Titus – Training Tomorrow’s Warriors

“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.  It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.  These, then, are the things you should teach.” (Titus 2:11-15)

Like Timothy, Titus was faced with a monumental task.  Paul had left him with the people of Crete, and while the Holy Spirit had begun to work in their hearts, it was evident that the “raw material” was, well…it needed some work.

However, Paul was confident that the people of Crete were in good hands.  Oh, Titus was certainly a very capable leader.  He was entrusted with several important missions in the New Testament, and Paul had a great deal of faith in his abilities.  But it wasn’t Titus that Paul was trusting to shape the hearts and lives of these new converts, it was the Potter Himself – the Lord God Almighty.

Titus was working with men and women, young and old, who were used to a rather ungodly way of life.  The darkness of the society from which they were coming made the road of sanctification long and arduous.  And yet, this very darkness would allow the light of the Gospel to shine forth from each of them all the more brightly by contrast as they were changed and renewed by the grace of God.

The reason Paul was able to have such confidence in “drill sergeant” Titus was that he knew that Titus understood the crux and impetus of the Lord’s training regimen.  Titus was there for two purposes: 1) to share the Word of God so that those who heard it might be redeemed by the power of the Holy Spirit, and 2) to train these “new recruits” in righteousness and godliness so that they could be effective witnesses to those around them who remained yet in darkness.  Thankfully, Titus knew the importance of putting “the horse before the cart” so to speak – he understood that any change or purification was a result of God’s free grace, unlike those who were still preaching that God’s favor was gained by first amending our outward lives.

Why was this spiritual training program so important for these poor Cretans?  After all, if they were saved by grace through faith and not by their own works, why did it matter if they underwent such “purification” at all?  First of all, this change in their hearts and lives would be a natural response as a result of receiving God’s mercy.  It’s sort of like when you turn a four-year-old loose at the playground and tell her to “Have fun!” as if you could really stop her from having fun it that situation.  In the same way, when God freely bestows His grace upon us and we see all of our sin and wretchedness being washed away, the new man cannot be restrained, but breaks forth and serves the Lord in gladness.

And yet, Titus is instructed to remind these men and women of Crete what might be riding on the example of their good works and godly lives.  Again and again, Paul reminds Titus that the reputation of Jesus’ Gospel is at stake in the model of Christian life: “…so that no one will malign the word of God” (2:5); “…so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us” (2:8); “…so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive” (2:10); “These things are excellent and profitable to everyone” (3:8).

So no, we do not perform good deeds, speak in kindness and compassion, and serve in humility for the sake of our salvation.  We do these things for the sake of the Gospel message and the salvation of those around us, that through our example their hearts may be softened and plowed, ready to receive the miraculous seed of God’s Word and produce a harvest of saving faith.  That is both the reason and goal of our spiritual training here on Earth – may this training enable us to be always ready for service to the glory of our Lord and Savior.

“But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.  He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4-7)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, grant that all new warriors of Your faith may be trained and equipped for service and evangelism, inspired to serve You solely out of love and thanksgiving for Your great gift to us.  Help us to be Your faithful ambassadors here on Earth, that we may prepare the hearts of men for the Gospel which we sow; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord.  Amen.

Timothy – Being a One-Man Army

“But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.  Fight the good fight of the faith.  Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” (1 Timothy 6:11-12)

If you’ve ever felt like the expectations placed on you are too great, just consider Paul’s young friend Timothy.  Here we find a young warrior left with little ammunition in a battlefield surrounded by enemies.  Paul’s advice?  Fight hard!

First of all, Timothy was facing fearsome adversaries on every side.  All around him were men teaching false doctrines, promoting “godless myths” and sowing dissention and discord among the believers.  Paul commissioned Timothy as the last line of defense between God’s people and these heretics and blasphemers.

As if the spiritual threats of false teachers and hypocrites weren’t enough, Timothy must also face the many worldly assaults that are so prevalent in Ephesus: lies, murder, gossip, slander, sexual immorality, and all manner of illicit and illegal activity.  While combatting the lies and enticements of the heretics, Timothy was also supposed to stand firmly against the evils of his own secular society.

But that isn’t all.  For the sake of the Gospel and the reputation of the Church, Paul also instructs Timothy to carefully monitor and regulate the worship practices of the church in Ephesus.  He was to guide the lives of God’s people there, instructing everyone from the laity to the overseers and deacons on how to live and being accountable for their behavior and actions.

Feeling a bit overwhelmed yet?  Well, too bad.  Because we haven’t even mentioned the fact that in the middle of this battle zone, Timothy will have to grapple with his greatest enemy all the while.  The Devil will use Timothy’s own sinful nature against him, throwing every temptation at him to try and topple this young Church leader from the holy hill whereon he is making his desperate stand against the forces of darkness.  And it won’t be enough to simply avoid falling into sin and shame; Timothy will have to be a model citizen, a pillar of righteousness and worthiness.

Oh yes, and one more thing: there are a host of other social issues that need tending to in your spare time – everything from the treatment of widows to the attitudes of the wealthy in your church and community.  See to it that you take care of these problems for me, will you Tim?  That’s a good boy.

I don’t know about you, but thinking about all this makes me want to sit down and weep while banging my head against the wall.  How is one person expected to manage all this?  Despite the fact that Timothy must have known he couldn’t do all this perfectly, and most certainly didn’t, it still must have been a tremendous amount of pressure – truly, one man against the world.

The scary part is that you and I are called to exactly the same desperate scenario as young Timothy.  We are hard pressed on all sides by false teachings, worldly enticements, and our own sinful desires.  The responsibilities laid upon God’s warriors can be staggering at times as we constantly encounter those in need of spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional help.  There are certainly many times when it feels like “me against the world,” and this couldn’t be more true.  But as we look to the cross of Jesus Christ for strength to fight on and for forgiveness for our failures, we can be encouraged by this excellent promise from our Lord Himself and find peace in His Word:

“In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I thank and praise You for the triumph of Your Son over all the adversity I face in this life!  Grant that I may face whatever struggles I am called to confront not only with strength and courage, but also with the joy that comes from knowing You are by my side as I serve You; though Jesus Christ, my Lord.  Amen.

Apollos – Armed and Dangerous

“He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures.  He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately…he was a great help to those who by grace had believed.  For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.” (Acts 18:24-25,27-28)

Since we’re on the subject of spiritual warfare, and since this is “The Armory” after all, let’s talk a little bit about some of your weapons.

The first thing that we need to understand when we analyze our personal spiritual arsenal is that every weapon with which we have been armed is from God.  There are no exceptions.  All of our gifts and abilities come to us by the grace of our Heavenly Father, and we are to use them in service to Him.

Now I realize that you’ve worked really hard at honing your intellect, or strengthening your physical abilities, or sharpening your public speaking skills, or developing a killer talent with creative writing, or whatever else you pride yourself on being great at.  But once you start to trace the origins of your personal knacks and aptitudes, it doesn’t take long for God’s hand to clearly appear in the picture.  He planted a seed in your mind or body, grew it daily by guiding your life in a certain direction, and brought it to fruition by mercifully preserving your faculties so that you could use this gift to His glory and in service to your neighbor.

That’s one type of weapon, and these God-given/God-grown abilities can certainly be useful in battling the unbelief that is so rampant in our dark world.  But unless they are coupled with the Word of God and with the faith that is given to us through the Holy Spirit, they will never penetrate the enemy’s defenses.

The real armaments of God are undisputable gifts to us, given in mercy by the grace of a loving and caring Father.  He has caused the Word of God – our Sword of the Spirit, a weapon of keen power and flawless design – to be passed down to us through many generations by the miracle of faith in every age.  He has sent His Holy Spirit to stir up our hearts in faith toward Him, enabling us to use the many abilities we possess as munitions against Satan’s worldly onslaught.

Apollos was certainly a force to be reckoned with.  He possessed a brilliant mind.  He had been given a fine education.  He was endowed with remarkable boldness, tremendous public speaking skills, and profound powers of persuasion.  But even with all this, he would have been a useless drone if it weren’t for the other gifts of God: his knowledge of the Scriptures, his Christian upbringing and instruction, and the faith that grew out of this spiritual training.

Like Apollos, you have been given many personal abilities and gifts that could be used for a variety of worldly purposes.  Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness; invest your energies first and foremost into study of the Scriptures, prayer, worship, and receiving the Word of God and His Sacraments.  Witness the miracle as your own faith grows and is strengthened by God’s grace.  Then all that you are and all that you possess will be transformed into a weapon of Divine Light as God uses your whole person in His service.

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!  Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I thank and praise You for the many gifts and abilities which You have bestowed upon me.  I thank You most of all for the free gift of salvation through the faith that You have granted me by Your grace.  Help me to use all that I have and all that I am in service to You, glorifying You for Your great mercy and serving those around me in love; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.

Paul – The Weapon of the Enemy

“All those who heard him were astonished and asked, ‘Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name?  And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?’  Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ.” (Acts 9:21-22)

Imagine waking up to this news: Richard Dawkins, regarded by many as the world’s foremost atheist, has just converted to Christianity and is boldly proclaiming the name of Jesus.

What do you suppose would be the reaction to news such as this?  I’m sure shock and puzzlement would be the immediate response by people from all backgrounds.  There would probably be suspicion on the part of the Christian community, and perhaps even some anger directed at Mr. Dawkins.  What is he playing at?  How did this happen?  Even after the news had sunk in and been accepted, there would probably be some wondering why God would choose a man such as this instead of one of the many willing warriors already in His service.

And it would be the reaction of Mr. Dawkins’ fellow atheists that would give us the greatest clue as to the answer to this last question.  While Christian preachers, missionaries, and apologists might not hold much sway with this group, a prominent individual from among their own midst certainly would.  Indeed, many of them likely have adopted or confirmed their “beliefs” as a result of his “testimony.”  Upon his conversion, how many across the world would question their views on evolution and humanity’s place in the universe?  Wouldn’t it baffle the unbelieving world to see someone who seemed so grounded in their worldly philosophy suddenly turn to Jesus in faith?

Whether it’s Richard Dawkins or the Dalai Lama, there are certainly individuals who have the power and authority to sway the thinking of a great many people.  While I think it is sadly unlikely that either of these men will convert to Christianity, such things have happened before.  In fact, the reactions described above were just the type of response generated by the conversion of the Pharisee Saul (later to become St. Paul).

Saul/Paul went from trying to stamp out Christianity to being the most active evangelist in the history of the Christian Church.  Through the Word and the power of the Holy Spirit, God has many times taken some of the Devil’s most influential proponents and brought them into His own service.  The blood of Jesus Christ is powerful enough to forgive even the sins of those who have gone so far astray as to wage open warfare on the saints of God.

We must remember that our “spiritual warfare” is not a battle against “flesh and blood,” but an attack against the Devil’s lies that have captured so many men and women through false religions and ideologies.  We do not fight against unbelievers, but against their unbelief.  Jesus died also for them, and we have no more merit or worthiness in us than they do, except that which we have received from Christ.  It may be that the Word of God we share with them is snatched up by the birds of the air or choked out by thorns and thistles.  But then again, it may be that God has chosen them to be His instrument to those you or I may have great difficulty in reaching.

“I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power.  Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:7-8)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, send Your Spirit in power to change the hearts of unbelievers through the preaching of Your Word.  Grant that they may come to know You through Your Son and obtain the riches of His life and salvation.  Use all those who have been called to faith, that they may minister boldly and effectively to people of every background, fearlessly proclaiming Your Gospel; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.

Ananias – Preaching in the Danger Zone

“Go!  This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.” (Acts 9:15)

“Lord, you’ve got to be kidding…”

I’m sure something like this was going through the mind of Ananias when God called him to go minister to Saul.  After all, this guy was viciously hunting down the Christians, putting them in prison or worse!  He was bad news, and it was practically suicide to approach him in the name of Jesus.

Yesterday’s devotion focused on following the guidance of the Holy Spirit as He directs us to minister to people in all different walks of life.  But sometimes the High Commander gives us orders that are so absurd, so ridiculous, so dangerous, that we can’t help but second guess.

It must certainly have taken a lot of guts and a lot of faith for Ananias to go to Saul and heal him in the name of Jesus.  For one thing, he was putting his own life into the hands of a sworn enemy of the Way.  For another thing, helping this nemesis of the Church probably would not have been a very popular choice among the believers in Damascus.

Most of us probably aren’t called to witness in situations quite as hostile as this.  However, we must recognize that God can and does use very unlikely men and women to act as His chosen instruments.  Besides, we are called to bring the Gospel to all nations – even to those who may initially react to it with hostility.  We must certainly pray continually for those who boldly follow in the footsteps of heroes like Ananias, bringing the message of salvation into the “danger zones” of spiritual enmity.  We ask God to watch over them and keep them safe, and also to send His Holy Spirit to bend the hearts of those to whom they minister.

Even if we don’t face physical danger for the sake of our witness, we may still be able to relate somewhat to Ananias’ situation.  There are people in our society that many believers feel are “unworthy” of receiving the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Some men and women have done terrible things in their past, hurting or even killing innocent people.  It may not be popular – even within the Church – to show kindness to them and bring them the message of salvation after what they have done.  So we pray also that God would give us the strength and courage to bring His love even to terrible “sinners” who don’t deserve it (I know the irony isn’t lost on you…), and also that the Holy Spirit would work in all believers to foster an attitude of forgiveness and evangelism within the Church.

God’s Word is powerful.  Many times before, the roots of the Gospel have sprung forth and penetrated even hearts of solid stone.  In fact, it is these unlikely plots that often produce some of the most amazing crops!

“’Two men owed money to a certain moneylender.  One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.  Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both.  Now which of them will love him more?’  Simon replied, ‘I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.’  ‘You have judged correctly,’ Jesus said.” (Luke 7:41-43)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, give me a deeper understanding of Your righteous Law, that I may fully appreciate the vastness of my debt of sin.  Help me to boldly share the Gospel even with those who despise You and Your servants.  Watch over all those who proclaim Your Word to their own hazard.  Bless the Gospel message that they preach, that those who hear it may come to know You, through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.

Philip – Led by the Spirit

“But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.” (Acts 8:12)

I don’t think I ever really appreciated what an incredible person Philip was.  Like so many heroes of the faith, it is easy to overlook his courage and the tremendous impact he had on the early Church.

Imagine being chased from your home and driven from your own town by the threat of imprisonment or death.  Just think of all the things that would be on your mind: How will I live?  Will I ever see my friends and family again?  Can I ever go back?  Will I be safe somewhere else?  I know I can sadly speak for myself when I say that telling people about Jesus probably wouldn’t be the first thing on my mind in that situation.

But that’s exactly what happened to Philip, and that’s exactly what he does.  He faithfully and boldly follows the urging of the Holy Spirit and travels away from Jerusalem, proclaiming the Christ wherever he goes.

First, he goes to the Samaritans – the “enemies” – and finds fertile soil in the hearts of many men and women who are eager to receive the Gospel.  The power of God’s Word turns their hearts from pagan practices and witchcraft, and even Simon, the great magician, is baptized and becomes a follower.

Then, God sends Philip on the road again.  The Holy Spirit prompts him to strike up a conversation with – of all people – an Ethiopian eunuch who served as an important official to the queen.  Here he finds that the seeds of faith have already been planted through the Law and Prophets.  God has sent Philip to water this man’s heart with the good news of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  God even provides an opportunity for Philip to baptize him, opening the door for the Gospel to be spread to distant lands on another continent.

But that wasn’t the end of Philip’s incredible journey.  The Spirit leads him through other lands and villages before finally bringing him to Caesarea, where he would evangelize for decades to come.  There, Philip would undoubtedly sow the seeds of faith to many merchants and travelers, to be carried by the winds and waves throughout all the lands of the Mediterranean and beyond.

We can breathe easy, since not many of us are called to wander boldly like Philip from town to town and along dusty roads.  But the Spirit does lead us in ways just as wonderful and mysterious as it carried Philip from place to place.  In seemingly unlikely places, we are goaded by the Holy Ghost to sow the seeds of the Gospel on ground that appears, well, “horticulturally challenged.”  That’s okay; we’ve got plenty and to spare, and the Spirit bids us cast the seeds of God’s Word with reckless abandon.

By trusting in God to provide for us, we allow Him to take our focus off of ourselves and place it where it truly belongs; on the ministry He has given us.  Then we can let go and allow the Spirit to blow us where it pleases, guiding us to new and exciting opportunities to witness for our Lord.  And from there, there’s no telling where the Spirit will carry the seeds that we scatter!

“The wind blows wherever it pleases.  You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.  So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)

“Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop – thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown.” (Mark 4:20)

Prayer: Lord God, guide and direct me by Your Spirit.  Lead me into what fields You will, and help me to cast the seed of Your Word far and wide; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.

Stephen – Rejected by Men

“Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute?  They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One.  And now you have betrayed and murdered him” (Acts 7:52).

If you have ever been scorned, ridiculed, tormented, or in any other way persecuted for speaking the Gospel, then know that you are in good company.

Stephen, “a man full of God’s grace and power” who “did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people” (Acts 6:8), paid the ultimate price for his witness concerning the Lord Jesus.  While the apostles had recently rejoiced “because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41), Stephen now gains the distinction of becoming the first recorded martyr of the Christian faith.

Stephen and the other apostles discovered the hard way that sinful human beings don’t enjoy hearing God’s Word.  We (all of us) become defensive when convicted by God’s just and righteous Law.  We even resist the Gospel because it forces us to bear our souls before God and face our own wretched sinfulness.  It leaves us helpless and vulnerable, reminding us that we are powerless to achieve salvation through our own works.  We would rather exalt ourselves in the eyes of men than humble ourselves before the mercy seat of Almighty God.

Those who preach and confess the Word publicly are often met with resistance and hostility.  For the apostles, it meant torture and humiliation.  For Stephen, it meant death by stoning.  For us, it sometimes means loss of reputation or even employment.

How are we to react when our testimony is met with hard hearts and stiff necks?  We can take our cue from the great heroes of the faith who have gone before us.  The apostles rejoiced that they were permitted to suffer for the sake of Jesus’ name.  Stephen – like his Lord – forgave his murderers even as they carried out his death sentence.  We too should try to recognize that those who revile us are prisoners of darkness who need our prayers and the Holy Spirit in their lives.  God instructs us to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39) and to love even our “enemies” (Matthew 5:44).  His exhortation to take up our cross and follow Him (Luke 9:23) reminds us that our ministry to others may require personal sacrifice on our behalf.  Others undoubtedly sacrificed much to bring the Gospel to you and me, and Jesus sacrificed all to make that Gospel a reality.

In the midst of whatever suffering we are called to endure for the sake of Jesus’ name and whatever resistance we are met with, we must never forget that the Word of God is living and active.  Though our own powers of persuasion may be feeble and faulty, God’s Word is at work doing what it says it will.  In the time of Stephen and the apostles, scores of people were coming to faith in Christ Jesus – including many priests and influential Jews – despite the suffering and persecution of those who proclaimed the Gospel.  In our time, the Holy Spirit continues to work in the hearts of those who hear the words we proclaim; even in those who seem only to scorn and revile us for our testimony.  For this, we give thanks to God for His exceeding grace and mercy!

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).

Prayer: Heavenly Father, give me the strength and courage to proclaim Your Word without fear or hesitation.  Send Your Spirit to work in the hearts of all those who hear, that they may believe and live; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.

Mary – One Thing Needed

“…only one thing is needed.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:42)

“But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made…” (Luke 10:40)

Several times in the last few years, I have heard the era in which we are currently living referred to as “The Age of Distraction.”  This makes a lot of sense, given the plethora of media outlets, electronic devices, entertainment venues, and various industries that thrive by filling our spare time anything and everything to keep us busy doing something and nothing all at once.  It’s no wonder that it has become so difficult to get young people – or anyone for that matter – to focus on important issues.

But the truth is, the world has always had plenty of distractions to divert our attention away from God and what He wants us to be spending our time doing.  Honestly, it doesn’t take a whole lot.  Our sinful nature makes us predisposed to putting God last and a million other things first.  The issue here is the first commandment; giving our fear, love, and trust – as well as time, money, and attention – to God first.

It’s scary how easily we can slide down the slippery slope of idolatry.  The most frightening part is that this can even happen as we are trying to serve God.  We may feel justified in saying, “Well, I’m on the church council, teach Sunday School, serve refreshments after the service, and head up the altar guild; so I don’t think God will mind if I forget to read my Bible or talk to Him in prayer once in a while.”

But is that what Jesus wants?  “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).  In your walk with God, remember that He is primarily concerned with you.  He wants you to attend worship services so that He can work on you, not the other way around.  In His house, you sit and listen to the life-giving words of our Lord Jesus Christ, just like Mary.  You receive His body and blood through the sacrament of Holy Communion.  You receive the forgiveness of sins and are absolved of your trespasses.  God strengthens and preserves us in His Word.  We praise and serve God out of love and thankfulness to Him only after receiving the good gifts that He serves to us – otherwise we fall into the trap of trying to earn His favor by our own good works.

Martha certainly had good intentions.  However, the results of her efforts should have tipped her off the dangers she was facing.  Jesus came to bring peace and joy; Martha’s service caused her only to be “worried and upset.”  When we find that our own service to God is producing anxiety, resentment, or frustration in our hearts, we’d better take a time-out and sit down with Mary.  Listen to the Savior’s healing words.  Believe His promises.  Grow in the knowledge of His love; then return to your service, refreshed and invigorated, ready to serve Him with gladness and thanksgiving.

“He makes me to lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.” (Psalm 23:2-3)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, help me to fear, love, and trust in You above all things.  Restore to me the joy of Your salvation through the power of Your Word.  Help me to serve You with a cheerful heart; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.

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.

Ezekiel – Fighting an Uphill Battle

“You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen” (Ezekiel 2:7)

Elijah wasn’t the only warrior who God had called to a difficult ministry.  Ezekiel found himself proclaiming “mourning and woe” to the unrepentant people of Israel.  It must have been difficult to continue faithfully professing God’s Word to a hostile audience, often at great personal risk and sacrifice, especially knowing that the rebellious house of Israel would not listen.  However, God also promised to be with Ezekiel, giving him the strength and fortitude to carry out his mission: “But the house of Israel is not willing to listen to you because they are not willing to listen to me, for the whole house of Israel is hardened and obstinate.  But I will make you as unyielding and hardened as they are.  I will make your forehead like the hardest stone, harder than flint.  Do not be afraid of them or terrified by them, though they are a rebellious house” (Ezekiel 3:7-9)

Despite immediate rejection, God was working through Ezekiel in His own way and His own time, and Ezekiel’s words from God would have a tremendous impact on the exiled Israelites at a later date.  God promised that His Word would not go out in vain: “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.  Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.  They will be my people, and I will be their God” (Ezekiel 11: 19-20).  Although Israel’s guilt was immense, God would remove the stain of their sin, promising that He would “make atonement for you for all you have done” (Ezekiel 16:63).

Sometimes Ezekiel probably felt like he was preaching to a bunch of dead bodies.  Turns out, this was literally true (see Ezekiel 37:1-14).  The people of Israel had become spiritually dead.  They had detached themselves from the Living God and no longer sought life and nourishment in His Word.  Could anything restore life and flesh to these “dry bones”?  Absolutely.  The Breath and Spirit of God could come into even these decrepit cadavers and bring new life and vitality to a nation of men and women who were utterly decayed.  Although Ezekiel had been given a bitter task, the ultimate call to repentance and salvation through God’s Word was “as sweet as honey” in his mouth (3:3).

If the sweetness has gone out of your ministry, feed once again upon the honey of God’s story of salvation.  Know that his Word does not go out of you in vain.  When all you see are dry bones, speak the Breath of God and let Him raise up the mighty armies in His own time.  Though the fighting is bitter, the victory that we have through Jesus Christ is all the sweeter when we see hearts of stone being melted and hope renewed.  What could be better than that?

“As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep.  I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness…I will search for the lost and bring back the strays.  I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak” (Ezekiel 34:12,16)

Prayer: Lord God, Heavenly Father, let all those who struggle with difficult ministries taste and share the sweetness of Your Word.  Give them strength and courage to fight on, reassuring them of Your promise to make Your Word fruitful.  Empower us with Your Spirit as we breathe Life in a land of dry bones, through the resurrection of Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.