May 2017


Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.

2 Timothy 2: 1

 

The idea or the concept of strength and of being strong is a theme that runs throughout the Bible. It is a part of God’s nature that is desirable for His followers to grasp hold of personally, too. Yet, many of the images that we develop of what strength looks like are wrong. Personally, I can think of strength in terms of being able to stand up to everything that comes my way through my individual will and determination. I also see images of bulging muscles, rigid determination, a will that is clad in titanium and behavioral standards that are unyielding. This describes the sort of strength that leaves us vulnerable, standing alone, and often trying to make it all work without the deep and sustainable strength that Christ provides to us.

 

Strength that is based upon a person’s own ability, will, and desire to stand up to everything that life throws his way makes that person an easy target, and it is not what God has in mind when He tells us to be strong. Christ wants us to find our strength through the process of surrendering everything that we think equals might and power, and He wants us to find that strength by searching His word and by allowing His Spirit to sift our hearts. It is made known to us as we bend our will in prayers of confession and ones where we speak out our utter need for our Savior and Lord. This is a form of strength that out lasts the days of our youthful vigor and that is sustained by Christ well past the hour when our own reservoir of determination has been depleted.

 

True strength is found by residing in the center of Christ’s grace. As we yield to Christ, we can learn to apply His sort of sacrificial willingness to accept the weakness and the failure of others to every moment of our lives; then, we can allow Christ to be gracious with us during our inevitable times of personal failure. The might, the power, and the deeply rooted core strength that I need to truly live for Christ and to be effective in living for the sake of His kingdom is not found in the best equipped gym or even in my most disciplined moment. Rather, it is found as I seek out God’s face and allow myself to make my home in the center of His grace.

 

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and the intentions of the heart.

Hebrews 4: 12

 

This is where the relationship that a Christian has with God gets very hard. It is also where it gets to be incredibly easy. The fact and the reality of this relationship being one that exists on a mystical level; a deep, spirit and soul plane of our existence; makes it unique in the area of life direction and advice. We can look to many sources for input on both the big-picture aspects of living and for the situations that we encounter along the way. There is great, so-so, and completely wrong guidance available for almost anything. Yet, only God and His Word reach deeply into our hearts and minds with penetrating and totally reliable insight and wisdom.

 

Neither is God a counselor who you have to plan ahead in order to get the benefit of His wisdom, for He is truly involved in the very minute details of our existence. God is fully aware of the things that we do, the struggles that we encounter, and He understands the thoughts that we have before they are even formed in our minds. I do not know myself as well as my Lord does. Christ is fully alive in my world as well. He is the center of all that is vital, and His Spirit is continually present with me. I find great comfort in this fact, for Christ has taken control of this world away from Satan. Evil does have an effect and it does influence people and events that reach out to harm people and our world. However, Christ has turned all of this evil activity and influence for His glory, God’s purposes, and for our greatest good.

 

Just as God knows my thoughts and my intentions, so does His Word speak to them. In the Word are found insights into the ways that every person we will ever encounter will think and act. Even more powerful to me is the fact that my entire life story is written there. Each and every aspect of living in a manner that is concerned, loving, empathetic, understanding, thoughtful, and righteous is contained in these pages. Although the story that I am reading may be set thousands of years ago, I am led by the Spirit to see myself and my world described in clear detail on the pages. The Word of God is every bit as alive as Christ is in this day and in the place where I dwell. All that I need to do to find the advice that is required to live righteously today is to dwell on the pages of His Word, in the presence of His Spirit, and in the company of His community of faith.

 

Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.

John 16: 20

 

Sorrow seems to come with the territory in this life. I think that our ability to feel it is a part of the way that God designed us; so, it seems to me that it must be something that God, Himself, feels. We form attachments and develop relationships. Yet, we live in a world that is filled with death. There is no getting out of this place alive, and none of us has any more time to dwell with the people that we love than is our allotted span. Separation, brokenness, loss, and death will come our way, and, as Jesus is pointing out, the strong emotions that follow are an important part of a natural process for us to experience.

 

The impending loss that Jesus is discussing will seem to come about suddenly, and it will shock those who are close to Him greatly. Despite Christ’s warnings, His followers were not ready for Him to be taken from them. It appeared as if all that was evil in the world had gained a victory over that which was righteous and good. As Jesus was led away to face the inquisition of the world with its humiliation and sentence of death, His close friends were sent into a swirling chaos of confusion and doubt. It seemed that their connection to the true light of the face of God had been smothered by the darkness of evil’s shroud of doom. Now the world was set off into a riot of celebration, and the contrast between its rejoicing and the sorrow of Jesus’ disciples was stark.

 

However, all of this is within God’s plan, and even the hard emotions that were felt served an important purpose. Satan claims many victories in this world. He contemplates the lives that he controls and the death that sin brings about as cause for celebration. Yet, evil has no victory and its forces have no real power. The very act of taking Jesus from the human fellowship of His followers launched the final death blow that God struck to Satan’s head. People no longer need to live in a world that enjoys its short-lived and shallow celebrations, for, in Christ, we dwell in the joy of eternity. We certainly should feel the sorrow that sin and its death cause; yet, this life and our natural condition are not all that we have. Christ wipes away the tears, and He brings us close to His side. The love and the grace of Jesus go with us through this life, and Christ’s victory provides all of the hope that we need to sustain us along the journey.

 

 

I acknowledged my sin to you, and my iniquity I did not hide;

I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord”; and you did forgive the guilt of my sin.

Psalm 32: 5

 

We have all seen pictures of the aftermath of a catastrophic storm, a tornado, or a very serious car accident. There is wreckage and debris scattered everywhere. Order and reason are overcome by chaos. Well, sadly, this is the sort of scene that I am capable of causing in my daily life. This is because my very human capacity to think and to act in ways that are far from righteous, in other words, my ability to sin, is an unfortunate part of the person that I still am. It is possible to be engaged in an experience of deep, personal worship of God at one moment and then to have thoughts or to take actions that are hurtful, selfish, and contrary to who my Lord has called me to be. Despite the fact that God knows this about me and about all people, He continues to love us, and He doesn’t become frustrated with us to the point that He gives up on us.

 

What the Lord does want us to do is to talk with Him. He is always patiently waiting to hear the voices of our hearts calling out to Him with an expression of our understanding that the way that we are living is sinful. There is nothing that is too small an issue, and there is certainly nothing that is too great, for the grace that was perfected by Christ is total, absolute, and all encompassing. Additionally, it is rather irrational to try to hide the dark aspects of our lives from God; since, He knows it all, anyway. What God does want from us is for us to recognize our need for forgiveness; then, our hearts are opened to the change that His Spirit will work in them. The weight of the hurt and the pain that these actions cause others can be lifted, and deep healing will begin.

 

The question for me is not what have I done that is sinful; rather, it is what am I trying to hold onto as a secret from God, and why am I still pretending that He doesn’t already know? We all need to open our hearts to the Lord and allow Him to see our deepest selves from our own viewpoint. God has already forgiven us completely, and He will lift the disabling guilt of the sin from us. Once the barriers of secrecy are gone, it becomes possible to work on healing the harm to our selves and to others that the sin is causing. It is this sort of healing that brings us and those involved one step closer to living inside of Christ’s perfectly righteous peace.

 

By your endurance you will gain your lives.

Luke 21: 19

 

This is probably one of the strangest pre battle speeches that was ever given. Jesus has indicated to His soldiers that they are more likely than not to die in the course of the affairs that are soon to enfold. He also reassures them greatly, I am sure, when He tells them that He will certainly die before the contest is finished. These are not the kinds of things that commanders tell their troops or that coaches speak to get their teams ready for what is coming. Yet, Jesus is honest. He was so with His disciples, and He remains brutally honest to this day. Truth is the foundation of what He offers, and this truth is something that equips each of us to follow Christ along the path that He has determined for us and into the our callings as His body.

 

Just before His arrest, trial, and execution Jesus gave the people who were committed to Him a very graphic picture of what the world would look like for them in the days to come. These same images, with their own evolutionary twists and a few modern adjustments, apply to our times as well. The disciples were engaged in a contest with evil for the souls of people and for the righteous care of the rest of creation, and we are involved in a continuation of that same struggle. They were not battling against a culture that had gone astray, and we are not primarily warring against one that has gone off its rails, either. You can almost pick your own metaphor for it all as we let the genie out of the bottle, or we made our own bed, or possibly we tipped over the apple cart. Regardless of how we say it, we people determined that we had it right and that God’s way was an impediment to our greater good. Thus, we will spend our lives in the midst of this struggle against the evil that we set free.

 

This fight will be costly. There is no way around this fact as there is no easy path, no fast-pass lane to buy our way through it all. We get to live each day as it is delivered to us, and we will get to experience the struggles and the losses that will come to us. Yet, the struggle is not the end of the story. In fact, the struggle is just our tale of faith’s beginning point. Christ enters into each of these days with us, and He takes us with Him into this contest with all that is standing in opposition to Him and to God’s righteous love. With Christ we are here to seek out souls who are in need of a Savior, and we are tasked with pouring out His love, grace, mercy, and peace upon the people and the world where we dwell. Again, this is not a battle with culture or even with the systems of this world; rather, this life that we have been granted by Christ is to be lived out in purposeful testimony to the God that we serve and to Jesus Christ who saves. As we stay true to this course and allow Christ to provide us with the strength to complete the mission that He has given to us, we will be truly alive and live out our allotted days surrounded by the presence of the Lord.

By the word of the LORD the heavens were made,

And by the breath of his mouth all their host.

Psalm 33: 6

 

Most of us are aware of the power of words, and because of this power, as we mature, we learn how to manage and control them. Yet, in all of my experience with words and with their use or misuse, I have never encountered anything like what is described here. A few words, some simple utterances, and all that fills the night sky came into being. The wonders of our childhood gazing, and the majesty of the psalmists vision went from nonexistence into the fullness of presence at the expulsion of a breath. Nothing, with its void that was vast beyond the scope of science fiction, was transformed into light and color and motion, and all that was necessary for life to come into being was formed up as well from out of those slim consonants and vowels.

 

Yet, this is not really the great wonder of it all. The fact that God has the capability and the capacity to do this is not nearly so marvelous to me as is the fact that He wanted to do it. For in so doing He brought into being each and every one of us inhabitants of the vastness that is the universe. God, who had no need for more than He has within the complex and infinite One that He is, designed and created a universe with His glory on display and for the sake of relating to that same creation in ways that are personal and intimate. This very God of all gods, the only true being at the center of creation, desires to have the opportunity to speak His words of love, grace, and eternal fellowship to and with simple, flawed, and rebellious creatures such as myself.

 

To me, this is the true, great wonder of who God is and of how He engages with this world. The Lord, Almighty, whose words alone are all that was required for the entire substance of creation to form up and to become the remarkably complex construct that surrounds us today desires to speak in terms of love, care, comfort, and instruction to the heart and the mind of a fallen and stubborn being such as myself. The Lord, while holding the expanse of the universe in His hand, also holds my wounded and sorrowful heart in the tenderest of all possible embraces. The God whose vocabulary includes the names of all of the stars in the heavens also knows my deepest fears and concerns and whispers His poem of love and acceptance into my ears in order to sooth my need and quiet my fears. This is the Lord. He is bigger than all of creation; yet, He still knows each of us in a way that only the One who breathed each of us into being could possibly do.

 

He will again have compassion on us;

he will tread our iniquities underfoot.

You will cast all our sins

into the depths of the sea.

Micah 7: 19

 

Micah’s God has demonstrated the fact that He will save His people from the enemies that surround them. The Lord has continued to both protect and to set them free from any all of the armies and nations that have risen up against them. Yet, that is never enough to truly free them, for sin still holds people captive. Sin continues to hold us captive to this day, and its evil arms of allure and deception grasp our hearts and enfold our minds so that we do not see clearly and act righteously. Yet, God is here with us, and He takes action that sets us free from it all. Micah lived over 700 years before Jesus; yet, he was aware of God’s already well-developed desire to redeem people from our rebellious ways and sinful state of separation from our Lord. God’s heart is set on relationship with us, and He is relentless in His pursuit of us.

 

This relentless seeking after us is where the Lord’s compassion comes into play. He does not give us what our thoughts and our actions deserve. Instead, God gave us Jesus Christ so that the eternal score that came into existence with Adam and Eve was settled permanently. In Christ we know God’s redemption from the sin that attempts to drag us down into a life that is a living death and beyond that life into eternity apart from God’s peace and glory. Christ takes on the burden of our sin as He has paid our penalty for it. He takes all that is contrary to God that is within our natural beings and crushes it under His mighty feet of love and grace. Christ has the capacity and the ability to remove every sinful aspect from us, and His Spirit works within us to transform the new person that we become into one whose heart and mind are ever more oriented toward our Lord.

 

It seems to me that when Micah talks about the Lord’s defeat of our sin that he then uses a metaphorical statement about what God does with our memory of that sinfulness. There is simply no place that Micah could have conceived of that was less accessible than was the depths of the sea. If something was thrown there, no one could retrieve it, and this was true regardless of how many resources the person had or how diligent that person was. We do struggle with giving up those things that helped to define us before we entered into a relationship with Christ. Even as the Lord defeats the sin that separates us from God, we often continue to impair our full engagement in that new life by the way that aspects of the old one enter into our days. Micah is reminding us that our Lord does have the power and the will to take all of this old life baggage, and as we surrender it to Him, His Spirit works within us to change us and to conform us to Christ’s way of thinking about and of responding to whatever comes our way during the course of life.

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