Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.

Ephesians 6: 10

 

There comes a time in everyone’s life when it is necessary to recognize certain fundamental truths. One of those is the fact that there is a lot more power afoot in our world than I have the capacity to stand up against. I can be skillful in debate, possess substantial financial resources, and even have armed responders to support my causes; yet, I will not have enough power and might on my side to defeat every true enemy that I will encounter. Thus, I will come to that end of the road where what I bring to the fight is no more than enough to lead me into defeat and wherein I can either remain beaten or I can surrender myself to the One who is already victorious over all that is in this world.

 

As I surrender to Christ, His victory is mine. When I yield any part of my fight to His will, Christ enfolds some more of me into His form of conquest over all that is evil and lost. In one sense, this process of yielding of myself and of entering into the hard won conquest of sin that came about on the cross is the real point wherein I become strong enough to even enter the battle that is life. Christ calls upon us to be strong and courageous, for this world is a place where terror roams our streets and pain and suffering are promised to us as a part of our spiritual birthright. Living righteously requires far more of these God-given qualities than does dwelling in the flesh. So, we need strength and courage to go out into the storm with God’s truth, love, and justice as our guiding principles.

 

Yet, this is what Christ promises to give to us. He tells us and has demonstrated through His life that He stands up to all forms of opposition and prevails. Now Christ takes His people into that same victory. He grants to us the strength that will be demanded of us along the path that we will travel today. That capacity to engage with the forces of this world does not come from our own skills, intelligence, or other form of resource; it is all a gift that is given out of the love that God has for us and that is found only in Christ. As followers of Christ, we are the truly strong people in this world, but that power is demonstrated in ways that are often strange and contrarian to the environment where we reside. Christ answers the forces of this world with love, grace, justice, and peace, and He uses our yielded selves as His workers in doing it all.

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For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world — our faith.

1 John 5: 4

 

Let’s face it, we live in an age where we have access to information, whether accurate or wildly distorted, about everything that is happening around us, and there are days when this world and its news just seem overwhelming. We are hit in the face with wars and other forms of human violence on an almost hourly basis while personal tragedy and losses are played out in a relentless procession of pain and suffering. Even those among us with the greatest of resources available cannot begin to meet all of the needs that are presented for our consideration. There seems to be a giant hole growing in the center of the world’s heart where all that is civil, human, and good is falling in and getting lost under the tons of debris that is the fall out from our world’s relentless chaos. As we look into God’s Word, none of this should come as a shock or a surprise. Yet, as we know and understand God’s heart, it should still cause us concern and bring about feelings of grief and empathy for those who are in pain.

 

As I view the news from around my world, Christ points my mind to the human suffering and loss that is woven throughout these stories. He tells me of His own feelings of anguish and agony that are felt in response to what we people do to and with each other. My Lord leads me into appreciation for the struggle that millions of others are engaging in as they go about living through this day, and He also points my stunned and overwhelmed mind toward the only answer that carries with it real hope, which is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This thought may seem simplistic, detached, and even delusional in that the problems of this world don’t appear to have easy or readily achievable answers; yet, I hold that the opposite is true. The Gospel of Christ does not stop with a profession of faith, but rather, it begins there. As a follower of Christ, as one who has accepted on faith the reality of Jesus and the living truth of His transformative message of hope, I am compelled by my Lord to enter into my world for the sake of His name and in service to His will and desire to bring love, grace, and peace to every corner of this planet.

 

This is how those of us who have been born of God do overcome the disastrous mess that is this world. We may not change a single global story wherein brutality and oppression seem to rule the day; however, we can impact a life or two or so with a form of love and care that can lead to relationships that transcend eternity. God has overcome all that is evil in this world and beyond, and His Word makes it very clear that there is soon to be a day of great reckoning when Christ will set right all that has gone wrong in our world. Until then, we join Him in this victory over the evil that is attempting to overwhelm us with the volume and the intensity of its message of hopelessness and defeat. In Christ, we are called to live out His victory by loving others without regard for their response to us as we seek to bring people who are distanced from each other by worldly systems and ideas into our Lord’s peace and understanding. It is our faith in Christ and in the saving truth of His Gospel that makes the miracle of deep and true love possible, and it is this love that overcomes this world.

Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought to love one another.

1 John 4: 11

 

John has already made it very clear that God does love people. He loves us to the point of ultimate and total sacrifice for our sakes. This love is without boundaries and goes beyond all human understanding. Christ loves us even when we demonstrate no prospect of returning that love, and He demands nothing from us in return for that love. Yet, if we are willing to turn away from our former lives and surrender our current and future ones to Him, Christ pours out grace, forgiveness, and healing upon our hearts and our minds. This gift of love is so powerful and complete that it transforms the people who receive it into totally new beings.

 

So, if I am a recipient of Christ’s gift, then it is reasonable to expect that I will think, act, and be different. This difference is measured in relation to my life before I knew Christ. However, it is also considered in comparison to the world in general and even in contrast to how I lived yesterday. The transformative work that Christ does in His people is on going and it is progressive. That is not to say that there will not be good days and ones that are not so good. Most of us even experience times of great challenge and apparent defeat as we go through life as followers of Christ. Yet, He remains victorious over all of the forces of evil in this world and beyond, and Christ continues to work in our hearts and our minds through all of the days of our lives.

 

Christ’s victory is based upon love, and His work in the lives of His followers is also grounded upon and infused with that same love which comes from God. As God loves us and Christ imparts that love to us, we are called upon by God to be people who love others. Although we are also led by God to be a righteous and a holy people, we are to follow the example of Jesus in all of life. Thus, we are mandated by Christ to embrace care for others, justice for the weak and the disadvantaged; we are to grant hospitality and acceptance to the foreigner, and to seek to heal the relational hurts that occur in the course of life. This love that models Christ is sacrificial. It seeks nothing for itself, but it gives everything in order to bring people into close proximity to God, and in so doing it presents to them the love that saves the world.

 

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.

2 Corinthians 2: 14

 

Parades are fun. They are filled with creativity and color. They are loud with their music and vibrant in their motion. Participation in a parade is exhilarating, and watching one from the side of the street can be a wonderful opportunity to enjoy a gathering of community and of family. It is no wonder that Paul uses the image of a parade to frame his statement of thanksgiving to God. Yet, the parades that Paul has in mind were not quite like the ones that we experience. They were big, loud, and very showy. However, they involved a clear demonstration of power in opposition to the humiliation of the defeated. There is life and there is death present.

 

Paul’s parade is a lot like the world where we live. In Christ, we are the victors. The outcome of the war is decided, recorded for history, and Christ’s triumph is declared for the entire world to hear and see. Still, many people have not listened to the news, have failed to respond to God’s call to join His triumph, and as a result, are numbered among the defeated. I admit that it is not always so easy to appreciate Christ’s victory and to comprehend its absolute nature and permanent duration. The end of the campaign skirmishes and enemy assaults are still fierce. There will be some very intense battles fought in the days to come. Still, none of these final battles will affect the outcome.

 

However, each of us who follow Christ can influence the direction of the day for some of those people who are still in the ranks of the defeated. Christ does lead us through each of our days, and He desires for us to live them in the full experience and expression of His victory. Some of the time we are limping from our wounds, and on certain days we need to be carried by our brothers and sisters as we are not able to walk. Even on those hardest of days, Christ’s victory is complete in us. His anointing oil of love, grace, and redemption is powerfully sweet in the air around us. Unlike the conquering generals of Rome, our Lord reaches out His hand of salvation to those who have not chosen to join in His victory, and through us, Christ invites them to come and be anointed and accept life among the victors.

In your great compassion you did not make an end of them or forsake them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.

Nehemiah 9: 31

 

The one characteristic of God’s that I rely upon far too much is His mercy. I tend to push my selfish will to the limit and then, far too readily accept the fact that the divine axe did not fall. Yet, this is who God truly is. He simply is not the angry, vengeful, and destructive god that so many people believe in and teach others to follow. The Lord, my God and my Redeemer, is loving, understanding, compassionate, and extends gracious mercy to me and to everyone else as well.

 

There will be a final accounting for the lives that we each have lived, and there will come a time when the evil that is loose in this world will come face to face with God’s victorious might, but the Lord is never angry to the point of destruction with people. Rather, He detests the destruction that evil causes in the hearts and minds of His children. He is deeply saddened by the lives that are ruined by Satan’s lies and deception, and the Lord will allow us to choose to follow the deceiver to our own self-determined destruction.

 

Still, God’s desire is for every person, each and all of us, to know Him in the truth of who He is. The Lord wants all to come close to Him so that we can know the warmth of His embrace and stand tall in Christ’s victory over sin in our lives. For me, God’s grace and mercy are more than enough reason to seek Him and to set aside my self centered attitudes about how to live. The way to know God’s compassion, grace, and mercy best is to give the same to the people that I encounter during this day; so, my prayer for today is that I would be slow to anger, quick to forgive, and lovingly truthful with the people who are in my world.

 

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

 

The difference between an event that is cause for celebration and one that leads to sorrow is often very slight. It can be a few inches on the distance that a ball travels through the air, it might be a few votes in an election, a decision made or rejected, or a route chosen for the drive home. The distinctive in how we handle all of these events, whether we are on the joy or on the pain side of the result, is found in our view of life and the vantage point from which we look at it.

 

To me, it seems utterly irrational to experience a defeat, a negative life-changing event, or a deeply personal loss and shout for joy when it happens. Yet, God says that I should trust Him in this matter. However, unlike many well-meaning people who try to minimize the hurt and the devastating sense of loss that can come, God understands how I feel, and He helps me see that He has experienced all of the same emotions as I am going through. The Spirit of Christ helps me to grasp the fact that it is normal, rational, and expected to feel deeply. Even in the hardest of times and situations He shows me that there is hope, purpose, and healing for everything that occurs in this life. This is true for all of life’s events from the smallest of disappointments to the greatest loss.

 

God wants me to see that I am not rejoicing in the outcome of the event itself, I am rejoicing in Him. As I position myself so that I am continually close and intimately engaged with my Lord through the process of talking with Him, opening my deepest thoughts and feelings to Him, and studying His word with the sort of receptiveness that allows His Spirit to speak to my heart and mind from deep inside the pages, God shows me His perspective on life. He leads me to the place where I can see more clearly. He takes me to that high vantage point where the soothing breeze of His Spirit’s presence has dried my tears. Now, my heart is set free from the oppression of loss, and my mind is given the clarity that I need to move forward in Christ’s victory