Spiritual Strength


And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.

Ephesians 2: 17

There are separations, divisions, and animosities running wildly amok in our world today. This is not a profound revelation that has come to me; rather, it is the reality in which we all dwell. I submit that it is easier to identify conditions, situations, and identities that divide us than it is to do the same with those that bind people together. In part, this is true because we are more interested in the tensions than we are in their reconciliation, but it is also the continuing arch of the playing out of the fallen state of creation, itself. This world has been headed in this direction from its earliest days, and it continues to spiral downward; however, it does seem that the spiral is growing ever tighter and the rate of spin is continually increasing. Perhaps we are living in the midst of the death spiral of this world?

The saddest aspect of all of this is the fact that it doesn’t need to be so. God planned and established the way and the means for reconciliation of any and all differences. The Father does not want to see His people caught up in the animosities, hatred, and the violence that stems from them. He would have all of us learn to accept each other, take the risk inherent in peacemaking, and reach across all of our points of division with the hand of fellowship and grace. So, the means that God established for doing this is Jesus and the way is the cross. Christ’s love and grace serve to bring people into a relationship with God that ends our separation from all that is righteous and holy; thus, Christ reconciles people to our Creator. This is a part of what God intends to see happen. The other primary aspect of the Lord’s desire and will is carried out when we seek to reconcile with each other.

It is not easy to love people who are different, care for those who seem to be natural enemies, and enter into the stories of those who make us uncomfortable or who actually frighten us. Yet, Christ calls upon His people to do these things. He also goes with us as we seek to extend that hand of fellowship to others. For as we look upon the cross and consider what it means to join with Jesus in the sacrifice and the commitment to righteousness that is centered upon that torturous implement, all fear and concern should be left behind us. Christ experienced all of the pain, grief, and terror for us during those agonizing hours of hanging upon the cross. In Christ we are not only set free to love those who are different from us, but those differences are, in fact, made to disappear. They become meaningless in the context of God’s newly redeemed existence as citizens of His kingdom come to earth. In Christ and by the sacrifice of the cross, we can know the true peace that comes through loving all people as Christ loves them and from no longer seeing their difference but rather from looking upon them as fellow bearers of God’s beautiful and perfect image.

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In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet, do it with gentleness and respect.

1 Peter 3: 15 

There is an interesting proposition made by Peter here; for, as we embrace Christ’s holiness at this deep and personal level, we are doing the same for ourselves; since, if Christ is in me, then His holiness is mine. That is why it becomes so very important to focus on the Lord’s attributes as a means of gaining a clearer understanding of our own new nature as a transformed person. The same holds true for focusing more clearly on our own anticipation and objectives for personal spiritual growth. 

As I consider the ways that I still don’t function as I should, based upon what God has established as the model for living in His holiness, the steps that I need to take and the personal sacrifices that I need to make in order to move in that direction become more clearly defined. There is always an element of surrender, a yielding of my will to the Lord, that is involved in this growth process, for this is a something that is begun by continually allowing Christ to be the center and the focus of my heart. 

Then, as the presence of His holiness takes over more of my being, my own ability to live in a manner that is reflective of Christ’s love increases, and I gain an ever greater understanding of the marvelous hopefulness that He brings into my life. This is a hope that is too large and much too important to keep buried inside. It needs to be expressed, and it will gain expression through the way that I live as well as through the words that I speak. The final element that Peter speaks to here is one that I suspect was a serious challenge for him; he again tells us to consider how Jesus went about connecting and communicating with people, for true holiness is also gentle, respectful, and always loving.

Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD?

   And who shall stand in his holy place?

He who has clean hands and a pure heart,

  who does not lift up his soul to what is false

   and does not swear deceitfully.

Psalm 24: 3, 4

David was referring to the temple in Jerusalem and to true and worthy worship there when he speaks about ascending the hill of the Lord. Although the physical climb required of a worshiper was not all that challenging, the spiritual and moral one was quite steep. God is holy in every sense. There is no compromise or area of lapse in the Lord’s perfect existence, and we are not so perfect in ours. It is people’s disobedience and misbehavior that erodes away and diminishes the righteousness that God originally intended for each of us to center our lives around. We are each born into life with this process of decay and the distance from our Lord that it causes already well established within us. As we draw our first breath in this world, we are already struggling to find the spiritually pure air that the climb to that sacred place requires.

David knew more than he would wish to know about the challenge that keeping his hands clean and his heart pure would bring about. He had done neither of these things in his life; yet, he still desired to be in the presence of the Holy One, the Lord God Almighty. The Lord granted David the grace and the forgiveness that he required in order to enter into that holy presence, and David recognized his own sinfulness and engaged in the true repentance of a person who desires to change and who seeks to live out his remaining days as a person who demonstrates the result of God’s redemptive work in him. David was a lot like most of us in that he was a flawed and a sinful person that had been made holy and acceptable to be in the presence of the Lord by virtue of God’s grace and love.

We are each faced with a hill to climb every day. That ascent takes us toward the place of holiness wherein God dwells in His fullest expression. The work of climbing can seem to be overwhelming at times, but we are not left alone in that endeavor. Christ goes with us, and He participates in every step of the journey. Although He is there, we are allowed to choose to let him guide our steps and support our climb. Frankly, there are days when it seems better to go another way or it feels right to take those steps as a solo climber. There are also other guides that we will encounter along the way, and their route sounds good and pleasing when it is placed before us. Still, there is only one way to that holy objective, and there is one true and trustworthy guide for us to listen to and to follow along His singular path. Christ goes before us and He travels with us as He provides the possibility of possessing the clean hands and the pure heart that are required of those who enter in the Lord’s holy presence. 

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” 1 Peter 1: 14-16

The first thing that comes to mind with Peter’s words here is, “Holy? Who me, holy?” I know my mind, and its contents are nothing even remotely close to that standard. I also have an idea of how I live my life, and that is certainly not something that I would describe as holy. Yet, Christ seems to think that even I can be the sort of person that could be called into holiness as my way of going through life and as the description of who I have become because of Christ’s presence in me. Peter understood this dilemma, for he had lived in the center of it for many years. He was a passionate man, and he tended to speak and to act out of his emotions far before he considered the impact or the effect of what he was about to say or do. 

Now Christ reminds him that the redemptive work that was done on the cross has removed all of Peter’s obligation to his former life and has removed him from the need to obey the rule of this world. When he was called to Christ, he was also set free from the oppression of his former life, and the barriers that his disobedience had erected between himself and God were broken down and removed in their entirety. Now he could think, speak, and act in a manner that was contradictory to the methods and the manners of the world around him, and he was empowered to cast off the way of living that was grounded in fear, fueled by anger, and designed to gain control that had been what he was taught and encouraged in during the days before Christ. Christ brought Peter into the center of a new gospel of love, peacemaking, and restoration. In Christ he was now seen as holy by God, and he was to be known as holy by the world as well.

So too, are we to be known in our world, for, in Christ, we are all redeemed from that same form of captivity to the world’s approach to relating to others and to God. As it was with Peter, this is a work in progress at this time; although, Christ’s work is completed and perfect, the transformative work that the Spirit is doing within me is perfect but it will be complete beyond this life. Until then, I, like all followers of Christ, live in the tension of our calling to be holy that stands in contrast to the daily reality of the many ways that the heart and the mind prove to be something less than that. This is the place where grace stands as God’s healing potion. This gift of loving understanding and permission to continue on despite my failings and weakness is a part of God’s unending encouragement to each of His people to continue on in this journey of hopeful obedience. So, when Christ tells us to live as holy people, He is not calling us into failure or defeat, but rather, the Lord is leading us into His assured possibility of living in the world as His redeemed and transformed people.  

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us.

Ephesians 1: 7

God never wanted people to be held in captivity to sin; yet, He knew that we would place ourselves into that state of bondage. So, the Father planned the way and the means of our escape from the self-devised prison that we were to be held in, and He also made it possible for us to be set free on a permanent basis. Jesus is the Father’s response to both of these needs. He is our source of redemption as He is the means by which we are redeemed. In other words, Jesus paid the price for our release from captivity to sin. This was accomplished in His act of sacrifice upon the cross, and it was sealed by the blood that flowed out of Christ’s pierced body. There is nothing left to be paid in order for our soul’s jailer to release any of us. If we choose to follow Christ, we are granted a full pardon and our parole is effected.

The hard part for most of us comes in the choosing to follow Christ. Why should I do this? What do I gain in so choosing? Is this Jesus even real? These are questions that multitudes of people have asked over the long history of the world. From my point of view, it is all very simple. I know, through faith and by virtue of experiencing life that Jesus is real. The narrative that is written in the Bible is the real and the accurate recitation of God’s engagement with His creation with a particular emphasis upon the Lord’s involvement with humanity. I hold this to be true, not because I have absolute tangible proofs or due to some form of exhaustive research, for I have experienced the presence of God in my life, and I know that the best of the person that I have been and that I am to be is found and made known in the commitment of my heart, mind, and spirit to living in a righteous manner after the modeling and the leading of Christ, Himself.

In the conduct of my life I have certainly placed great demands upon the love and the grace that Christ has poured out upon me. Sadly, I continue to do this to this day; yet, the journey has gotten easier as the Spirit has continued to work within my heart and my mind to bring about an ever-increasing level of understanding of what it means to live as a person that loves others, seeks after justice, and desires to share God’s redemptive love with others. Choosing to follow Christ places each of us on that same journey as the Apostle Paul traveled upon. In so doing we enter into God’s will for us, and we find peace with our Creator in the process. This adventure that Christ takes us on will not be easy as there will be temptations to overcome, an adversarial world to confront, and doubts that grab hold of us and attempt to wrestle our hearts and minds into submission. In all of this I have found that Christ is with me. That riches of grace that Paul mentions and the Lord’s abundant love and mercy are truly poured out upon me in a supply that can be described in no other word but lavish. 

We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch hum.

1 John 5: 18

If you have lived for any period of time in your new Christian skin, you know that this statement is not exactly true. No one that I am aware of lives a sinless life. In fact, we all go off the righteous track on a more or less regular basis. The reality of our need for God’s grace is one of life’s certainties, and Christ has granted an endless supply of that same grace and forgiveness to each of His people. So, what does it mean to “not keep on sinning,” and who is it that does the protecting in this verse? John makes this statement with such authority and with a very positive emphasis; so, it must be important, and it must also have rather universal application.

The easy part of the answer to my self-imposed question is Jesus. He is the one who was born of God and who does the protecting. In our fallen humanity, we are powerless against evil and the state of separation from all that is holy that comes about due to our birth-right of sinfulness. This is a state of being that Christ’s death and resurrection have worked to radically alter. In Christ, we find forgiveness of all of our sinfulness, and we also receive acceptance into the full presence of all that is holy, that is, we are taken into the everlasting presence of God, Himself. As we dwell in this new home in the kingdom of righteousness, any and all of our continued sinful thinking and acting is discordant with and anathema to all that we have become.

Yet, if we were left to our own devices and were required to operate out of the strength of will and character that we possess, most of us would not last for very long in this world of temptation, fear, and misinformation. Thus, Christ does not leave us. His Spirit is implanted within the being of all who know Christ, and the Spirit works continually to establish each of us in the truth of God’s Word and to set our feet firmly upon the solid footing of its ethical and moral direction. We will all sin, but we are no longer required to continue into the future along those destructive paths. We can trust Christ to protect all that truly matters in us when we choose to turn away from each and every thought, word, and act that falls outside of that which is strictly and fully righteous. The Lord is my protector, and He is yours, too. He will save each of us from the grasp of the evil one, and this is a truth that we can trust with all that matters in life and in the eternity to come.

Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD,

   when the plowman shall overtake the reaper

   and the treader of grapes the one who sows the seed;

the mountains shall drip sweet wine,

   and all the hills shall flow with it.

Amos 9: 13

There were hard days coming. This had been the message that the Lord had given to Amos to proclaim to both Israel and Judah. The prosperity that they were enjoying was to be momentary, and the wealth, power, and riches of the lands would become waste, destruction, and death. Then all that remained by way of the people that inhabited these nations would be carried away to live as exiles, captives, and slaves to a pagan nation. This was not a pleasant prospect for the future, and its coming reality was attributed to the fact that the people of these God-ordained nations were living in the full expression of their own wills with little to no concern for God’s Holy Word or with almost no engagement in the Lord’s commission to live as righteous people in the middle of a spiritual desert.

Despite the Lord’s anger at His people and His sense of futility in trying to get them to turn back to worshiping Him with all of their being, God promises that there will be a day of restoration, rebuilding, and renewed abundance in the land. This rebirth of life for the descendants of those who will face the terror of those days of awful cleansing will be accomplished by the hand of God alone. He will set people to work on doing various needful tasks, but their actual freedom to do these things and the capacity to accomplish them will be the Lord’s gifts to those people. Their opportunity to have an impact on all that is to come rests in the hands of those who are hearing Amos’ plea. They are the people who have the opportunity to change the course of the future for themselves and for their children by turning away from the current path of self-worship and by returning to fully committed worship of the one true God.

It seems to me that we, too, may have this same sort of choice making to consider. The world where we dwell is one wherein worship of the Lord, in its true and fully engaged sense, is rare. We live in many prosperous nations that do little to care for or to engage in meaningful concern for those around us who are oppressed, starving, and rendered homeless because of the unchecked violence of our times. The Israelites were called upon by God to be His hands and to do His work in the world. The abundance of their fields was intended to help feed the hungry, and the wealth of their spiritual legacy was designed to overflow through their proclamation into the spiritually dead peoples that surrounded them. If we too are followers of Christ, then we hold the same calling from the Lord to proclaim His name and to bring the presence of His glory to all of the world by virtue of the way that we live our lives. We are to seek to make the bounty of the Lord’s visionary proclamation a spiritual and a literal reality in our world by caring for others, by loving the unlovely, and by sharing our great wealth, both physical and spiritual, with the numerous people that its provider holds as dear and precious in His sight. 

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