What is powerful? Nations will talk about their military might. Others may speak of heavy equipment that moves earth or lifts massive weights. We might think of tornadoes, hurricanes, and flood waters. All of these certainly are powerful. However, yesterday I experienced again the most power force on earth or in heaven. The power of love. Yesterday was the final service I conducted at my congregation, followed by a wonderful luncheon. The church was full of dear members, family, and friends. Emotion was certainly there, but the power was the power of love, of God’s love, that enfolded and bound each of us together as one. All other powers are simply forces that work on the outside of a person for good or ill. Love changes hearts and shapes lives at the deepest part of ones being. Jesus had changed all of us who were gathered, as He has changed countless lives through two thousand years since He walked this land. People search for love in many places, but too often find only poor counterfeits or pain. Our God is love, and He is continually extending Himself to us. The shed blood on Calvary’s cross is the most powerful, life-giving, loving act there is. And it was given and shed for you. Come.
We had the opportunity yesterday to visit our son-in-law’s naval base and tour the aircraft he works with. As with much of military hardware it is a massive and complex piece of machinery. It had systems for surveillance and powerful weaponry. Everything about this system and others we saw portrays power and ability. These are necessary systems in a dangerous world. It just strikes me how much in contrast this is to the message we proclaimed last week. The truth that we are a helpless people in need of the redeeming love of our Lord. Of the two we believe this is by far the greatest of the messages, and the one that has eternal and not just temporal value. In spite of the present need for the first, we seek to live out the love of Christ in daily actions, and long for the time when this physical power will no longer be needed.
The Assyrians were preparing to attack Judah. King Hezekiah encouraged the people saying, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him, for there is a greater power with us than with him. With him is only the arm of flesh, but with us is the LORD our God to help us and to fight our battles.” (II Chronicles 32:7-8) The Apostle John will repeat this many years later saying, “You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. “(I John 4:4) The heart of our faith is in trust of our Lord who is over all, and who “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, … to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:16-21) We don’t know what is before us, but we walk forward holding our Father’s hand, knowing that He is more than able to meet all of our needs.
Love is the strongest bond on earth. Perhaps rivaled only by hate, but let’s consider love. I know of families who have serious difficulties with a child, or one spouse with another. It may be physical or behavioral, and it may last for ten, twenty, or more years. Yet they do not quit. Love keeps them seeking, serving, working, praying, hoping year after year. It is the true picture of Paul’s verses in I Corinthians 13. “Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”(vss.7-8) I expect you know of or have lived such situations. The truth we see in all of this is, if we can love in such a way how much more does our Heavenly Father love and continue to seek after us. A beautiful hymn penned by George Matheson in the 1880s expresses it so will. “O Love that wilt not let me go, I rest my weary soul in thee; I give thee back the life I owe, That in thine ocean depths its flow May richer, fuller be.” That love was demonstrated in its perfect depth on the cross of Calvary. That is God’s love for you this day.
We’ve had a few day down with our daughter in Virginia Beach. This was the weekend of the air show at the Oceana Naval Air Station. The Navy Blue Angels and other aircraft were performing various demonstrations. At the center of the demonstrations were the capabilities of the F18 Super Hornet. This is an incredible machine. With 40,000 lbs. of thrust from two jet engines it performs fantastic maneuvers. It was a real demonstration of the kind of power man can create. The Apostle Paul talks about power also. In a letter to the Ephesian Christians, Paul tells them he prays that God “may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”(3:16-17) He uses the same Greek word for power that engineers would use for the F18, but there is something very different working here. He is speaking of God working in the depth of the human life to change and guide that life. This is quite a contrast, but it brings out a vital point. The F18 is a great product of the power of the human mind creating a massive physically powerful machine. But unless God’s power is at work to change and guide the use of mind and machine no good can come of it. The air show was a lot of fun, but it should also cause us to ponder deeper things as well.
We are impressed with powerful things – a great earth mover, 400 horsepower under the hood, a football team’s front four, military might, and so on. And we certainly believe that our God is all powerful. He can do anything He chooses, any time He chooses. But He always has a habit of turning our concepts of reality up side down. The greatest power of God is displayed in His love, and in forgiveness. He has shown it to us by His bloody body hanging on a cross. We find that same power as His nature is at work in us. Self giving love and forgiveness have the power to change hearts, heal long festering wounds, and mend relationships. Love and forgiveness can change us and those around us for all eternity. No earthly power can do that.
Our power was out for a few hours over night. Usually not a big deal since we were sleeping anyway, but I was still concerned because we depend on a sump pump to keep the basement dry. Having had it flood twice before when power was out, I didn’t want to see it again. Well, it did come on after about three hours with no problems. I’ve been in Tanzania twice where power is often on half a day at best, and your never sure which half. We become so accustomed and dependent upon our electric power that we find ourselves at a real loss without it. Whether we realize it or not there is another power upon which we are absolutely dependent, the sustaining grace of our Lord. He determines the length of our days and hold our very breath in His hands. And this says nothing of the prayers we continually offer looking to Him for care and help. If we would ever be separated from His power that would be a clear and total picture of hell. I am thankful for our near 100% availability of electrical power, but I worship the One who has never withdrawn the power of His sustaining grace from us.
Jesus always does things backwards! He talked to the Pharisees, respected scholars of their day, and called them hypocrites and empty tombs. He said if you want to be a leader, you need to be the servant of all. To be first you have to be last. He just didn’t get it. He didn’t understand about power and prominence in this world. Or maybe He did. Maybe He really saw how hollow and superficial all the things we hold up as goals to strive for really are. Maybe that is why He spent His time with the tax collectors and sinners. There was no pretense win them. They knew they were weak and needed His help. And they received it. The ones who come to Him empty are sure to be filled with His living water.
In our fallen human nature, the hardest concept for us to learn is that of true power. Ask anyone what is power, and they will likely point to those with wealth, influence, or physical strength. When there is an injustice we want to see the super hero come and set things right. We even want to see our God act this way. We know our God is all powerful. So, zap those evildoers! Give them what they deserve! But that is not the true power of God. In the fifth chapter of Revelation there is a picture of Christ before the throne of God. He is seen as “a Lamb as thought it had been slain…”(5:6) The picture is that of a slain baby lamb, the very weakest of the weak, and yet the greatest, most powerful of all. True power is seen in the self sacrificing love hanging on a cross in a place called Skull Hill. This is the greatest power because it, alone, can change a person heart. Human power can control outward behavior and thought, but only the true power of God can touch the deepest part of man’s being, and that for all eternity.
We are impressed with powerful things – a great earth mover, 400 horsepower under the hood, a football team’s front four, military might, and so on. We certainly believe that our God is all powerful. He can do anything He chooses, any time He chooses. But He always has a habit of turning our concepts of reality up side down. The greatest power of God is displayed in His love and forgiveness. He has shown it to us by His bloody body hanging on a cross. Self giving love and forgiveness have the power to change hearts, heal long festering wounds, and mend relationships. Love and forgiveness can change us. As it does, we are able to give the same to others. The power of God’s love and forgiveness will change hearts for all eternity. No earthly power can do that.