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“I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…..that He would grant you….to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith……that you may be able to comprehend….what is the width and length and depth and height, to know the love of Christ….that you may be filled with the fullness of God!”  Ephesians 3: 14-19

The church at Ephesus had its work cut out for it.  For Ephesus was reputed to be the fourth greatest city of the ancient Roman empire behind Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch.  It had a population of 300,000 and was home to one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the temple of Artemis.  The city was filled with countless pagan worshipers and festivals.

Into this den of iniquity steps Paul.  First preaching in the local synagogue, when he is rejected there, he moves to the school of Tyrannus and preaches to the gentiles.  Some, hear his message with joy and convert.  Others see his message as a threat to their way of life in worshiping and paying money for the upkeep of the temple of Artemis and try to have Paul arrested.

After three years of preaching in Ephesus, Paul had to move on.  The church, while established was still nowhere near the size of the other more established religions of the city and surrounding area.  It would seem that it would have been easy for that church to wither and die once Paul had left.  How did they have the strength to withstand the hostility, the belittling, the derision that came from them from all sides?

As a single religion, according to a Pew research study printed in 2010, Christianity is the world’s largest religion with 31.5% of the world’s population.  Yet even there, it means two-thirds of the world, does not believe, with some with an outright hostility to the message of Christ.  So while we might not be able to quite say we’re the little, just starting church like Ephesus in the first century, it does not mean that the basic message of Jesus Christ is not under attack.

For in many places around the world, any display of Christian symbols can warrant a death sentence.  Though even in places where seemingly the environment is one of more tolerance, it does not mean that Christ’s message is any more welcome. In how many places is Christ’s message concerning our falleness and need for redemption, along with His teachings of universal love, non judgement and equality for all met with a sense of derision; a sense of an antiquated message only good for the feeble-minded and uninformed?

Christ and those who call upon Christ are often mocked and ridiculed.  Christian symbols and Christian sensibilities are to be compartmentalized and segregated away from mainstream, into niche places called churches and only then on certain days of the week.  Instead we are bombarded with the messages concerning the accumulation of wealth, the glorification of sex, that almost all is acceptable as long as you don’t get caught.  Relationships and responsibilities are to only last as long as they serve some good purpose for me and then to be cast off when they get in the way of my self-possessed interest.

Where is our strength to come from to combat the messages of the world and do battle with the evil that is desired by the Prince of this world.  What exercise does it take, where do we purchase the lessons from or where do we get the degree?  What device can we buy to guide us to the place where we are to find that strength?  It is said that strength, true strength comes from within; comes from the heart.  Yet Paul makes it clear until we look without, that is to say outside of ourselves, even that inward look will be futile and only discover weakness.

Where then do we look?  Where then does our strength come from?  You know Dear Sisters and Brothers it comes from God.  Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Paul does such a wonderful job of describing it.  It starts with the connection of God’s Spirit to our spirit; the “inner man”. It is through the gift of God’s Spirit that Christ can come and dwell with us and in us in love.  That love that surpasses all knowledge gives us a sense of the entire dimensions; depth, height, width and length of Christ’s love.  Then we may be filled with the fullness of God.  A fullness more powerful than any earthly or spiritual foe.

Please note this; Dear Sisters and Brothers.  This does not come by us spending some exorbitant amount.  It does not come after years of intense academic study.  It does not come through miles and miles of arduous journey.  No, it comes simply through faith.  Through the believing in the One True God, in believing in His Son Jesus Christ and accepting that we are sinners and that He is our Savior.  In the metaphor of spiritual armor, Paul goes on to describe later in Ephesians how this strength is to be worn and used.  Yet for now, let us just revel in the mystery.  Let us rejoice in the gift of strength from the Creator of all things to His creation.  Let us, like Paul, fall on our knees and ask for the strength of God and give thanks for His faithful reply.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we are in need of Your strength.  Pour out Your Spirit into our hearts that through Your Spirit we may come to understand and rely on the Love of Christ and be filled with Your Fullness.  That so filled, Dear Father, we would go forth in the strength of the Love of Jesus Christ ever ready to withstand and defeat the forces of evil arrayed against Your People we pray.  In the Name of Your Most Precious Son Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen

“Now them who held Jesus mocked Him and beat Him.  And having blindfolded Him, they struck Him on the face and asked Him: Prophesy! Who is the one who struck you!”  Luke 22:63

Put away your sword….do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels!”  Matthew 26: 52-53

Today, we seem to be all about strength.  Countries vie over who should be called a “super power”.  We hear about strength in numbers of strength of character.  If we can tie the word “strong” into our names we proclaim that we have  virtue:  “We are ___________ strong!”  I should be strong enough to stand my ground and if you believe the same, and we disagree with each other, then the fight is on to see who is stronger.  We often beat ourselves up when we don’t have strength:  “I should have been stronger and not done this or that.”

As in so many things, Jesus shows what it is to be strong and in His example, turns the world upside down.  Jesus had seemingly been at the pinnacle of His earthly strength.  The Holy City, Jerusalem, had welcomed him with mostly open arms.  When the powers that be tried to silence Him with their questions and ridicule, His strength of knowledge and wisdom, completely silenced them.  With one word or request from Him, the crowds would have pronounced Him their king!.  What did Jesus do?  He started out with a show of private humility which some might call weakness.  He washed His disciples feet.  It seemed such an act of weakness that Peter would have none of it.  His Strong Jesus should not do that.  Then Jesus was arrested.  At first some thought to defend Him.  Jesus reminds them just who He is; the Son of God.  With one request the strength of the mob would be turned to meaningless weakness as compared to the angels who were at His beckon call.  Jesus weakly remained silent.  At any moment during His trial and subsequent execution, He had the strength to personally curse His tormentors and/or come down off His cross.  In seeming weakness, He died.  I can not imagine the monumental strength that it took to withhold His power, which would have been righteously unleashed, to strike out against the evil of His tormentors and the degradations they were putting Him through; can you?

So what good is strength if it goes unused?  Why would He find it more beneficial to seem so weak instead of striking out against the evil that was momentarily against Him?  Because Jesus had the strength of focus.  He had the power of being true to His mission.  He had the intestinal fortitude to withhold His capabilities.  Above all He knew the strength of Love.  Jesus Christ’s love for His Father kept the focus of His Father’s mission forefront in His mind.  Yet it was not just love focused above, Jesus loved us enough to go through with His mission of dying for us, to save us.  When His flesh cried out to stop the torment, His Spirit prevailed to the bitter end.

I think that is one of the reason’s that Jesus Christ’s message is a difficult one for so many.  It is the paradox that a message of such strength comes from One whose earthly history seems to be one of great weakness, of limitless untapped potential.  The enemy would love for us to focus on that weakness.  He would love us to discount the message due to our human measurement concerning the strength of the messenger.  Yet here is the bottom line.  And this bottom line is as true and powerful today as it was those thousands of years ago.  Jesus Christ Won!  Through His strength to allow Himself to appear weak, He now sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty!  All earthly kings, princes and any in power will kneel before Jesus Christ.  For several days, Jesus seemed weak.  For eternity Jesus Christ possesses the ultimate strength and victory.

So here it is.  I have a mission; we have a mission from God (I know sounds like a line from Blues Brothers but it is true).  It is a mission of love for Him and each other.  As in any mission, there is an enemy trying to defeat us.  Our enemy will want us to deny the mission, feel that we can’t accomplish the mission and/or feel that we can accomplish the mission without any help.  Jesus Christ tells us; Come unto Me, and we will be successful in our mission.  The world may very well call us weak when we bow down on our knees and ask for help.  But we know from whence our victory commeth and who will provide our strength.  My flesh may very well want to become and show off that it is earthly strong.  May it be that my spirit, connected through the Holy Spirit to Our Father Almighty, will always be stronger.  For that is where my true strenght and victory will come from.

Our Most Gracious and Heavenly Father, from Goliath, to the walls of Jericho, to the Pharisees against Jesus, you have so often showed how the powers of this world may seem invincible but are defeated by and through You.  Help us Dear Father, to rely on Your Strength and not our own, by humbling ourselves and calling upon Your Holy Name.  Strengthen us Most Merciful Father, to follow the example of Your Precious Son Jesus Christ, that there may be times when we must be weak to allow Your strength to show through us.  We praise You in that we know that You will make us victorious as You did Your Son Jesus Christ, that in that victory will gladly and loudly praise Your Name.  In the Name of Jesus Chrsit we pray.  Amen

“Be strong and of good courage……And the Lord He is One who goes before you.  He will be with you, He will not leave you or forsake you; do not fear or be dismayed.  Deuteronomy 31: 7-8

You and I, we are on a journey.  God has a plan for us but at times we may have chafed at his direction and wondered off.  In our eyes, the journey has been long and arduous.  We may or may not have seen God’s hands in our blessings along the way.  And now our promise land awaits.  In some cases we misinterpret this location as a place where we come to a terrestrial stop; our expectation may be that we have come to a place where no more effort is required.  A place where we sit back and it just all comes to us.  On the other hand, we may be in a position where we see the grandeur of the promise land that is promised to us and we are awestruck.  But we may also be struck with fear.  In an ironic mental twist, we say:  “This promise land is too hard for us to live in.  It is too good for us to be able to maintain.  We will never be able to obtain it and truly make it ours.  Leave us in the imperfection and wilderness where we feel comfortable.”

Moses is speaking to the people he has led and loved for more than forty years.  He is the prophet of the Most High God, who speaks directly to him.  God has specifically and clearly told Moses of His plan for His people and has given Moses words of encouragement to speak to his people.  They are about to cross over into a land promised to them, through their ancestors.  Moses has seen them turn away before.  But he knows, with Joshua as their leader, they are about to actually cross over.  So he pronounces those words from the Lord over them.  And those words are not just for them; they are for us on our journeys.  A promise fulfilled through the Life and Resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.

The triumph of our journey is going to take strength and courage.  Where does that come from?  The sure knowledge that God, Himself, goes before us.  We can have the sure knowledge that He is with us.  We should be filled with the confidence that His presence is not temporary for He will never leave or forsake us.  This world should hold nothing to bring us to fear or dismay.  What an all empowering, all encompassing promise.  What should be our response?  First to love.  To Love the Giver of the response, plus to love those to whom the promise is given; yes, that includes ourselves plus those who are on the journey with us.  Second, to go.  To enter the promise land, to receive the blessings given to us, to not settle for being our own gods of our own imperfect plan and existence, but to submit, in joy, and inter in to His promised land.  May it be that we grasp on to and hold on tightly to this promise.

Our Most Gracious and Heavenly Father, we are so thankful and praise Your Most Holy Name for the promise that you have given to each of us.  Through Your Mercy, You have promised to go before us on our journeys, to be with us and never leave us.  We ask that You will pour out Your Spirit upon us, that we gain strength to move forward in you, and the courage to not fear or be dismayed.  We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

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