Simon Peter – Because Jesus Said So

“Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.  But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” (Luke 5:5)

If you’re a parent, you’ve probably uttered these words at least once in your lifetime: “Because I said so, that’s why!”  This phrase is usually spoken in a tone of impatience, disgust, or even contempt.  After all, that we even needed to employ those words in the first place means that someone doesn’t trust us; they don’t see us as an authority worthy of respect, and we feel inclined to point out that the very fact that we told them to do something ought to be reason enough for obedience.

Simon, James, and John weren’t just a group of fishing buddies out throwing some casts and knocking back a few beers on a lazy Saturday; they were professional fishermen who spent nearly every day of their lives on the lake, trying to make a living.  They undoubtedly knew the times, locations, and tactics used to catch fish better than anyone, and they also knew where the fish simply weren’t going to be.  These guys were experts.

So when some carpenter comes along and starts giving them advice, it probably would have been easy to get somewhat miffed.  They’re tired from working hard all night long and probably a little crabby at the fact that they have nothing to show for all their effort.  Now some layman wants to come along and tell them how to do their job?  Most of us probably would have said, “Get lost, buddy!”

But Simon Peter catches himself as he starts to point out the obvious facts to Jesus.  He recognizes Jesus’ authority, even if it doesn’t seem to have any logical bearing on the present situation.  He announces, “Because YOU say so, I will let down the nets.”

We tend to think that we’re experts on a lot of things, even matters of spirit and ministry.  We know all the “right” ways to witness, all the best “fishing holes” for finding hearts with fertile soil for the Gospel seed, and just the right times to “let down our nets” and let the Gospel do its work.  But sometimes God calls us to cast out the net of His Word in situations that really don’t seem all that promising.  We look at the deep waters of a thoroughly secular society or a firmly atheistic acquaintance and say, “God, there’s nothing in there to catch.  I’ve worked all through the night in some of the ripest fields, trying to bring Your Word to sinners, and I’m tired of fruitless efforts.  Just let me go home and rest, mend my nets, and maybe another day I’ll try that part of the lake.”

Many times, we are called to bring the net of God’s Word to the fish.  But just as often, it seems, God asks us to let down the net and let Him bring the fish to us.  When we trust His authority and take Him at His Word, we will be amazed as we see the boat of the Church being filled with schools of people coming to faith by miraculous saving grace.  So cast away with reckless abandon, throwing your nets into whatever waters God directs you to – because He said so.  Even with all your skill and knowledge as a fisher of men, you will still get skunked every time without the Spirit’s help.  Let the One who created the lake and everything in it guide you to today’s catch!

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Prayer: Lord God, guide me in my ministry today.  Give me the faith to heed Your calling and proclaim Your Word wherever You direct me to do so.  Give me the courage to let down the net of Your Word, even in the deepest and darkest of waters.  Bring the multitude of those who do not know You safely into the boat of Your church, unto life everlasting; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord.  Amen.

Malachi – Sounding the Wake-up Call

“My covenant was with him, a covenant of life and peace, and I gave them to him; this called for reverence and he revered me and stood in awe of my name.  True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips.  He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and turned many from sin.”  (Malachi 2:5-6)

Tell me when this starts to sound familiar:

The people of God had become lukewarm and complacent.  They felt like worship and duty to God were a burden; a task to be performed without love or joy.  They gave to Him out of obligation, but only the dregs and the leftovers.  They complained that God did not reward them for their “faithfulness” and only prospered the wicked.  They longed for God to come with fire and judgment to destroy the “sinners.”  They no longer respected God’s servants, but despised the priesthood.  They turned to pagan peoples and culture for happiness and fulfillment rather than abiding steadfastly in the One True God.  They quarreled and broke faith even with their spouses, endangering the Godly upbringing of their youth.

Many churches today are stressing the importance of “relevance” in their ministries.  That’s fine and good, but if you cannot see the relevance in the plain and simple Word of God, then something is seriously wrong.  I’m afraid that there are those who turn to other more worldly sources because they feel that Scripture is “dated” and “out-of-touch” with people today.  And yet, is there a single item in the above paragraph with which our society cannot perfectly relate?

Malachi made it quite “relevant” to the Israelites, as well as to us today: When we regard worship as a “burden” and offer to God only the leftovers, we dishonor His name and show a lack of love, trust, and devotion to Him.  When we despise God’s Word and those who proclaim it, we can’t complain when the world despises and humiliates us.  When we break faith with God and abandon His ways, how can we expect to reap the fruits of abundant life that He promises as a result of following Him in faith?  And God certainly will come to judge the sinners; so beware!  Our hypocrisy itself accuses us, for we have fallen far short of the Law’s requirements: “Now implore God to be gracious to us.  With such offerings from your hands, will he accept you?” (Malachi 1:9)

The question for our churches today is, how can we make “the rest of the story” relevant as well?  Will we, like the faithful remnant in Jerusalem, turn to God in repentance and place our lives at the mercy of His promise?  “Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard.  A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name.  ‘They will be mine,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘in the day when I make up my treasured possession.  I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him” (Malachi 3:16-17).

Thankfully, our Heavenly Father has a Son who has served Him perfectly, living a life that fulfilled the fullness of the Law and dying on our behalf.  In compassion for Jesus Christ’s sake, God will spare us even though we have flouted His commands, neglected His worship, broken faith with each other, doubted His justice, and wished for vengeance upon the “ungodly.”  We revere His name by trusting in His mercy and placing our faith in the promise of salvation through forgiveness by His grace!

“But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings.  And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall.” (Malachi 4:2)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, forgive me for the many ways in which I fall short of honoring You.  Help me to put You first in my life by glorifying You in all that I do and by serving my neighbor.  Bring me at last to be with You forever for the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, my Lord.  Amen.

Haggai – Encouragement and Caution

“’Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work.  For I am with you,’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt.  And my Spirit remains among you.  Do not fear.’” (Haggai 2:4-5)

The prophet Haggai had been sent to the people of Israel to stir them up into action.  They had been delivered from exile and returned to their homeland, only to look first to their own affairs rather than trusting God and honoring Him by rebuilding the temple.  Their fear kept them from following His Word – fear that He would not provide for their needs.  Also, they became complacent; satisfied with themselves because they figured that by simply inhabiting the Holy Land once more they themselves were now holy.

First of all, God reminds these people through Haggai that nothing can succeed without His blessing, and nothing can fail with His support.  No matter how hard they worked the land, it would never produce in abundance if God Himself did not provide the harvest.  God had kept the land from being bountiful because the Israelites needed to understand that success in anything starts with God alone.  So He told them, “Work! – do those things that will serve and honor Me, and don’t worry about having ‘enough’ of everything else!”

This word of encouragement is true enough for us today.  As we worry about the economy and fret over personal finances, retirement funds, and a well-stocked pantry, God’s work is pursued half-heartedly at best.  We say, “I’d love to give more, but I need to take care of myself and my own family first.”  God says, “Let Me worry about the future, and you do what is needed today.”  We say, “I’d give more time to God’s service if my life weren’t so busy.”  God says, “Put away these foolish idols and live abundantly by walking with Me daily.”  We don’t have to fret over the future and fear for our well-being, because “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)

Along with this encouragement, Haggai brought a message of warning to the Israelites:  Living in the Holy Land does not in itself make you holy.  Holiness requires faith in the mercy of God to forgive and redeem, purchased through the sacrifice of innocent blood.  While “uncleanness” spreads easily from one vessel to another through contact, holiness does not; it requires direct contact with the sacrifice itself.

As Christians gradually become more and more worldly, we have a tendency to think we are made holy by our membership in a certain church or by our attendance record at worship.  We somehow believe that our relationships with the ungodly are a great service – that our own “holiness” rubs off on them.  We think, “I’ll change them; I’ll show them how they ought to live.”  The truth is, our own holiness comes not from anything we ourselves are or do, but only from the Sacrifice – the One Sacrifice for the sin of the world, Jesus Christ.  The holiness we have is a garment from Him, and it will not rub off on others simply by rubbing elbows with them.  They need direct contact with the Sacrifice – they need to know Jesus.  If this is not the crux of our interaction with them, chances are more likely that their “unclean” thoughts, words, and deeds will simply infect our own lives.

As we set to doing the Lord’s work first and foremost – telling the world about what He has done for us in Jesus Christ – we will reap a greater harvest than ever before.  We will sow peace, hope, and love, and gather more joy, more goodness, and more earthly and eternal blessings than we would have ever thought this dusty land could produce.  Rather than emptying ourselves into a defiled world and becoming infected with sin, we will bring anything unclean into the presence of God’s Atoning Sacrifice where it can be made pure and holy.  God’s Spirit is with us yet today; He will give us the courage and strength to do this.

“’Test me in this,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.’” (Malachi 3:10)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I thank You for blessing me with wealth enough to meet all my bodily needs and much, much more – help me to use it to further Your kingdom and tend to Your sheep.  I thank You for blessing me with an able mind and body, with health and well-being – help me to use my life in service to You and to my neighbors.  I thank You most of all for the blessing of righteousness and holiness through the atoning sacrifice of Your Son – help me to bring everyone I meet into contact with Him, that they too may be made pure and holy through Jesus Christ, my Lord.  Amen.

Hezekiah – The Godly Leader

“Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel.  There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him.  He held fast to the Lord and did not cease to follow him; he kept the commands the Lord had given Moses.  And the Lord was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook.” (2 Kings 18:5-7)

Based on the verses above, it would be easy to get the false impression that life for Hezekiah and his kingdom was a proverbial bowl of cherries.  After all, “the Lord was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook.”  How could we expect anything less than a peaceful, prosperous golden age under such a leader?

Hezekiah certainly was successful in all that he did, and the Lord most certainly was with him.  But we sometimes define success differently than the Lord does.  Hezekiah was tried and tested constantly throughout his reign, making his faithfulness to the Lord even greater.  He was forced to deal with the consequences of his father’s sinful and rebellious actions.  His kingdom was attacked repeatedly, since in his allegiance to God alone he cast off the yoke of tribute to the surrounding kings.  Judah was plagued by severe economic woes brought on by years of corruption and heavy taxation.  The people were entrenched in pagan practices and idol worship.  And Hezekiah himself was afflicted with a terrible illness, suffering agonizing symptoms until he came to the point of almost certain death.

When we look at this portrait of Hezekiah’s life, it seems at first glance as if God really wasn’t with Hezekiah at all, but rather against him.  Why would God let such a good and faithful servant-leader suffer such things?  But the truth is there was no other king quite like Hezekiah because of the very fact that Hezekiah faced such awful tribulations and yet remained firmly rooted in his faith.  He trusted God to deliver him from each of these troubles, and God was faithful to do so.  Though tempted to “take matters into his own hands,” Hezekiah repeatedly turns to God, putting his own human wisdom aside and placing his faith in the Word of the Lord.  God faithfully saves Hezekiah time and again, bringing success and prosperity to the country,  miraculously slaying 185,000 Assyrian soldiers without a single warrior of Judah raising a weapon, and even reverting the prophesy of Isaiah by bringing life and healing to the dying king.

What greater measure of success could there be than faithfully abiding in God’s promises despite the sorest affliction?  For this, God honored Hezekiah with earthly distinction above all other kings.  We, like Hezekiah, must never fail to put our trust in God alone for our salvation as we struggle against our own doubt, despair, and unbelief.  To do so is to honor God, and He in return promises an eternal reward.

“Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer.  I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days.  Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Revelation 2:10)

Prayer: Lord God, I thank You that just as you delivered Hezekiah from all his enemies, so too have You delivered me from sin, death, and the Devil, through the death and resurrection of Your Son, Jesus Christ, my Lord.  Grant me strength to honor You by faithfully trusting in His victory throughout all of life’s trials, by His grace.  Amen.

Elijah – The Whispering Warrior

“Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.” (1 Kings 18:37)

Elijah was an enormously important hero of the faith.  Like Shemaiah and others before and after him, Elijah faithfully proclaims God’s Law as well as demonstrates His loving Gospel.  Elijah pronounces divine judgment on Ahab and the rebellious Israelites throughout his ministry.  Yet, God also uses him to bring life and healing to many along the way, demonstrating the extension of His covenant beyond the children of Israel to all the world.

Despite the incredible things God does through him, Elijah sometimes becomes frustrated with the apparent lack of results from his ministry.  His spiritual warfare against the darkness in Israel seems to culminate at the epic battle of Mt. Carmel where Elijah calls down fire from heaven and puts the false prophets to the sword.  But even this glorious triumph is short lived, being quickly swallowed up in seeming defeat through the queen’s return to hostility and idolatry.  Elijah quickly flees for his life, then prays for God to let him die.

As Elijah lies there at his lowest point, defeated, depressed, and bereft of all hope, God reaches out and gently touches him.  He gives Elijah the daily bread that he needs to sustain his weary body and spirit a little longer.  Then He does it again.  God continues to sustain Elijah for forty days as he struggles through a spiritual wilderness, questioning God and struggling with doubt and despair.

How easy it is for God’s warriors today to find themselves wandering the same spiritual wasteland!  We look at all that we’ve fought for and done for the Lord, and then look at the world around us and wonder, what’s the use?  We run away from the battle and away from God, ready to give up completely.  And in times like this, our loving Father comes and gently touches us.  We turn, and behold, the Bread of Life, baked over the coals of atonement!  This daily Bread and the Living Water comes to us miraculously from God, through His Word, and it is enough to sustain us as we wander through the desert of our own doubt and despair.

We come at last to a mountain – the mountain of God’s covenant.  And we say to God, “I’ve kept my end of the bargain, why haven’t You kept Yours?”  Like Elijah, we are looking for God to sweep through our nation in a mighty wind, to shake the foundations of secular society by a thundering earthquake, or to purge the evil of this world in the consuming flames of His mighty wrath!  If we were God, that’s how we’d do things.  We would smite the evil-doers with bolts of judgment!  We would come down from that cross and show those mockers who God really is!…

…But our God is really the God who stayed on the cross until death, scorning its shame, and rising again in triumph only after full atonement was made on our behalf.  His greatest triumph over the enemies of His children came not in a fiery blast from heaven, but in the dying whisper of His holy, innocent Son: “It is finished.”

Sometimes God calls warriors to be instruments of impressive displays of His power by worldly standards.  Miracles do happen; God does reveal Himself at times through fire, and the blind see again, and the lame walk, and the dead live once more.  But it is the still, small voice of His Word that effects the greatest miracle of all.  The fire of the Holy Spirit comes upon those who hear it.  Their eyes are opened to God for the first time.  Then then walk in faith as a new creation, made alive in Jesus.

God calls His warriors today, equipping them with that gentle whisper, and assuring them that it does not go out from them in vain.

“The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.” (Isaiah 40:8)

“So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, nourish and sustain me always with Your Word.  Give me wisdom, courage, and patience, that I may faithfully be a still, small voice in a world of darkness and noise.  Bless Your Word as it goes out from my lips, through Jesus Christ, Your Son.  Amen.