus has done and begin to live in the truth of who we are in him. We no longer live as bratty children who stubbornly want our own way. We begin to play nice, and to get along with our siblings the way we should so we can have a happy family.
We take the bumps and bruises, the encounters with hurtful people, and allow God to transform them into compassion, understanding, and a willingness to help and heal others. We comfort others who are suffering with the comfort we receive from Christ in the midst of our own suffering. And stronger, healthier relationships of love and acceptance result.
In Christ, all these negative, hurtful experiences can become the means by which God binds us to himself and to one another—if we are willing. When we stop blaming God and put the blame where it really belongs and receive the grace given to us in Jesus Christ, we find ourselves beginning to heal and to have a heart to help others who are in need of healing and restoration. May God give us compassionate, understanding hearts as he works to heal and restore all we have broken and wounded.
Heavenly Father, thank you for forgiving us all the times we do not get along with one another, and when we hurt and abuse one another and ourselves. Grant us the grace to bring our wounds and broken selves to you, to allow you to transform and heal us with the life you have given us in your Son Jesus. May we become more and more like you each day, learning to live in the truth of who we are as your beloved, through Jesus our Lord and by your Spirit. Amen.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer; and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort. 2 Corinthians 1:3–7 NASB
by Linda Rex
The other day I was talking with some ladies who were sharing stories of famous people they had met or interacted with. This is always fascinating to me because of the way we tend to get excited over someone who is just another human being like we are, but who has succeeded in their area of expertise to the place they are well-known and well-like by thousands and millions of people.
It’s kind of like walking into a gathering at Converge and finding myself next to W. Paul Young, the author of “The Shack”. He’s a regular guy and would probably be the first to remind everyone that he’s nobody special. But he’s had tremendous success as an author and speaker, and has drawn the praise and support of millions of people. And so I felt myself privileged to share the same space with him for a few moments.
It’s not like being a successful person in this culture necessarily changes who we are fundamentally. It’s more like it changes our experience of our world and how we interact with those around us. It would be very difficult to live one’s life under the constant scrutiny of strangers and to always be open to criticism and the possibility of rejection by the same people who currently applaud us.
And yet, this is exactly what happened to Jesus Christ. He was an inspiring, charming person to be around. He was loving and compassionate, always doing good works and healing broken people. He drew crowds around himself just by being who he was.
And the Jewish leaders hated him for it. They were constantly picking at him, looking for faults and some justifiable reason to destroy him. They criticized even the good things he did, because they did not fit in with what these leaders understood to be the way the Messiah would do things.
In Jesus’ story, we see him one day entering Jerusalem to pomp and circumstance—heralded as a deliverer. But within just a few days, we see him being imprisoned, tortured and crucified. Being a “famous” person definitely has its drawbacks.
But when we look at Jesus’ life here on earth, we see someone who laid it all out there. He told people who he really was, and lived like who he really was, so no one could say that he was merely putting on an act. He was genuine and real, making himself vulnerable to the point he was crucified for just being who he was.
Too often we are like the movie or music stars who hide under the gloss of a certain persona, because it is much safer for them to do this than to let people see who they really are. They cannot leave the house without having their image in place because they don’t want people to think less of them and so to reject them. After all, this is their livelihood.
We often believe and act as though it is much safer for us to project an image of having it all together than it is to be vulnerable and allow people to see the truth of our being. And too often, we experience events in our lives which prove to us that this is what we have to do in order to be safe and loved. If we don’t look as if we have it all together we will experience rejection or persecution rather than acceptance and understanding.
Sadly, this is especially true within Christian circles. We seem to have expectations of one another which, when you really get down to it, are often unreasonable and unrealistic. If we were to really think our expectations of one another through, we would realize that no human being other than Jesus Christ himself could live in such a perfect manner. So why do we expect it of one another?
But this brings us back to this fundamental thing for which you and I have been created: to know and be known. In John 17:3, we read Jesus saying this: “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” Eternal life, life in the presence of the Father, Son and Spirit, involves being completely and fully known by God and one another.
This describes a way of being which is truly transparent, honest and real. This is what we were created for. And when we don’t live in this way, we suffer. We create pain, suffering, and angst. There is disunity, war, strife, and separation. There is death and destruction—of people, relationships, organizations, nations—you name it.
Looking around us today, we can see and we experience the consequences of not living in accordance with the truth of our being. We don’t think, act, interact and live in way which corresponds exactly with the truth of who we really are. The truth of our being is that we are meant to be fully known and fully loved and accepted by God and one another.
We were not created for isolation or separation. We were not created for hiding or facades. We were not created to live one way on the inside and another on the outside. When we do this, when we live in this way, we hurt ourselves and we hurt others.
Sometimes we hide our true selves because we’re afraid we will hurt the people we love. And we don’t realize that in hiding our true selves, we are hurting them, because we are not allowing them to see the real glory God created us to shine with. God made us in his image to shine with his glory—his true light. Hiding this within ourselves does not help others.
It would be good to accept and live in the reality we are both completely known to the core of our being and totally, deeply loved. God even knows our thoughts before we think them and our words before we say them, and he says to us, in spite of everything, “I love you. You are mine and I am yours.”
And so you and I can ask for the courage and faith to begin to live according to the truth of our being, of who we are in Jesus Christ. He lived the perfected humanity you and I long for. And in him and by his Spirit, we are able to be the people we were meant to be.
Yes, we are broken people with scars and messy lives. But we are also at the same time, the beloved adopted children of Abba. We have the ever-present Spirit in us and with us, working out our true humanity, and Christ our divine Brother, including us in his life.
In Christ, and by his Spirit, we can face up to the dark places within, bringing them to the light so that Abba can heal them. We can let people get close because God enables us to see them through his eyes, as our brothers and sisters, who are just as broken and faulty as we are. We can begin the process of being real, of being honest about who we really are, letting safe people help us go through the difficulties which come along the way as healing occurs.
Abba, thank you for loving us just the way we are. Thank you for not leaving us in our brokenness and unbelief, but through your Son and by your Spirit, working to heal, restore and renew us. Grant us the grace and courage to be genuine and real, while at the same time putting on Christ as we ought to, in place of the false self which we so easily yield to. We praise you for your faithful love and grace through Jesus our Lord. Amen.
“O LORD, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you understand my thought from afar. you scrutinize my path and my lying down, and are intimately acquainted with all my ways. Even before there is a word on my tongue, behold, O LORD, You know it all. You have enclosed me behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is too high, I cannot attain to it. Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?” Psalm 139:1–7 NASB
by Linda Rex
How often do we take the time to consider the truth about who we are? When faced with a situation in which we need to make a significant decision in our lives about where we are going to work, who we are going to marry, or how best to develop our gifts and gain experience in the area of our giftedness, how do we go about it? And are these two questions even related?
I believe sometimes the struggle is made more significant when we try to find these answers under our own power, or when we base them on what someone else says about us. It seems to me we often make this whole process more difficult than it needs to be because we forget who we are.
We forget we are daily being molded and shaped into the person God created us to be by the One Who made us in the first place. We are the adopted children of the One who redeemed us by taking on our humanity and transforming it into the perfect image-bearer of God our humanity was meant to be. Were we to fully embrace our calling to bear the image of God in our person, we would gradually find ourselves being who we were meant to be.
But this is a process. And it is not something we are able to do by human effort. Whatever effort we put into the process is merely a participation in what Jesus Christ has already accomplished in his life, death, resurrection and ascension. We participate in Christ’s perfected humanity, and as we do, we come to be more and more truly human, as God meant us to be.
Many times we invest ourselves deeply in things such as our work, our marriage, a project, or in a group of people such as a church congregation. When things don’t turn out as we expect and we find ourselves at odds with those we used to be in close relationship with, or we lose our job, or fail at a project, we find ourselves devastated.
We have identified ourselves so closely with that which has broken or has ended, we end up feeling lost or aimless, without a sense of direction or a purpose for our lives. Sometimes the fear of this type of outcome prevents us from getting involved in the first place. We don’t want to risk this kind of hurt or possible rejection.
Isn’t it interesting how much of our identity or our feeling of personhood is bound up in our relationships and in the things we say and do which involve other people (i.e. things which are relational in their impact)? I don’t think we realize how much our identity as persons in the divine Personhood is bound up in our relationships with one another as well as with God.
Perhaps one of the reasons it hurts so much when we experience a loss in this way is because it hits us at the core of our being. We were created to be in loving relationship with God and each other—this is who we are. We identify ourselves by what we do and by who we are in relationship to others.
When what we do and who we are in relationship to others is based on self-gratification, self-interest, and self-service, we may avoid such deep pain, but we become a law unto ourselves. Greed, lust, immorality—all the hurtful things we do to ourselves, God and each other—consume us.
This is not who we really are—this is a false self, not the person we were created to be. This is the person Jesus took on when he took on our flesh (our self), bore it to the cross and died with it. This person, as far as God is concerned, is dead and buried with Christ. This is why over and over the apostle Paul tells us to put it off. This is not our true self.
That person we really are, the truth of who we are, is found in the resurrected Jesus Christ. Perhaps we only catch glimpses of it in this life, but this most certainly is who we were meant to be. This amazing person we are even today is “hidden with Christ in God.” (Col. 3:3) We are told by the Word of God to put on the Lord Jesus Christ. (Rom. 13:14)
This is who each person we encounter throughout the day is meant to be. When we look at them, we are looking at the dwelling place of Abba and Jesus by the Spirit. They are bearers of the image of God just as we are. When they don’t reflect the image of God and cause harm to themselves and/or others, then we experience separation, pain, all the things we were not intended to have to experience—this is not what we were created for.
There are many descriptions in the New Testament of how followers of Jesus live in their relationships with God and each other. These ways of being and actions are not expectations of God, but rather descriptions of the truth of who we are in Jesus Christ. As image-bearers of God (who we are), we will act in these ways (what we do to image God), not in the ways which orbit around ourselves.
Our life revolves around and in Christ now, and dances within the life and love of Abba, Jesus and the Spirit. Our life is a fellowship with Abba’s adopted children, our brothers and sisters. This life in community means every action and reaction impacts someone around us—so we rest in Christ and his perfected interaction with his Abba and all of us in the Spirit, and we live out the truth of who we are in Jesus Christ by that same Spirit.
Difficult questions of life then can be held within this place of true reality. We can invite Jesus to open our eyes to the truth of who we are in him—ask Abba to help us see the person he created us to be. We can listen to the Spirit, listen to the Word, and open ourselves to the work God wants to do in us to transform and heal us. Many times the objective is not as important to God as the journey is.
Life in the Spirit. Walking with Christ. This is Abba’s focus—mutual indwelling with God and one another. Somehow as we do this the answers come. It becomes clear to us which direction to go. Relationships begin healing. We find the grace to forgive and to renew broken relationships. We find the courage to stretch ourselves into new ways of being and doing. And all along the way we are never alone, but are held in the divine embrace. Praise God.
Dear Abba, thank you for including us in your life, in your love, through your Son and by your Spirit. We treasure our walk with you and ask to open our eyes to see, our ears to hear and our hearts to know the truth of who we are in Christ, and who you are making us to be by your Spirit. May we rest fully in you, trusting you to finish what you have begun. In your Name we pray, amen.
“But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” Ephesians 4:20–24 NASB
“Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.” Romans 6:4–7 NASB