By Linda Rex
This morning I was browsing social media as I was finishing up my morning exercise routine. I was touched by a friend’s post which described a very painful and difficult circumstance they were going through. My heart went out to them and I wished there was some way to help. But there wasn’t.
My go-to response, of course, is to pray. This can seem such a feeble response when often people need some real tangible assistance in difficult circumstances. But for those of us who do pray and count on prayer as our go-to response, this is actually the most powerful and effective thing we can do when encountering a life tragedy, struggle, or difficulty.
This week there was another mass shooting, this time in my home state of California. No doubt, there will be more cry for effective gun laws, and, which I think is more to the point, more focus on getting veterans the help they need when they are struggling with PTSD and other post-conflict issues. But all the laws we can write do not change or heal the human heart. We live in a society which seeks to regulate human conduct from without by laws or by social pressure, and to heal broken human beings with social programs and medication.
This is the struggle we have in our world today—a society in which each feels free to do whatever they want according to their conscience and desires, but often without concern for the others who share this world with them or for the creation either. I keep being brought back to the basic fundamental description of how we are to live as human beings—of what we have been created for. As made in the image of God, we are meant to live as unique yet equal individuals in a unity which reflects that of the Father, Son, and Spirit—created for this divine relationship with God and one another. Jesus described it as loving God with our whole being and loving our neighbor as ourselves.
Our struggle to exist together in this world to day is due to our refusal to acknowledge there is an ultimate Source which defines our existence and which gives us direction for our lives. We want to have control over our existence and our decisions, and not allow anyone to infringe on our preferences or our space. Somehow we think that submitting ourselves to someone, most especially to God, limits us in some way, and deprives us of our ability to be all we can be.
In reality, our greatest struggle lies within ourselves. We are broken and wounded, and all these things affect how we handle life, and how we treat one another. When Jesus said that we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, I believe he was pointing out our need to be fully integrated as human beings, with all of us being fully devoted to our Abba. He knew the human proclivity to create inner silos, where the good parts of us are separated from the bad parts of us, and where our inner divisions become a space for the evil one to enter and cause destruction and despair.
To be fully integrated within ourselves by necessity means that God needed to reform our humanity after his image—we had rejected our humanness as God had meant it to be. Jesus, when he walked on earth, lived in intimate relationship with his Abba. He said that he and his Father were one. Jesus lived fully focused on that relationship, seeking out his Abba in the midst of trouble and stress, and drawing upon his strength and power by the Spirit to deal with the issues he faced in his life.
In spite of how he was treated and the uniqueness of his personhood as the God/man, Jesus stayed fully integrated to the end. He, by the Spirit, held fast to the truth of who he was as the Son of God and the Son of Man. Jesus did not have a good side and a bad side, but was simply the Word of God in human flesh—the One who became sin for us so we could become the righteousness of God in him. He came to redeem our humanity and give us a new life by the Spirit which in him is fully integrated within itself and in relationship with God and others.
As I was reading the lectionary scriptures for Sunday, one of the passages from the book of Ruth popped out at me. We read in Ruth’s story that her mother-in-law Naomi, who lived for a time in Moab, had lost both her sons and her husband, and so sought to move back to her home town of Bethlehem to rebuild her life. Ruth, being a Moabitess, was considered a Gentile but she embraced Naomi and her faith, and went with her back to Bethlehem.
Ruth was in a very difficult position, but it seems that God kept his eye on her. She went to glean grain after the harvesters, which was what poor people did back then, and she ended up in the field of someone who was in her extended family, a relative named Boaz. In due time, Naomi told Ruth she should invoke the levirate law of that day and ask Boaz to redeem her property and by extension give her the children she did not have by her first husband so her property would stay in the family. So Ruth courageously did as her mother-in-law instructed, not knowing what the result would be.
Boaz’s reaction is interesting. When she appealed to him to exercise his right of redemption, he told her he couldn’t—there was someone closer who could. But he said he would see that this was done, either by himself, or by the other who was more closely related to her. Then he sent Ruth home. When Naomi heard how it went, she said, “Wait, my daughter, until you know how the matter turns out; for the man will not rest until he has settled it today.”
A lot of times we think and act as if God is indifferent to our suffering and our struggles. We may believe he shouldn’t be bothered with the little details of our lives, or that he’s not really willing to intervene in our difficult circumstances. When we lose dear ones, we often believe God doesn’t care about us any more—why else would he let them pass away? In reality, we need to see God as the One who will not rest until he has settled the matter today—immediately, as promptly as he possibly can. It may not be according to our time schedule, but in God’s time schedule, he is treating it as urgent, as needing his immediate attention.
Secondly, God is the one who has the right of redemption. He is as closely related to us as he could possibly get in the Person of Jesus Christ. He took on our humanity, reintegrated it with its Creator and within himself as God in human flesh, and took it with himself through death and resurrection, so we each could have new birth—a new life in him. God in Christ is to us a restorer of life and a sustainer in our youth and old age—no matter where we are in life, he is our Redeemer.
The cry I am hearing in the media today, social and otherwise, is for a redeemer. Humans such as political leaders often try to fill this role, and we temporarily give them our allegiance. But in reality, none can do what our Redeemer does—they cannot change or heal the human heart, nor can they transform people’s lives or give them divine redemption. There is no one like our God, who saves! We pray because we have a Redeemer who will not rest until he has healed, restored, and renewed. We pray because we know and trust he is faithful, gracious, and loving, and he will finish what he has begun in us.
Only God has the capacity and the heart to heal someone from the inside out. Only Jesus, the divine Physician, can change someone’s heart and desires into what they ought to be. Only the Spirit, our Comforter and our Peace, can work transformation in human beings, bringing them into Christlikeness.
Our participation in all of these things is to, like Ruth, place ourselves at Jesus’ feet and ask him to exercise his right of redemption on our behalf, to wait patiently for him to move in our circumstances and in our lives, and to embrace the relationship offered to us and to faithfully live within it for the remainder of our days. Our participation includes learning to live and walk in truth, to be integrated within ourselves so that we, in Jesus and by the Spirit, are loving God with all our being and loving our neighbor as ourselves. We have every reason to hope—for he is ours and we are his, and he will be faithful to the end. This is why we turn to him, believing he will not fail us. And this is why we pray.
Thank you, Abba, for your faithful love, and for giving us your Son to redeem us. Thank you for sending your Spirit to renew, restore, and heal us—transforming us by your grace and love into the very image of your Son, and so to reflect your likeness. We desperately need a move of your Spirit in our world today. We need you to heal, restore and renew all this we have broken, and to transform human hearts by faith. We trust you will not rest until this is accomplished. Show us how we can participate with you in your mission, and to passionately do so as you lead us, through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.
“Then the women said to Naomi, ‘Blessed is the LORD who has not left you without a redeemer today, and may his name become famous in Israel. May he also be to you a restorer of life and a sustainer of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.’” Ruth 4:14-15 NASB
by Linda Rex
Over the years I have had to learn the difficult lesson that sometimes it pays better to stop being so nice to people. Being nice can actually make things more difficult and painful rather than creating a place of safety and healing for those involved. In fact, being nice can actually cause a dangerous situation to continue which needs to be made right.
But being nice isn’t necessarily a bad thing in itself, right? God would want us to be nice people wouldn’t he? Isn’t God always a nice God?
And being nice can seem like the Christian thing to do. If someone is a follower of Christ, they will always be nice, right? They will never be mean or unkind. Jesus was always nice, going around healing people and helping people when he lived on earth, wasn’t he? Or was he?
What about when we are parenting our kids? We may want to be a good parent, so we are always kind, and thoughtful, and generous to our kids. We may give them everything they want, and never say anything to correct them, thinking we are being a good parent by doing so. When they get in trouble in school, we may take their side instead of allowing them to experience the painful consequences of bad behavior. But when we do this is it really the most loving and best thing we can do for them?
Parents may find it very difficult to correct their children and to hold them accountable—it just feels heartless to make a child experience the consequences of their bad choices. Putting limits on a child, and enforcing them, and dealing with the accompanying tears and frustration is not a task for the faint of heart. It’s tough being a parent sometimes.
And it may appear that when a person speaks difficult and painful truth, they are being cruel and heartless, when actually they are doing their best to make a bad situation better. Everyone needs someone in their life who won’t just be nice, but who will speak the truth in love.
If you have a friend who will never tell you the truth about your hurtful behavior, are they truly your friend? If your friend is so busy being nice to you they don’t tell you the truth about how insulting and rude you were to someone the other day, are they really doing what is best for you? Are they really loving you with God’s love?
And what about God’s love? We’re all okay with God being a nice God, giving us so many things, and being good to us, as long as he never makes any demands of us and never tells us when we are wrong. We are happy to have a nice God, but not a God who has the right, and the responsibility, to correct us, and to guide and teach us. As long as God stays on his side of the universe and leaves us alone, but makes sure our life is happy and blessed, we like God.
But I’m not so sure God is a nice God. I’m more inclined to believe God is a loving, compassionate God who has a passion for his children becoming the beautiful, Christlike creatures he initially created us to be. God’s heart toward us is not that our life be easy and convenient, but that we grow up into the fullness of the image of God we were created to bear.
I tend to believe God isn’t as concerned with keeping us happy as he is helping us to be transformed into the image of his Son. Sometimes the process we must go through includes difficulty and pain and suffering. We experience the consequences of our behavior, our words and our choices, and we experience the consequences of the things other people say and do. We experience life in a broken world full of broken people, and this is the crucible in which God forms us into new creatures.
I am a firm believer, though, that there is nothing we go through in this life which God cannot redeem or restore, when and as he so chooses. Those unjust and hurtful things people have done to us or said to us over the years are not ignored by God. In his own time and way, he works to make everything right in the end. In Christ who became sin for us, he takes all these things and redeems them, transforming them into a means for accomplishing his Christ-like perfection in our character and way of being.
We can participate in this process of renewal and restoration by allowing God to use our brokenness and pain as a means of helping others to heal and be restored. We respond to the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and lives to heal us and comfort us, and then we turn to others who are suffering and in pain, and share with them the gift which God has given us.
Sometimes healing requires the painful process of removing what is causing the pain—surgery is sometimes necessary in order for healing to occur. This can be true even with regards to our emotional pain. What we do not deal with, we carry around with us, and it often causes difficulty for those around us. So we need to own our stuff, and face it, and get help with it if need be. This is why we have counselors and other people God has gifted to help us with emotional, mental and spiritual struggles and wounds. These are people who will tell us the difficult things we need to hear, while listening to the horrendous things we need to say.
In other words, we need people in our lives who aren’t so much interested in being nice as they are interested in helping us be whole. We need friends or companions on our journey through life who are real, genuine, honest and compassionate. We don’t need people who are nice all the time, but rather who are willing to take the risk of speaking the truth in love, and standing by us when life gets tough. And not only do we want to have these types of people in our lives, but these are the kind of people God is calling us to be.
As parents, we can be people who are more interested in our children growing up to be honest, faithful, compassionate, and genuine people, than keeping them happy and not ever disappointing them. As parents, we can allow our children to suffer, to grieve, and to struggle, while at the same time, helping them to bear up under what they are not able to bear on their own. We can encourage them to take risks rather than taking all their risks for them in their place. We can do things alongside them in such a way that eventually they are able to do them on their own without our help—and this may mean allowing them to struggle and fall down in the process.
In other words, we will all be healthier people, with healthier friends and families, if we would stop being so nice and start being truly loving. We are able to do this because this is the nature of God in us—the God who is so genuinely loving he was willing to join us in our mess and become one of us. This God who lives in us by his Spirit is the God who confronted evil and sin in sinful man by taking our broken humanity upon himself and redeeming it. God was too nice to be nice to us—he became sin for us so we could become the righteousness of God in him.
This God by the Spirit tells us what it looks like to live in true spiritual community. He tells us to avoid living in ways which are hurtful to others, and names what those are in his Word. He by the Spirit enables us to have the courage to speak the truth in difficult situations, and to handle the meltdown which occurs when we directly address unhealthy behaviors and words. This God, who may not always seem to be nice is the God who is Christ in us, and who enables us to stop being nice and to start being truly loving and compassionate in how we live and what we say.
Thank you, God, for not being nice to us—for not allowing us to continue in our broken and unhealthy ways of living and being. Thank you for joining us in our humanity, and forging for us a new humanity which reflects your divine life and love. Grant us the grace to respond to your transforming work and to stop being nice, and start being truly loving and giving–in your name, Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.” 1 Jn 4:7–9 NASB
By Linda Rex
I was watching a show the other night in which a crime took place within the walls of a building. Everything about the crime involved hiding—the murder of innocent people, hiding bodies in cement, and so on. The objective of the main characters of the show was to bring the truth to light, thereby exposing the guilty parties and bringing them to justice.
It put me in mind of the conversation at our small group the other night. We were talking about how those things we bury inside of us can drive us and control us. They tend to become or fuel our vices. And often it is not until we bring those truths to light, by opening them up to the scrutiny of safe people, that we experience freedom from the habits or addictions which control us.
Anyone who has walked the path of a twelve-step recovery program knows how important it is to speak the truth, to be transparent about one’s brokenness and failures. And they know it’s most helpful to speak this truth to someone who has already walked that path of recovery, since they are most likely to be compassionate and gracious, while at the same time refusing to allow dishonesty about one’s problem.
One of the things we learn to do as we grow up is how to hide. We hide our hurts, our shame, our guilt, and we often find ways to self-medicate so we don’t have to face up to or feel our brokenness. We create an image or mask so that we can continue to function in our world.
Brokenness is unacceptable, especially when we’ve adopted a religious viewpoint that demands moral perfection. Darkness is preferable to light in these situations, because there is great fear and dread in being exposed for who and what we really are.
The thing is that we forget that God is light and in him, the Scripture says, is no darkness (1 John 1:5). In Psalm 139, the psalmist poetically describes how there is no place where God is not present—even the darkness is as light to him (v. 7, 11-12). The apostle John wrote how the Word came into our cosmos and took on human flesh, and became the light of the world, which lightens every man. (John 1:4-5, 9) There really is no way to escape the Light of God in Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
We cannot escape the Light God is, not even when we bury things deep inside ourselves. No matter how deeply we bury them inside, we still cannot hide them from the One who already knows all about them and loves and forgives every one of us anyway.
We cannot hide anything from God because he was, is and will be present in every situation and circumstance, and offers us his grace. He is intimately connected with our humanity through Jesus and in the Spirit, so he shares in all that we go through. He does not condemn—we are the ones who condemn ourselves and others.
Don’t get me wrong—just because God is present doesn’t mean that he is obligated to do anything about what we are experiencing. Most of the time we live, act and speak as though he’s not even present. We blame him for stuff that for the most part, we or someone else are responsible for. He gives us a lot of freedom as human beings and does not violate this personal freedom. God often waits until he’s invited and until it is best for all involved before he acts in situations.
This may cause us to feel that God is a capricious God, or a God who doesn’t care. Our view of God, unfortunately, is twisted or bent by the behavior and words of the people in our lives who were supposed to be reflecting God accurately to us.
Our view of God, then, if it is of a capricious, uncaring, unloving, God of wrath, will motivate us to hide. We will seek out the darkness, and having gone there, we will run as far from the Light as we can go.
Being in the Light is painful for someone who is seeking to hide in the darkness. This is why when someone is close to healing for some hidden grief or sin, they often find ways to avoid exposing themselves so they don’t have to speak the truth or face up to the reality of what they’ve done or what was done to them.
People who habitually live transparently and openly, in contrast, don’t try to hide their brokenness and failures. Rather, they are open about them and are willing to expose them to the scrutiny of others. They speak and walk in the truth. And as they do so, they not only find healing but they also help others to heal.
And notice, the focus in John’s writing was not on moral perfection, but on truth. Jesus is our truth—we live and walk and speak in him by the Spirit. He is our Light, and he enlightens each and every one of us broken sinners. And he does this so that we can bring that light to others who are hiding in the darkness.
There is much in this world that seeks to keep us focused on the darkness. There is a strong pull on each of us to hide and bury our true selves away. But the Light of God is already shining and there is no place to hide. There will come a time when every dark deed and thought will be exposed. But in Christ and by the Spirit, God has already provided a way for us to open our true selves to his Light even now.
We don’t need to hide, nor do we need to live bound by chains of darkness. We are not left alone in a dark world. God, in Christ and by the Spirit, is the Light of the world. Even now we stand, as we will then, in the brilliance of the glory of God in Christ and by his Spirit and share in the glories of the world to come. May our hearts and lives ever be open to his Light!
Father, the first thing you created in our cosmos was light—light that is a reflection of your unchanging, faithful divine light. You are the Light of the cosmos, present in all things at every moment. Thank you for the grace you give us that we can be real, living and walking in truth in your presence without fear. Thank your for calling us out of darkness into your marvelous light. Bring to light the hidden things so we may find healing and wholeness. Inspire and empower us to share that light with others so they may enjoy its brilliance as well. Through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.
“This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.” John 3:19–21 NASB
by Linda Rex
Over the years since I came to see the dangers of legalism, I have come to see the harm that such a belief system can do to relationships. When people focus on moral perfection, they tend to become very critical of themselves and others. Every little fault or imperfection is picked at and fussed over. And in spite of intense efforts to self-transform, this way of thinking and living not only causes a spirit of condemnation, but also harms the way we look at ourselves and at others.
In Matthew 5:48 (NASB) we read: “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” According to HarperCollins Bible dictionary, the term “perfect” is an English word sometimes used to translate Hebrew and Greek words with a range of meaning (“completeness,” “wholeness,” “blamelessness,” “maturity”) We often read this passage as though Jesus was telling us something we should do and have to do in order to be acceptable to God.
In reality, when we read it that way, we are reading it backwards. We are doing a dyslexic flip of the meaning of that passage. In this passage, Jesus intentionally showed that human beings could not and would not be perfect like God is perfect. There is something missing that they need. They are incomplete without this, and cannot be perfect or whole without it. We are made in God’s image, to reflect his glory, but we are imperfect reflections and our human carnality causes us to reflect darkness rather than light.
It is our human proclivity to try to attain perfection on our own. We want ourselves and others to attain perfect standards under our own efforts. Jesus was pointing out that this is an impossible task, because only God is perfect.
This is the whole reason that Jesus was standing there, preaching to them. Because the Father wants us to be wholly, completely all that he created us to be, he gave us himself in Christ. God took on our human flesh and moment by moment lived the life we should have lived and ought to live. In Christ, God breathed our breath, cried our tears, grieved our sorrows and shared our joys. Down to the last detail, Jesus Christ perfected, or made whole and complete, our humanity.
This is because God knew exactly what we needed in order to be all he created us to be. God didn’t create us to try to become perfect ourselves. He created us for a relationship with himself and others—to love God, love your neighbor.
Trying to perfect ourselves and others only destroys relationships. Nothing is more destructive to love than the constant nitpicking about every little fault or failure of someone to be what you think they should be. There is no room for creativity, personality, or ingenuity. Everyone has to fit a human expectation of what they think God or perfection is like. And they can’t do it.
How do we become perfect as God is perfect? Only in Christ. He is our perfection. The writer of Hebrews says “For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” (Heb. 10:14 NASB). Once and for all, each of us were perfected in Christ, and we are being perfected in him as Christ is being formed in us through the Spirit.
God is the one with the responsibility to perfect us, because he is the perfect one. As we participate in his perfection by living in intimate relationship with him day by day, we are transformed. We focus on the relationship, on coming to know God intimately, and in his presence we are, in time, renewed in his image, to be all he created us to be.
God makes us into a new creation in Christ through the Spirit. Only God is perfect and he holds our perfection in himself in Christ. And he is working out that wholeness and completeness of his nature in us moment by moment in the Spirit. We participate in this work God is doing by growing in our relationship with him and by living in a relationship with others that reflects the perichoresis or “making room for one another” in which the Father, Son and Spirit live.
We make room for one another in the same way that God makes room for us in his life and love—through grace. We offer one another grace—forgiveness for being less than perfect. We allow each other room to grow, to have different ways of thinking and acting and living that are unique to ourselves and yet in harmony with the nature and character of God. Just as there is diversity and unity and equality in the Trinity, there is diversity, unity and equality in our humanity. And we respect and embrace that. To do any less than this would be to embrace imperfection.
Thank you, Holy Father, for seeking our perfection by giving us yourself in Jesus Christ. Thank you for your Spirit, who ceaselessly works for our perfection by forming Christ in us. Thank you for your gift of grace—grant that we may offer it as freely to one another as you offer it to us. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
“Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:48 (NASB)
“For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:14 NASB)