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Seeking Life Above

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By Linda Rex

August 4th, PROPER 13—This week the TV caught my eye at the veterinarian’s office where my daughter was having her cat given her yearly checkup. I saw people taking old furniture and revamping it, giving it a more modern feel. Some of the results I liked, some I didn’t like.

Usually this channel is full of stories of how people take an old fixer-upper house and renovate it, selling it for more than what it was worth originally. The process of “flipping” a home seems very challenging to me because there is always the danger of hidden problems such as asbestos removal, an unstable foundation, or damage to critical structural elements. But I feel there is something ultimately satisfying about taking something broken and dirty and turning it into a masterpiece. Maybe this is because this is what God does with us.

The thing is, we can be so focused on the externals of our existence that we don’t tend to the internals as we ought. What I mean by that is, God wants us to attend to the internals of our souls more than the externals of our human existence. We are responsible to do what work is necessary to provide for ourselves and to care for what belongings are ours. But the God who takes care of the birds and the flowers is quite capable of caring for us when we allow him to, trusting him to help us meet our obligations and to provide for our needs (Matt 10:29-31; Luke 12:6).

Indeed, there may be some of us who want to live free from any responsibilities or effort and yet have every luxury at our fingertips—our culture encourages this. We may pursue a carefree life without responsibilities or the need to work or provide for anyone but ourselves—this is especially true for those who have parents or others who are willing to carry the responsibilities we should be carrying. However, the apostle Paul writes that if a person isn’t willing to work, then he or she shouldn’t eat. This is a reminder to carry our own load, to be responsible for ourselves—to do our part. (2 Thess. 3:10-11)

Even though some people seem to have all they need with no financial or personal struggles, some of us may be constantly in motion, working every moment to create our perfect world as we envision it to be. We may work very hard just to get ahead only to find ourselves bound by debt or health problems or broken relationships. Wouldn’t it be nice to actually be able do what the rich man Jesus talked about wanted to do? He had a bumper crop, and decided to put everything up into storage, and to tell himself, “You have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.” (Luke 12:16-21)

But Jesus had words to say about such a life philosophy. He reminded his listeners and the man who was focused on getting his share of his family’s property that what really matters in life becomes truly evident when we are faced with death. Death brings everything in our lives into focus—showing us our humanity and the transience of our existence. We can make all the plans we want, we can save up all the money we want, and it just takes an instant or an event out of our control and it is all over. Everything we worked for goes to someone else—and we can’t even control who gets it all after we are gone.

Ultimately, each of us must humble ourselves under a recognition that God is God and we are not. Even as Christians we can be pretty arrogant and atheistic when it comes to money and providing for ourselves. Life can go well for quite a long time, and our diligent efforts can bring us great success and abundant wealth. But the externals of our human existence are transient and one day they will disappear. If we depend upon them or count on them, we are placing our life on an uncertain foundation.

As followers of Jesus, we can even embrace the idea that if we live good lives and do everything right God has to bless us and make everything go right in our lives. This sets us up for great disappointment and tests our faith when bad, unexplainable things occur in our lives. We may try to, but we cannot control the decisions others make nor can we protect our loved ones or ourselves from the evil or brokenness of the world we live in.

Stuff happens. Death occurs. Illness breaks our health. People steal our money. Hurricanes, earthquakes, and tornadoes destroy our homes. And all our precious plans go out the window. Then we start asking the tough questions: What am I going to do? Where is God in all this? Doesn’t he care? Why did this happen to me?

Here in the middle of the brokenness, death, and destruction we are meant to find new life. God wants to meet us in the middle of this place and show us what we should have known all along—the life we are seeking is above, hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3). The real peace, joy, and comfort is found in Jesus, in the One who took on our humanity, joined us in our broken, sinful human existence, and brought us through death into resurrection and ascension into life with God both now and forever. Jesus redeemed our broken existence—God “made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21 NASB).

Our real existence, the one which will last, is in knowing and being known by our Abba and his Son Jesus Christ in the Spirit. What we have in this life is passing away—what we have in Christ is everlasting. This is why Paul says to keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, not the things on earth (Col. 3:1-2)

We are to consider ourselves dead to greed, which is a form of idolatry. Greed and covetousness, along with the other passions of our flesh, are a way in which we go about life focused on and drawing our life from the things which are transient and will one day disappear. Like worshipping idols made of gold and silver, our worship of our human efforts or goals or the physical trappings of our existence—nice home, good job, wealth, power, fame, ease and pleasure—is an insult to the God who made us and called us into relationship with himself, and who came for us and redeemed us in Jesus Christ. All of this idolatry hung with Christ on the cross—in Christ we are dead to our idols, so we might live in the newness which is ours in him.

God created the earth and all its abundance for our enjoyment and pleasure. God means for us to work and to take pleasure in the fruit of our efforts. God wants us to work hard and be responsible for ourselves. But nowhere in all of this are any of these gifts meant to replace the Giver. Nothing is to take the place of the One who took our place and stands in our stead on our behalf as our Redeemer and Savior and Lord—Jesus Christ. The spirit of greed, lust, envy, selfishness, or any other demonic or fleshly spirit is never meant to replace the living Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit is meant to fill us with God’s love, joy, peace, kindness, gentleness, and so on—to be the dominant Spirit in our being, to rule our existence both now and forever.

We have been given the greatest gift of all, life in Christ by the Spirit. We are called to live humble lives, in all godliness and honesty, sharing with others all we have been given, so that as one, we are joined together in the body of Christ as Abba’s children, together living in the new lives forged for us by Jesus out of our broken human existence and poured into us by the Holy Spirit.

When we have been given something by God, perhaps it is so that we can share it with others, or maybe he means for us to use it in furthering the scope of the Kingdom of God. God’s gifts are meant to create gratitude and praise, to move us to rejoice in the gift of our blessed hope and to live as the adopted children we were created to be, loving God and one another both now and forever as true image-bearers of the God who is love.

Dear God, thank you for all the gifts you have for us in our everyday existence—food, clothing, shelter, friendship, companionship, work, and so many other things. Keep us focused in the midst of all our blessings on you, the Blessed One, who blesses us with everything we need for life and godliness. Fill our hearts with gratitude and praise, for you are more than worthy. We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen

“Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. … Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him…” Colossians 3:1-3, 9-10 NASB

“Then He said to them, ‘Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.” Luke 12:15 NASB

Losing My Identity, or Finding It

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by Linda Rex

This afternoon I was wandering about in a car lot in the blazing hot sun trying to find a particular automobile. I had spent hours researching this project and I was determined to find what I believed would be the solution to my transportation issues. I was growing hotter and sweatier and no closer to my goal, and was beginning to think the whole thing was a bad idea, when a young man in a golf cart stopped me and asked if he could help.

I was grateful to be allowed to explain my dilemma and to take a seat in the shade of the cart’s canopy. My simple request was one he was immediately able to offer me an acceptable answer to. And in the end, the result of his helpful assistance was I ended up in the showroom filling out documents which would ultimately lead to me being the happy new owner of another pre-owned car.

As I was filling out this form and that form, and handing over my license and credit card, and giving my personal information, I grew more and more nervous. I don’t like having to give a perfect stranger this type of information. How do I know whether they will use it only for the purpose for which it is intended? With all the stories I’ve heard about identity theft, I get the willies about freely disbursing my personal information.

My only hope is in the mercy of a loving God. Dear Lord, I thought, please make them blind to what they see, deaf to what they hear and forgetful to what they’ve had access to. It’s kind of chilling for me to be putting myself at someone’s mercy in this way. My only hope is a gracious God looking out for me.

Later I got to thinking about this whole situation and about my discomfort with it. So much is bound up in our identity nowadays. We can’t get a job without certain documents, and we can’t make purchases or have a bank account without specific documentation.

Our identity seems to be boiled down to a social security number, a birth certificate, a passport or a driver’s license. Our place in the world, and our ability to function in this culture, is based on a few facts, numbers and letters. All it takes it is someone to “borrow” that information and we’re sunk.

This put me in mind of what is written in Genesis about our beginnings as human beings. We were made in the image of the God who is Father, Son and Spirit. This God said we are made to live in loving relationship with him and one another, and as men and women, to be like him. And he declared this creation to be “very good”.

Isn’t it interesting what the serpent said to the man and the woman—that if they ate of the tree which was forbidden, their eyes would be opened and they would be like God? I am grateful to the person who reminded me of what God had done in the first place—human beings already were like God—they were made in God’s image. So they did not need to eat anything to become what they already were!

It seems we as human beings have spent millennia trying to become what God has already declared we are. And God came in human flesh to finish what he began by making humanity in his image. In fact, in Hebrews it says Jesus Christ was the exact replica of his Father. In Jesus, our humanity takes on its most perfect form, and he, by the Spirit, is working this out in each of us, making us into the humanity we were meant to be—made in the image of God.

Our identity—something we are usually so busy trying to create and protect—is not really bound up in all the things we think it is bound up in. Yes, we need ways to function in this culture so we can buy, sell, interact and do all the things we do as humans. But even so, our real identity is not something external to us, or something which can be placed upon us. Our identity is not determined by other people, or by our feelings and desires, or by our parents. Our identity is so much more fundamental than that.

Being made in the image of the God who called himself “I Am” means we as human beings are all who God declares we are. The evil one constantly tries to tell us, as he did Adam and Eve, we are not, and we believe him. Just take a minute to think about all the times you, and I, have believed the lying tapes which run in our heads and say, “I am not smart; I am not pretty; I am not loveable; I am going to amount to anything; I am not good.”

These lying tapes even tell us what we are: “I am a jerk; I am worthless; I am a failure.” It seems the evil one always knows exactly what to tell us about who we are so we will be stopped from being those things which truly reflect the divine glory which is ours. He doesn’t want us to shine with the image of God, and so he does everything he can to divert our attention from the truth that we already are God’s image bearers, and in Christ we can live like we are by the Spirit.

The evil one seeks to steal, besmirch and destroy our identity every chance he gets. He even uses human beings to take from us what is rightfully ours, so we lose faith in ourselves, our world, and even our God. How devastating to lose our identity! And yet most of us don’t realize we haven’t lost the identity God gave us when he created us, and which he redeemed through his Son Jesus.

God knows who we really are. And he constantly speaks to us through his Spirit and his Word, reminding us of the reality we are his adopted children, made in his image to reflect his nature and to share in his love and life. This is the truth, and all the evil one’s efforts to steal this from us are fruitless. Because in Jesus, God has bound us to himself with cords of love, and has reaffirmed in his Son we reflect the exact image of the Father, Son, and Spirit. Our true identity is secure in Jesus Christ. And that, we can count on.

Thank you, Father, for determining from the beginning we would reflect your image and likeness. Thank you for sending your Son to become human as we are human so our broken humanity might be redeemed and restored to reflect your glory. Thank you we share in your identity even now. And even though someone may steal from us the items which we use to identify ourselves in this world, we are still secure in our true identity as your image bearers. Comfort us with your tender, protective care—watch over your children and keep us and those things which are ours, safe. Defend us. Our trust is in you, through your Son Jesus. Amen.

“God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” Genesis 1:27 NASB

You are Enough as You Are

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by Linda Rex

Last night I was at a sub shop exploring the pages of Karl Barth’s “Church Dogmatics” and I overheard a young lady in the booth behind me informing a couple new employees of company policy. Having performed that routine myself in my previous employment as a human resources director, I found it amusing to inadvertently hear her slam the company’s policy against profanity. Apparently the opinion of the two young women she was instructing was more important to her than the preferences of the owner of the business.

At that particular point I had been reading what Barth had to say about spiritual gifts and service within and without the church. Barth emphasized that the new life God has given us in Christ includes all of life, not just the going-to-church parts of life. When we recognize who we are in Christ, it impacts how we think, live, talk, and relate to others. Having Christ and therefore the Father living within via the Holy Spirit means that all of our human existence is taken up and made sacred, holy, and should be committed to God’s purposes. This includes telling a new employee what the company’s expectations are.

Some of us focus on learning what our gifts are and strive to be putting them to use in God’s service. Others of us are still struggling to figure out if we even have any gifts to offer in this way. But what God is helping me to see is that just finding and offering my gifts is not all that God has in mind for me. Indeed, he is looking for something a little deeper.

Truly, to seek to know God not only as Father, but as the indwelling Christ, is a lifelong process. It takes time and experience to come to know and recognize the voice of God in the Spirit, and to obey Jesus as he leads us in a real and personal way moment by moment. This being led by and filled with the Spirit is a challenging process, to say the least.

And it’s all of grace. For I realize again and again that God speaks and too often I am preoccupied with my own concerns, or too busy, or I miss the cues he is giving in showing me where to go and what to do. I don’t always see with his eyes, even though he gives me the eyes of the Spirit. I don’t always hear with his ears even though so often the Father is speaking—through other people, through events in my life, through the book I’m reading or the movie I’m watching. If I were alert to all the ways God is interacting with me moment by moment, I think I would be overwhelmed. I am so very grateful that God is gracious and kind!

So the result of that little episode in the sub shop was that I once again saw that I need to take some time for silence and solitude to hear the Word of God to me. What gifts, abilities, and skills has God placed within me and how does he want me to use them in this season and situation in my life? But more than that, I need to quit apologizing for who he has created me to be and start fully using what God has poured out on me. I need to quit caring so much about the opinions of others and place as first priority the will and sovereignty of God and the full expression of the Christ within by the Holy Spirit.

And that’s tough. Not only does it involve a letting go, but it also involves a grabbing hold of life and making full investment of all that I am as a human being in the things that really matter. I can’t afford to be a part-time, half-hearted Christian any longer. I can’t let other people decide for me what I am to do with my time, energy and efforts. That’s what Christ meant when he said “Follow me.” It’s his call, not theirs or mine.

Jesus told the man who wanted to go home to bury his father “Let the dead bury the dead.” Christ is calling us into a priority relationship that involves giving all of life to him, even if that means giving him preferential treatment in comparison to our relationships with those near and dear to us. To give one’s life as a “living sacrifice” means that there is a laying down of all that matters most to us so that, in Christ, we can receive it all back in a new way in his kingdom life.

Who we are in Christ is enough. We don’t have to reach any other standard. Christ is the standard we are to meet and he has met this standard for us in taking on our humanity in the incarnation through his life, death, resurrection and ascension. In the gift of the Spirit, he invests himself in us. And so, we are enough, in him, for whatever we may face in our lives.

But let’s you and me be a full expression of Christ, not just a brief glimpse. Let’s respond fully to the Spirit and let him transform us—transfigure us—conform us to the image of Christ. Because this is what God wants for you and for me.

Lord, thank you that you have given us yourself by the Spirit so that we can be a full expression of you in your life and love. Thank you for your grace through which we are able to grow up in you and become all that you have in mind for us. For it is only through you, by you and in you that this is possible. In your name, we pray. Amen.

“I’m speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him….So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ’s body, let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t.” Romans 12:3, 6 MSG