Word of God

The Subtlety of Unbelief

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By Linda Rex

On Wednesday evenings at our discussion group we have been addressing the topic of hell. One of the concerns which was raised this week was how we determine whether or not we are getting off track in our reading and studying. This is a really good question.

Sometimes we can be so afraid of being deceived or getting off track we become afraid of reading anything other than the Bible. We can take this fear even to the place where we restrict our reading of the Bible to only one translation, or we only use a Bible put out by our particular denomination, rejecting all others as heretical.

At other times we may believe only one particular Bible teacher has the truth about God’s Word. We read everything this person writes, listen only to this person speaking, and we believe they are the only ones who really know the truth about God’s Word. We refuse to listen to what anyone else may have to say about the Bible or what to believe because we do not trust them to be telling the truth.

Unfortunately, our approach to learning about God and about the Bible may end up being governed by fear and mistrust rather than by the faith, hope, and love God gives to us in Christ by the Spirit. Instead of resting in Jesus Christ and trusting he will keep us in the center of his will, we anxiously work to make sure we don’t accidentally wander off the path of holiness.

The Scriptures say God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and sound mind. The Holy Spirit leads us into all truth as we trust in Christ and allow him to lead us. Yes, it is important to ground ourselves in the Word of God, but only as we allow the living Word of God to take precedence in all things, and allow the Holy Spirit to convict us of where we may be getting off track.

This whole process of studying the written Word of God and seeking to know the truth which will set us free is a relational effort—a participation with Christ by the Spirit in listening to, hearing, and acting upon what the Father is saying to us in the Scriptures. The question is, do we trust God to keep us on the right track, and if we wander off somewhere, to bring us back to the Truth who is Jesus Christ?

How do we gauge if a teaching or a translation is off track? How do we know if what someone is teaching doesn’t agree with the truth presented to us in Christ? And this is the key: Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. He is our living relationship with our Abba, and he gives his Spirit to us to lead us into all truth. He is the center.

When we begin to look at difficult topics such as hell, we begin with the appropriate lens. That lens is the Lord Jesus Christ and who he is as God in human flesh, and what he teaches us about the Father, himself, and the Spirit, and what he teaches us about ourselves. This grounds us and enables us to see more clearly the difference between truth and error. Looking through this lens also involves comprehending, believing, and receiving the reality of God’s love expressed to us in the giving of his Son and his Spirit for salvation and redemption.

We need to stay centered in the incomprehensible reality God willed not to be God without us: he chose before time began to include us in his life and love, and so he ordained before time began to send his Son in human flesh to draw us up into life in himself. Understanding and believing in the truth of this reality enables us to begin to read the Scriptures with greater clarity and less confusion. We are less likely to be swept aside by false concepts of God and eschatology (any system of doctrines concerning last, or final, matters, as death, the Judgment, the future state, etc.).

What God did for us in Jesus wasn’t an afterthought or a reaction to what humanity did, but rather what he intended all along. It was not an outflow of his anger against humanity or the rejection of his Son, but rather an embracing of all of us as lost, broken, rebellious children in need of redemption. That God, in his freedom to be the God he is, would do something new—not only creating creatures to share life with, but also joining them to himself forever—is an amazing and wonderful thing.

It is equally amazing that he who lived ever and always in love, joy, and peace, was willing to reconcile suffering, sorrow, and evil with himself in such a way it would be forever nullified and transformed into the very thing which binds us to himself in love.

Jesus is God’s judgment on sin, evil, and death. This judgment (or krisis) each of us encounters is not something or Someone which we should fear, but the Person which we should embrace in faith, trusting Christ is for us all we need in the face of our sin, brokenness, and depravity. Jesus Christ, who is God in human flesh, is the perfect answer or response to God for each one of us, no matter our situation or history or failure.

For this reason, we have nothing to fear when it comes to seeking to know God more fully and completely. Christ has gone ahead of us and has sent his Spirit so we might know which direction to go.

Yes, we have the responsibility to choose our teachers wisely. They need to coincide in their teaching and life with what we know about who Jesus Christ is as the God/man, and who he reveals God to be in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, and in the sending of the Spirit. Our teachers need to be willing to submit to being taught and to sit humbly under the mentorship of those with greater spiritual depth, maturity, and knowledge. The Spirit in them will resonate with the Spirit in us, and we will begin to see with greater clarity the magnitude and depth of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ in their teaching.

One of the healthiest things we can do to keep ourselves on the right track is to find other believers who are well-grounded in Christ and to study the Word of God with them. As we pray together, listen to the written Word of God together, and wrestle with our questions and thoughts about what we are learning, the Holy Spirit brings us into a deeper knowledge and understanding of the truth. As we are open to it, we have brothers and sisters who can point out when we are drifting away from our center in Christ. And at the same time, we by the Spirit are growing into a deeper fellowship with God and one another.

Are there times when we may wander off the path? No doubt. But this is why it is essential to walk by faith, not by sight. We trust in the perfect work of Christ and in the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We hold all we read, hear, and see up against the mirror of the living Word of God as revealed in the written Word of God, and we ask ourselves, does this agree with the truth revealed to us in Jesus Christ? Does this diminish Christ or magnify him? And we go from there—it’s a walk of faith.

Thank you, Abba, for the gift of your Son the living Word, and for the gift of your precious Spirit. Keep us on the narrow path of faith, and free us from fear and anxiety about missing the mark. When we wander here and there, please bring us back to our center in Christ. We thank you that you are faithful and dependable, and that you will not leave us as orphans, lost or without direction. Open your written Word to our understanding, and transform our hearts by faith, we pray, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” 1 John 4:1-6 NASB

Rebuilding the Foundation

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By Linda Rex

This morning one of the members, Pat, and I were outside painting a sign at the church. The sun was slowly rising and the intensity of its heat was increasing as we worked to finish our project. Several people who live in the neighborhood passed by, either jogging or walking their dogs, and we said hello. Nearly all of them were friendly and responded cordially. It really was a pleasant day to be in the neighborhood.

I have been a pastor with Good News Fellowship for just about five years now, and this neighborhood has changed tremendously within that short period of time. A common sight are houses being torn down and new, multiple dwellings being put in their place. The neighborhood is in the midst of a gentrification process, yet in spite of all this change, neighbors are starting to get to know one another and look out for one another. And they are vocal about their desire to create and live in a safe, friendly community.

It’s good to see and experience the feeling of community growing around us. This neighborhood has only begun to feel that way to me within the last year or two. Perhaps the neighborhood seems different partly because I am actually in the neighborhood involved in some activity on some day other than Sunday morning or Wednesday evening. And I’ve had the opportunity to meet some of the people who live on the street the church is located on, to learn their names and a little bit about them through the neighborhood association and community activities.

We have a few church neighbors who come over and participate in our weekly Community Café free meal. But these are not the neighbors I saw last night or this morning as we worked on the sign. I have met a few of these neighbors at community events or on the street, but not within our church doors. A few may attend other churches in the Nashville community, but most are uninterested in, and even opposed to, organized Christian religion. Christianity is being viewed more and more as the cause of disharmony and disunity rather than being seen as the solution to it.

One of the conversations we find ourselves having as a pastoral team is how we have a wide variety of people we minister to and who worship with us—all races and strata of society—but none of them are from this group of young adults who are moving into the neighborhood. These are talented and educated professionals who reflect a post-Christian mindset. They are very community-minded, but want nothing to do with organized religion. And I believe they have every reason to reject it when I take into consideration everything they have heard or seen about Christians and their churches.

What I have found since I moved to the South is a strong Christian culture in the Bible Belt—even more so than what I experienced while living in the farming country of Iowa. This Christian culture has its strong points and also its drawbacks. Nowadays in our ministry to people in our community I find I’m talking with someone who already has a lengthy experience with church and the Bible, rather than with someone who is biblically illiterate or unchurched. This means in the apostle Paul’s language, when I share the gospel with this person or preach the Word of God to him or her, I am building on another person’s foundation rather than building directly upon Christ himself.

Conversations with people who are churched can be challenging. What people may believe about the Bible or God might be drawn from the teachings of various televangelists or popular authors, and need some serious reassessment due to their lack of a healthy spiritual foundation in Christ himself and his written Word. But other times, some people are so sure they are right about what they believe there is no room for the Word of God to go to work to bring about renewal and transformation. The Spirit’s efforts to heal and restore are hampered by the haphazard building which has already been done on the foundation which may or may not be Jesus Christ.

This complicates our efforts to fully proclaim the gospel of Christ, as Paul puts it. We are dependent upon the Holy Spirit to minister the word of God to those who already have been built on Christ, and also to deconstruct and rebuild those who need to be reconstructed on a healthy foundation. We are utterly dependent upon Christ and his work by the Spirit in any effort to preach the gospel of Christ to anyone, whether believer or not.

Indeed, it’s a real challenge to reach out to those who are unchurched or who are adamantly opposed to church or Christianity in any form. There is only one option left open to us sometimes and it is a good one, actually. What is left for us to do is to share God’s love with each and every person we meet in tangible ways—we begin to be good neighbors to each and every person, sharing life with them, offering them truth and grace—and sharing in word and deed what it means to live in the truth of who God is and who we are in him.

Our challenge as a church congregation is to get out of the pews and get into relationships with our church neighbors. This is an extremely difficult and uncomfortable task for some of us, but it is one which God has placed before us. Yet it is not given without his promises and his real, personal Presence in the Holy Spirit to go with us.

The early church prayed for God to confirm his Word through signs and wonders, and to extend the reach of the gospel. And Jesus, by his Spirit and with his people, did those very things. We are called to pray and to participate in Christ’s ministry to the world. We have not only because we ask not, and because we depend upon ourselves and our efforts instead of upon Christ. I would encourage those who feel the longing for Jesus to grow and heal this world and this community to pray, to ask, and to anticipate God’s generous outpouring of response.

God is not put off by a post-Christian culture. None of this is about Christianity anyway. It is all about each and every person growing up in his or her Christlikeness—of sharing the common relationship we have all been given in Christ by the Spirit with the God who made us in his image to reflect his likeness and to share his love. And our role is to participate in the process and to follow wherever Christ leads us. May we respond to his call to each of us by his Holy Spirit. There is much to be done.

Dear God, thank you for loving each and every person whether or not they know you, or love you in return. I am grateful you are not put off by our refusal to believe, but rather you continue to work unceasingly to change our hearts and minds and to bring us into deep relationship with you in Christ by your Spirit. We long for you to bring spiritual renewal and transformation to our neighborhood so each person can experience the reality of true community. Make it so, Lord, by your Spirit. Give us each the boldness and courage, as well as the opportunities, to share your Words of life and your love with our neighbors. And Holy Spirit, please confirm your Word by the signs and wonders which are appropriate in this day and age, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

“Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done—by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. Rather, as it is written: ‘Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.’” Romans 15:17–21 NIV

For Love’s Sake—Abandoned Blessings

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By Linda Rex

I think the story of St. Patrick is a fascinating one. I never knew until a few years ago I could read his writings and learn quite a bit about this man in the process (for example, go to: https://archive.org/details/writingsofsaintp00patr). In his writings, we see a man just like you and me, who struggled in his relationship with God, in his own personal life, and in coming to know what it meant to follow Christ and to live this out in a pagan culture in which his life and well-being were always at risk.

In my life, years ago, the March 17th holiday celebrating his life was lumped, along with many others, into the category of pagan holidays. I have since made the effort to learn the story behind the observation of this day, and most specifically, the story of St. Patrick’s life and service to God in spreading the Trinitarian gospel of love. I’ve come to see there is something to be said for pausing in the midst of our life to reflect on the beauty of the Trinity, and to once again embrace our calling to lay it all down so others may know God as he really is.

What struck me about St. Patrick’s life was not just the suffering he went through as a slave among the Celtic people who stole him from his home. Rather, what really hit home was the choice he made later in life when he was free and at home with his family, to leave it all behind and go back to the Celtic people who had so disrupted his life, so they could hear the gospel of Jesus Christ.

This resembles so much what the apostle Paul wrote when describing the ministry of God to us in his Son:

“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5–8 NASB)

When we think about the Word of God, who was God and who was With God, who lived eternally in this inner relation of interpenetrating love and mutual submission, we must realize at some point, God had all he needed—he was at perfect peace, in perfect joy, in such glory and splendor there was no reason for the Word of God to come to this far country, to enter our darkness and blackness, except—love. There is no other possible motivation for doing such a thing—but this is what Jesus said he did: “For God so loved the world he gave…” The Father’s love was so great, even the Father was part of the coming of the Word into our broken, fallen cosmos.

I remember as I first read the story of St. Patrick, I was horrified by the experiences he went through in his simple effort to love God and to share the truth of God’s love for us in Jesus. Why would anyone choose to go through such experiences? Apart from the love of God placed in their hearts, they wouldn’t. It is only the love of God himself which could enable us to give so freely in the midst of such danger, hostility and abuse. The freedom to give one’s life completely in this way is a participation in the freedom of God to give himself completely to us, to humanity, even when he knew it meant he would experience suffering and death at our hands.

This has been on my mind a lot the past few weeks—just how much do we as comfortable, well-fed, well-dressed, well-employed people of any nation, creed or language, express this same willingness to set aside the benefits and comforts of our lives for the sake of sharing the love of God in Christ with those who are caught in the darkness of evil, poverty, suffering and grief? Does it break our hearts that others around us do not know who God really is, and that he loves them just as much as he loves us? Do we care enough to do as Jesus did—leave all the blessings for a time so others might experience God’s love?

And yet, this is a struggle for me. What does it mean to truly love another human being? Is it best to just give a hungry person money? Or is it better to help them find a way to feed themselves? Is it best to give someone money for a place to stay for the night? Or is it better to let them experience the consequences of refusing to get sober so they could stay at the mission at night and eventually get a job and own their own home?

Really, what does it mean to leave our comforts so others may find comfort? What does it mean to show and teach our neighbor the love of God in Christ?

We cannot fix other people, but we can sure bring them to Christ and participate with Christ in what he is doing to heal, restore, and renew them. We cannot, and should not, do for others what they should be and could be doing for themselves. Carrying other people’s loads in their place is not healthy for them or for us (Gal. 6:5). And yet, God calls us to be available to help others who are overburdened beyond their ability to bear up (Gal. 6:2), for this reflects God’s heart of love.

Loving others should not arise out of a sense of guilt or shame, but out of a genuine concern and compassion which comes straight from the heart of the Father, through Jesus in the Spirit. It is best to be discerning in our loving of others as ourselves. Loving another person doesn’t automatically mean we give them what they want, when they want it, and how they want it. Loving another person may mean saying no, or telling them the truth in love, or asking them to get the help they need so they can heal, grow or change.

This brings to mind the apostle Paul’s prayer: “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) Prayer and listening to God’s Word to us via the Holy Spirit and the written Word are important parts of knowing what we need to do to love others as ourselves.

We need the grace of God, God’s wisdom, insight and discernment to know how best to share God’s love with others. God gave St. Patrick a call to go to Ireland and he did—but then God also gave him the grace to do the ministry he called him to. We walk by faith, trusting God to guide our footsteps, to give us wisdom in how we love others and tell them the truth about who God is and who they are in Christ. As we keep in tune with the Spirit, God will guide us and teach us how to love each unique person he puts in our path.

Abba, may we each be filled with your heart of love toward those who are caught in darkness, suffering and difficulty. May we be willing to leave our blessings behind as you ask us to and be willing to struggle and suffer and lay down our lives, so others may share in the Triune life and love with us, through Jesus our Lord and by your precious Spirit. Amen.

“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.” Galatians 6:7–10 NASB

Being Right vs. Being Rightly Related

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By Linda Rex

Have you ever had to come to terms with the reality you were absolutely, totally and completely wrong about something you were entirely convinced of? You were so sure you were correct, you were quick to tell anyone who would listen (and some who wouldn’t) what you believed to be true while not realizing you were completely in error? Me, too.

One of the things I’ve learned from such experiences is not only a little humility, but also the reality enforcing our position of “being right” rarely if ever builds relationships. Instead, it often puts an intense strain on the relationship, especially if we make “being right” a condition of that relationship. It takes great humility and grace to place having a warm, loving relationship with someone of higher value than being in the right about something.

I used to be amused listening to the elderly couples in the nursing home when they got to telling stories. One would be telling quite a tale, while the other would be correcting all the facts as they went. Happy couples found a way to let the details go or to graciously overlook the failure at accuracy, or they would just laugh it off when one of them got it wrong. Other couples would start down the road to a fight, or would just be downright nasty to each other. They didn’t seem to value the relationship as much as they did “being right.”

Granted, there is a place for the true realities of life. And yes, there are things we do stand for which are worth standing for—those things which Jesus Christ stood for in his life, his death, his resurrection and ascension. When Jesus called us to follow him, he warned us ahead of time people would not necessarily welcome us or be willing to listen to and agree with the good news we are offering. In fact, he indicated we would share in his suffering and death because of what we believed to be true and right.

Being a person of integrity is something God calls each of us to be. We are to be honest, even to the place of the core of our being—truly and completely transparent and authentic, pure of thought and deed. The reason God wants us to be this way is because it is the way he is as Father, Son and Spirit, and we as human beings are made in his image to reflect his likeness. Part of that likeness is being people of honesty and integrity.

Do you realize, though, that God in Christ lives in relationship with millions of people who are dishonest and not authentic and transparent? And, believe it or not, God didn’t make “being right” a condition of his relationship with all the broken people we are—no, it is “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). “God so loved the world” not while we were right, but while we were horribly, terribly wrong (John 3:16-17).

Being honest, truthful and authentic human beings is not a condition of our relationship with God, but a result of the relationship God forged with us in Christ’s life, death, resurrection and ascension. Today God offers us his living Word, the Lord Jesus, and so by his Spirit opens the written Word of God to our understanding, and God’s implanted Word in our hearts creates in us Jesus’ own humility, honest, integrity and transparent authenticity.

God does not demand we be right in every instance, but rather invites us into relationship with himself, and works to transform our hearts and minds in the process so in the end we will come to discern and choose what is right in God’s sight. God focuses on life. We tend to focus on what is good and what is evil—the rules to follow so we can “be right”—do-it-yourself religion. God focuses on us being rightly related to him, and is working to make everything right in the end—which is something only he can do. He is the only One who is truly and always “right.”

This afternoon I was going through some old family correspondence. And I was reflecting on the painful and difficult path we trod as a family who parted ways theologically when I was in my thirties. I was informed how “wrong” I was on many occasions, but I tried very hard not to respond in kind. I did not preach. I did not cut off the relationship. I did my best to offer God’s unconditional love and acceptance no matter the response I got, all the way up until the relationship ended in death.

God honored this, for which I am grateful. Somehow, we were able to transcend the religious barrier and get down to the reality of building a loving relationship with one another in spite of it. Yes, there were awkward moments and uncomfortable conversations. But for the most part, there was a leaning toward one another rather than away from one another. And I hope someday to be able to finish our conversations in the presence of Jesus in glory. Then we will each know for a fact, where we were truly right and truly wrong. (And I imagine it will be both in each instance.)

I believe it is possible for us as human beings to transcend our differences, even the critical ones, by offering one another the love of God in Christ. The discussions we are facing today in our political and cultural arena are difficult and painful ones, and there must be by necessity, strong differences in beliefs, opinions and convictions. But we need to look to the One who created us in this way, differences as well as equality in person, value and being, in order to see how best to get beyond them into true unity.

The path none of us seem to want to take is the path Jesus trod and told us we were to follow him down. His path to unity took him straight through his sacrificial suffering and crucifixion into the grave. None of us want to lay any part of ourselves in the grave with him, nor do we want to admit that perhaps the only real truth there is, is the truth which is at the core of who we are as human beings—our identity lies in Christ and in him alone.

It is worth giving some real thought and prayer to the possibility each of us may have some places in our thinking, our beliefs, our way of living and working, in which we may be terribly, horribly wrong. This is the call God gives us to repentance—to turn around and go the other way—to start seeing God for Who he really is and ourselves for who we really are.

To confess this truth and to humbly admit our need for God’s grace—this is a good thing. On the other side, we will find ourselves in the midst of warm, loving relationship with God and others—and this is what we were created for in the first place. As image-bearers of God as Father, Son and Spirit, we reflect that divine relationship. And this is the best possible place we could find ourselves. And “being right” isn’t what gets us there—“being rightly related” does, and Jesus took care of that for us and offers it to us in the gift of his Spirit.

Thank you, heavenly Father, for calling us into relationship with you and making it possible for us to be rightly related with you and with others through your Son Jesus and by your Spirit. Grant us each the grace and humility to be open to and willing to admit to the possibility we might be wrong, or at the least, in need of a change of mind and heart. You know the truth in every instance, and you know how things really are and need to be. So, do indeed, Lord, make all things right as you have promised you would in Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.

“For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:6–8 NASB

Your Light Has Come

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Ice on holly leaves and berries
Ice on holly leaves and berries

by Linda Rex

This season of year has its ups and downs. It can be so heartwarming and inspiring, while at the same time full of stress and anxious care about shopping and decorating and family complications. I have a special fondness for this time of year since God has awakened me to the wonder of its deep meaning. Understanding the mystery of the incarnation (can one truly understand a mystery?) carries me through all the hassle and frustration which can come from the external efforts to celebrate Christmas.

At this time of year I’m especially mindful of the time in my life when I distained Christmas as being a pagan holiday we should not celebrate if we are true Christians. While I’m still trying to determine exactly what a “true Christian” is (as compared to a “false Christian”), now I see a whole lot more clearly how we can get so caught up in a religious paradigm we cannot see what is right in front of us. We can be so focused on the “truth” that we miss seeing the living Truth who has entered our world and has begun to transform it from the inside out.

Today is Epiphany, and the gospel reading from the lectionary for today is Matthew 2:1-12. Here we read about the magi from the east who traveled many miles seeking to find a newly born king of the Jews. They followed a star and ended up in Jerusalem. I’m sure it was quite unnerving for King Herod to have these men asking about a king he knew nothing about. And no doubt it made him feel quite insecure about his throne.

So Herod called all together the chief priests and scribes—the ones who were supposed to know the Hebrew scriptures and history—and asked them where the Messiah was to be born. The high priests and scribes were the ones who probably would know the answer to the magi’s question, so Herod addressed the question to them.

They told the magi to look for the Messiah in Bethlehem. Now, it seems to me, if they had a real interest in knowing about the Messiah or in seeking him out, they would have been alert to what was really going on. They would have joined the search party, or would have maybe even led it. But King Herod sent the magi to Bethlehem and told them to look for the child and to tell him if or when they found him. And the magi left all by themselves, with no Jewish people in their party.

These people who were trusting in astrology to guide them, who were in essence, pagan Gentiles, were seeking to find a child who was Jewish. Now there were some Jews who were pagan enough that they believed the stars ordained certain events. But the Jews had nothing to do with the Gentiles, and because of this they missed something very important which was happening in their world. Their religious paradigm did not allow them to believe that someone other than a Jew might know something about the Messiah they had been expecting for centuries.

Is it possible to have the light of God available to you and still wander around in darkness? Apparently so.

The gospel story we read in the Bible shows us that these Jewish leaders were a whole lot more interested in retaining their positions of power and influence and in restoring the Jewish nation to prominence than they were interested in finding out if the messiah had arrived and had something important to say to them as his people. Their paradigm assured them the messiah would appear in a certain way, he would do certain things, and he most certainly would not look, talk or behave anything like Jesus Christ.

When I was growing up, I was told a lot of things about the Christmas holiday and what it meant and why it shouldn’t be observed, but no one ever told me the truth. I was told a lot of superstition, a lot of hearsay, and a lot of heated explanations of why observing Christmas was a sin, but none of those things turned out to be based on facts or on a mature, well-examined explanation of Christian history.

I remember one afternoon sitting in the audience at the Ambassador Auditorium listening to a performance of Handel’s “Messiah”. It stirred something deep within me. I knew the event of Jesus Christ coming to us and dying on the cross was significant, but I still missed the crucial point—God came into human flesh to live and die and to rise again, and now he bears our perfected humanity for all eternity in the presence of the Father. Forever, we are with God, in Christ by the Spirit. We are embraced, held, in the life and love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit by God’s infinite grace through the incarnation of Jesus Christ.

We can focus on whether or not something is pagan, and miss the light of God in the midst of the darkness. Whatever we observe as human is bound to be pagan in some way because we are all broken people. All our righteousness ends up being filthy rags to God—we must never forget God reconciled all things to himself in Christ Jesus.

Whatever we offer to God is broken and flawed—our efforts to get it right are feeble at best. This is why we follow the lead of the Spirit and the guidance of the Word of God, Jesus Christ. We count on God’s grace to carry us. We need to be alert to the living Truth in the midst of all our darkness and brokenness. The Light has come—we need to pay attention, turn to the Light and allow him to show us what is really going on, and to follow where he leads us rather than stay in our misguided paradigms.

Who we listen to is crucial. The magi listened to God when he spoke to them in a dream (would we ever consider doing that)? These people who the Jews distained listened to God and obeyed him, and went home a different way, and in the process, they were kept safe from King Herod’s evil plot. They had followed the light of a star, had worshiped the Light who had come and offered him gifts, and by the light of the revelation of God in a dream, found their way safely home.

When Jesus grew older, the scribes, the high priests—this group of people who should have known, recognized and received him as the Light of God—were the very ones who rejected him and crucified him. As John wrote in his gospel: “There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.” (John 1:9–11 NASB) Their preconceived notions of how things were supposed to be, and their preoccupation which the things of this life—money, power, prestige—blinded them to the true Light which was in their midst.

On this day of Epiphany, it would be good to pause for a moment and to consider this Light of God who has entered our world and brought to us a whole new way of being—the life of God in human flesh. It would be good to ponder the ways in which we close our eyes to the light he wishes to bring into our world: What paradigms do we need to set aside? What old ways of thinking and believing do we need to suspend in order to embrace the possibility we could be wrong or might need to change? What things are we trusting in which have nothing to do with God’s values and God’s desires and what he wants to accomplish in this world?

God’s Light has come, and he is renewing our broken world and existence from the inside out. We have a wonderful opportunity to embrace this New Year in a new frame of mind and heart—one in which Christ is the center rather than us. May your 2017 be full of an abundance of all God’s blessings in Christ!

Abba, thank you for the gift of your Son, and for the gift of a new year ahead of us. You are always working at creating new beginnings. Grant us the grace to keep our life and our being centered in your Light, in Christ your Son, and to stay in tune with and obedient to your Spirit of Life, through Jesus our Lord, amen.

“Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness will cover the earth and deep darkness the peoples; but the Lord will rise upon you and His glory will appear upon you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. … No longer will you have the sun for light by day, nor for brightness will the moon give you light; but you will have the Lord for an everlasting light, and your God for your glory.” Isaiah 60:1–3, 19 NASB

Deciding Who’s In and Who’s Out

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Amazed by His Grace by Linda Rex May 17, 2002--resized

By Linda Rex

In the day to day issues of relationships, it would be helpful if there was a referee in our personal lives whose only responsibility was to tell us who’s in and who’s out. When we just can’t get along with someone because they are a stinking awful jerk (in our mind and maybe our experience too), we’d love to have someone come along and say to them “You’re out!” and blip! they’d just disappear.

This would be really helpful in those relationships where we’re not sure if the person is really what or who they say they are. We wouldn’t have to risk the danger of being wounded, hurt or rejected by them because the referee would just call them in or out, and everything would be wonderful.

When we’re having a fight with our mate, we’d be able to know for sure that indeed we are right and our mate is wrong (which is generally the case, right?). We wouldn’t have to wrestle with the discomfort of repentance, confession, and admission of guilt, not to mention the hassle of understanding, forgiveness and mercy.

I think this whole paradigm of some being in and some being out comes from the dualistic framework in which western culture and religion are framed. This impacts our relationships with one another and with God, and causes us to live out our existence with the idea that good and evil are real opposites with equal power. This way of thinking and believing has its roots in Greek philosophy. I appreciate Dr. Bruce Wauchope wrestling with this in his series on “God, the Who and the Why” (see the link on the blog site, bottom right).

We make a lot of assumptions that in reality are not based on the teachings of Christ and the early church. For example, we assume that either a person is in God’s kingdom or out of God’s kingdom. Often in our view, there’s no other alternative.

But the scripture teaches us that God through Christ and in the Spirit created all things, and all things are upheld by his powerful Word. (1 Cor. 8:6; Col 1:16; Heb 1:2; John 1:1-5) Nothing exists apart from God or outside of God. When Christ came to earth, taking on our human flesh, Jesus declared that the kingdom of God had come to earth in a real way in his very person and presence. God was present, and so his kingdom was being established in and through Jesus Christ.

And yet we talk about sin and evil and the evil one as though they exist in some place or existence apart from God. Dr. Wauchope points out that anything that exists in some place or existence apart from God is therefore self-existent, and therefore also a god. In other words, when we say that an evil person dies and goes to hell, separated from God forever, we are saying that person is capable of self-existent life apart from God and will sustain him or herself forever in an existence that is not dependent upon God in any way. But this is not the truth.

Nothing exists apart from God. All life is contingent upon God sustaining it and holding it. In order for anyone or anything to exist, God has to give it life. Even evil and the evil one, though not caused by God, are held within God’s very life and existence. They are permitted by God, but always servants of God. They must always bow the knee to God and God ever works to redeem and destroy the harm they do. They do not exist separately from or independently from God.

This is where alarm bells go off and people get offended. We believe that God cannot be in the presence of evil or sin, quoting Habakkuk 1:13. In reality the prophet was declaring that God cannot look on evil without doing something about it. And the way God did something about evil and sin was that he became sin for us. (2 Cor. 5:21) God came into our brokenness and healed it.

So we have to wrestle with this whole idea of who Jesus Christ is and what he did when he as God came into our human existence and reconciled all humanity, indeed even the creation, to God. If indeed in the very beginning God through the Word and by the Spirit breathed life into us to give us our very existence, and if indeed, God himself as the Word through the Spirit came into our very human existence and lived, died, and rose again, ascending while bearing our humanity with him, all of us as human beings exist within the kingdom God has established through Jesus Christ and in the Spirit.

Now, existing in the kingdom of God and participating in the kingdom of God are, I believe, two very different things. Just because we exist in the presence of God (which we all do) doesn’t mean that we even acknowledge that God exists. We can live our entire lives believing there is no such thing as a God. The gracious Creator of all allows us the freedom to do that. But the consequences of believing and living according to that lie are disastrous.

Suppose a person lived their entire life opposed to the idea that God exists at all, and they certainly did not believe that there was any such thing as heaven or hell. What if they were so adamant that when we die that we just cease to exist and that there is no existence beyond this human life—and then they died?

If it is true that God holds all things in his hand and nothing exists apart from him, it would be quite distressing for such a person to suddenly find themselves in the presence of a loving, gracious God. If this person had spent their whole life running from God and resisting every effort God made to draw them to himself, they would be caught in a serious dilemma.

They would find they had spent their entire life acting as if they were a law unto themselves, that they were a self-sustaining, self-existent one, who could make up their own rules and run every relationship however they chose. But now they are face to face with the reality that God in Christ defines and sustains their very existence. And they’re part of an enormous extended family. It’s like they’ve lived in a darkened room with the shutters drawn, and God has just walked in and turned on the floodlights, showing the room is filled with millions of people.

They’re in, but they’re wishing desperately to be out. God’s adopted them and given them life in the Spirit, but they’re wishing there’s some other family out there who’d take them in. So they run off screaming, hoping to find the door and leave, but they can’t leave. They’re on the inside—there is no outside.

Hmmm. That doesn’t sound like a very nice way to spend eternity, does it?

Especially since we really can’t take anything with us but the relationships we have built during our lives and the character God has formed within us through Christ and in the Spirit. This poor person has no relationship with God (at least from their point of view) and many, if not all, of their relationships with others were based on selfish, self-centered motives which no longer apply in this new existence. And the One they thought was the referee (since apparently he does exist after all) has called them in, not out! What do they do now? Good question!

Holy Father, thank you for including each one of us in your life and love through your Son and in the Holy Spirit. Remove the blinders from our eyes so we can see the truth about who you are and who we are in you. Grant us the grace to fully embrace and participate in the adoption you have given us, allowing your Spirit to lead us and to transform us into Christlikeness. Through Jesus our Lord and by your Spirit. Amen.

“For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, …” Romans 8:15–16 NASB

God’s Heart Seed

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White Spirea
White Spirea

By Linda Rex
God’s Heart Seed audio by Linda Rex

There is beauty in human language, no matter which one you may choose to examine. It is marvelous that people are able to communicate thoughts, feelings, facts and ideas through a series of sounds or some type of marks on paper. We rely on oral and written communication in our everyday lives, and in our older years we often take our ability to converse with others for granted.

I cannot imagine what it must be like to be lost within oneself and not be able to hear or see anything or anyone. How dark a place that is to not be able to communicate with the world around you in such a way that they understand you!

But this is no different than our God working to communicate to his creation the depth and width and height of his love for us. He has worked through millennia to bring humanity to the place where we could begin to understand and receive the love he has for us. His efforts to reach us have included his participation in our very human existence.

The apostle John describes it in this way: “the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). God’s Word in human flesh. God’s Son took on our human existence, lived as we live and died the death we die. But he took our human existence farther than the grave—he arose from death with a resurrected body and ascended to be with the Father forever.

Scripture says that whatever God says he does. (Jer. 12:25, 28; Isa. 45:21–23). God’s Word always accomplishes whatever God’s purpose for it is. What God says and what God does are one and the same. He does not say one thing and do another. Because God’s Word and being are one.

The wonderful thing about God sending his Word to dwell in human flesh is that Jesus promised once he returned to the Father that he would send his Spirit, “the other Helper”, in his place. In other words, the Word would be sent again to dwell not just in one human being as the person Jesus Christ, but into all humanity. Peter talked about this in his first sermon, saying that God poured out his Spirit on everyone. (Acts 2:17).

There is the reality that the Word of God is poured out through the Holy Spirit into every human heart. God calls us to receive his “implanted Word” (James 1:21–22). When we receive God’s Word, and allow it to govern our existence, it becomes our way of being. In other words, the way we live, act and talk begins to reflect the very nature and being of God in Christ. The Spirit of God transforms us.

I regret the years I believed that in order to be a Christian, I had to somehow get rid of all I am so that I could be filled with Christ. I have often preached this or written about this. But the language of it isn’t quite accurate.

God in me does not require that I go away or disappear. Rather, God in me means the same type of hypostatic union that existed in Christ. God in human flesh. God created each of us with a marvelous human glory that lies asleep—dormant and lying in darkness—because of our lostness. God awakens us to new life—that means something new comes to life and grows, producing blossoms and spiritual fruit. You and I become the human beings God meant for us to be all along. We grow up into Christ, yet in doing so, we become fully ourselves.

The beauty of spring is watching things that seem to be dead awaken to life again. They have life inside them, but are asleep, dormant throughout the winter, like many of us who are busy hiding within the darkness of our souls. The quickening of the life of Christ within us by the Spirit as God’s Son shines on us can be, and often is, refused, rejected, ignored and suppressed. And slowly, but surely we will die inside.

Or we can respond to the work God is doing in us and with us to bring us to a spiritual awakening. We can heed God’s call to “Wake up!” and begin to let God make the changes in us and in our lives that will bring out our true glory—the glory God meant us to have.

There is divine life in you and in me. The Holy Spirit breathes in us. There is a special beauty meant for each woman, prepared for her to blossom and shine in her own unique glory. There is a strength and manliness God meant every man to have, waiting to come forth in him in true masculinity. There is humility, patience, goodness that is waiting to be expressed by each of us. The fruit is there waiting to be borne, when the branches come to full leaf, and the flowers are fully pollinated by God.

God calls us to trust in him as he brings us through this process of transformation. We cannot make a plant grow and produce fruit. It is something that happens while we watch. We can tend a plant and help provide the optimum environment for it—but the miracle of fruitbearing comes from the life inherent within the plant, and the provision of water, soil and sunshine from God himself.

There is amazing fruit to be borne in your life and mine, and it’s being produced right now, if we were only aware of it. We participate in the process of growth and fruitbearing as we respond to God’s good work in each of us, and help tend his work in one another. We open ourselves up to the Light, and drink in the water of God’s Word and Spirit, and we grow, blossom and bear fruit.

This prayer comes to mind, and I offer it for each of us today: “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:14–21 NASB)

“Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God.” 1 Peter 1:22–23 NASB