strength

Might

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I arise today...
Through God’s might to uphold me...

The Lorica of Saint Patrick (St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer)

Surely God is my help;
the Lord is the one who sustains me.

- Psalm 54:4

I’ll be honest, this image of God is more challenging for me than it probably should be.

Human history has been plagued with the idea that “might makes right” and those in power are often the ones who will do almost anything to get there, no matter who they hurt or walk over in the process. As Lord Acton writes, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

I remember children’s songs in church like “What a mighty God we serve,” or “My God is so big, so strong and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do.” On one hand the idea that God is mightier and more powerful than any enemy we may face can be comforting, that is, so long as God is on our side. On the other hand, it is hard to imagine absolute power that does not corrupt. Such power and might, unchecked, is indeed a frightening thought.

In Revelation 15:4, the saints of God sing out the song of Moses saying,

Who won’t fear you, Lord, and glorify your name? You alone are holy. All nations will come and fall down in worship before you,for your acts of justice have been revealed.”

Who would not fear the Lord, indeed. “The Lord, strong and mighty. The Lord mighty in battle” (Psalm 24:8). The King of Glory is King of Kings and Lord of Lords and no power or nation shall stand against him.

Such imagery, though absolutely true, gives me pause. History has shown us time and time again that absolute power cannot go unchecked. It is dangerous. And yet we know God has no equal. Nothing can stand against the Lord.

But we also find comfort throughout the scripture that God’s might is perfectly balanced by God’s love. We find the story in Genesis 18:16-33 where Abraham pleads with God on behalf of the people and God promises to relent for the sake of even 10 righteous people in city. Regardless of the final outcome, God demonstrates to Abraham that he is not some cosmic heartless monster out to destroy the world as so many other gods throughout history have been portrayed.

The difference between the all-powerful God of Scripture and so many other gods throughout ancient mythology is that the God of Scripture is Love. By his very nature, God cannot exercise power and might in any way that does not reflect his loving character.

Nearly every encounter a person has with God in Scripture pans out the same way. Consider the stories of Isaiah, Peter, Paul, and John in Revelation, among others. The person is overwhelmed by God’s holiness, often falling down on their face as though dead. God’s first words in such terrifying moments almost always include the statement, “Do not fear.”

In Isaiah 41, we find God’s encouragement to Israel.

“You are my servant;
I chose you and didn’t reject you”:
Don’t fear, because I am with you;
don’t be afraid, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you,
I will surely help you;
I will hold you
with my righteous strong hand.

- Isaiah 41:9b-10

God’s might, rather than striking terror into our hearts, should fill us with hope and courage because God promises to uphold us in his righteous strong hand. Because of God’s might, we truly have nothing to fear.

Yet we must be careful, for unlike God, our sense of power often does lead to corruption. Centuries of ugly and violent religious history have shown us how easily we humans distort the power and might of God into a threat against our enemies, justifying countless wars in God’s name and condemning all who disagree with us to the fires of hell. We must remember Jesus’ call to love our enemies, and that God desires no one to perish but for all to come to repentance (Matthew 5:43-48, John 3:16). We must not try to manipulate God’s might for our own purposes. Our enemies are not God’s enemies, for even they are beloved and bear the image of God, their Creator.

God’s might will uphold us, but God’s love must prevent us from using his might to tear others down. Perhaps the mightiest act God ever demonstrated was the restraint he showed on the cross when he refused to send down his angel armies to destroy those who crucified his son. Might is not the power to tear down or lord over others. The greatest might of all is the power to sacrifice everything for the sake of love.

Reflections:

1. What is your gut reaction to the thought of a “Mighty God”?

2. In what ways have you experienced God’s might upholding you throughout your life?

3. How do you see God’s power at work in sacrificial acts of love? How might God be calling you to use His power in that way?


Our journey through St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer continues next week:

... I arise today,
Through God’s wisdom to guide me…

Pray along with the full text of St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer

Spiritual Strength

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SPIRITUAL - PART 2

Spiritual Strength
Sunday, May 5, 2019
Acts 9:1-31

Ananias countered, “Lord, I have heard many reports about this man. People say he has done horrible things to your holy people in Jerusalem. He’s here with authority from the chief priests to arrest everyone who calls on your name.”

The Lord replied, “Go! This man is the agent I have chosen to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and Israelites.

Acts 9:13-15

Our culture greatly values strength. We put a lot of stock in power, control, and victory. The weak often find themselves on the margins and if someone finds themselves in a low place, the most common advice people will give is to toughen up or grow a thicker skin.

Spirituality, for many people, is a source of strength. There is something empowering when we tap into sources of power and strength beyond our own understanding. The first few steps of any 12 Step recovery program involve admitting that we are powerless and that we need rely on a higher power for the strength to overcome whatever addiction we may be trying to break through.

Yet in our text today, we find two very strong individuals brought to their knees by an encounter with the Holy Spirit. A genuine “spiritual experience” with God may indeed give us strength, but that spiritual strength comes first through vulnerability and humility.

Saul is a great religious leader feared by anyone who would challenge his authority or teach against his understanding of God. He stood over Stephen with approval as the people stoned him for blasphemy because of his faith in Jesus Christ as Lord. He was on his way to Damascus to destroy the Jesus movement in that community. He was indeed a strong and powerful man.

Ananias was also a strong man. In spite of such great persecution from people like Saul, he continued faithfully proclaiming the Gospel and following the way of Christ. His understanding of the Spirit’s voice indicates a strong prayer life and a strong faith.

Two strong men with completely opposite beliefs about God and about the nature of Jesus and neither are willing to back down. An unlikely pairing to say the least. The thought of a friendly meeting between Saul and Ananias so soon after the stoning of Stephen might be comparable to Osama Bin Laden and George W. Bush sitting down for tea the week after 9/11.

Yet when each encountered the Holy Spirit, they were humbled. Saul was blinded before the Lord and became physically weak and dependent on his servants and even on his Jesus-following enemies. Ananias was challenged in his desire for self-preservation and in his understanding of who could truly be saved by God’s grace. Could there be mercy and forgiveness for one as evil and opposed to Christ as Saul, who even now was on his way to Damascus to kill Ananias and all of the believers?

Both had to admit that they were wrong about Jesus and about God’s will. Both had to admit that they had something to learn from each other and that God’s love was far greater than the hatred and fear that stood as an unbreakable barrier between religious leaders like Saul and the followers of “the Way” of Jesus.

The spiritual strength granted to both Saul and Ananias to humble themselves, set aside their fear and animosity, and sit down at the table together resulted in unprecedented church growth among the Gentiles across the known world along with the writing of nearly half of our New Testament Scriptures. This simple act of spiritual strength, of listening to God and listening to one another’s stories, quite literally changed the history of the world.

Spiritual strength is always about the strength to love… especially the unimaginable strength of loving our enemies. This kind of love demands the strength of humility, vulnerability and risk. At the bottom of this post, you will find a link to one of my favorite books, “Tea with Hezbollah.” While none of the stories in this tale involve the kind of radical conversion that Saul experienced, they do teach us a lot about what it means to sit at the table with our enemies, to humble ourselves and to risk everything just to listen to each other. And out of these humble and vulnerable conversations, the strength of the Holy Spirit shines through.

Click here to listen to entire sermon series - “SPIRITUAL”


A modern day reflection on sitting at the table with our enemies…