Showers of Blessings

“Shower, O heavens, from above,
and let the clouds rain down righteousness;
let the earth open, that salvation and righteousness may bear fruit;
let the earth cause them both to sprout;
I the Lord have created it.”  ~Isaiah 45:8

 

“April showers bring May flowers.”

I think these words give us hope as we stare out the windows at the early springtime weather. It’s wet, gray, sloppy, and at times simply depressing out there. So we have to remind ourselves that the current dreariness will soon produce the beautiful and abundant fruits of the earth. God’s blessings for tomorrow often come in the form of cold and bitter rainstorms.

In our personal lives, it is often the same. I know there have been times in my life where I was very angry with God over some temporary pain, loss, or disappointment – only to feel the sting of shame later when I realized how God was bringing about incredible blessings in my life through that same event. Scripture tells us that affliction leads to perseverance and eventually hope. Strangely enough, none of us jump up and down and get excited when affliction comes our way.

Heavy rain certainly reduces visibility. We tend to be so self-centered and short-sighted that we immediately become blind to the many, many other present blessings that God continues to shower down on us, even as we shake our fists at Him for our current discomfort. Our heads are hunkered down against the stinging cold of adversity, forgetting that it is the same rain that will bring forth fruitfulness, life, and abundance in the near future – but also pushing away all thoughts of other comforts and joys that are ours through God’s grace.

Perhaps this is our present state as we feel a certain amount of disgust toward our culture and society. We get frustrated and depressed over the Godlessness and immorality in our country, and forget the fact that God has graciously preserved our ability not only to worship Him openly, but to speak freely and challenge the empty philosophies of secularism. As we despise the humanistic notions that are running rampant around us, we lose sight of the many joys, comforts, conveniences, and luxuries that we so richly enjoy in our country. And who knows, but that this current shift in culture is not the rain that will moisten the earth and provide the perfect setting for the seed of the Gospel to sprout and flourish in the hearts of millions?

Occasionally, there will be rain showers; financial difficulties, health problems, frustrations and dilemmas in future planning. But we know that in all these things, God is faithful to the work which He has begun. We stay mindful of the hope we have of the growth occurring just below the surface, which will soon spring forth in splendor as God’s Word blossoms in our community and country. And we do not lose sight of the many, many blessings that He continually bestows upon us; the faithful members of our congregations and families, the devoted friends and neighbors, the beautiful children of God who have been entrusted to our care – and most of all, the life and forgiveness we have through Jesus Christ our Savior.

What a blessing it is to be allowed to tend this patch of earth!

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”  ~Isaiah 55:10-11

Prayer: Heavenly Father, bless Your Word as it goes forth in our communities, our nation, and throughout our world.  Grant that the seed which is sown will fall upon fertile soil, that the harvest be one of hope in the righteousness won for us by Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.  In His name we pray.  Amen.

The Parable of the Foolish Branch

Text: John 15:1-17

Once upon a time there was a great Vine with a very foolish branch.  One day this foolish branch was thinking about how strong and thick he was, how green and shiny its leaves were, and how plump and juicy fruit always grew on its stems.  Seeing all this, he decided that he didn’t need the Vine anymore.  So he cut himself off from the Vine and set off on his own.

The foolish branch experienced all kinds of wild, exciting things in the days to come, and he knew that he had made a very wise decision.  After all, these were experiences he had never had before, in places he had only dreamed of visiting.  He felt sorry for all the other branches back in the vineyard, stuck firmly in place, rooted to the Vine.  Oh, if only they knew what they were missing!  A wave of superiority flooded over him as he compared his newly enlightened lifestyle with the boring, mundane life of his old friends.

However, these new experiences were taking their toll on the foolish branch, which he soon began to discover.  His delicate leaves weren’t used the abuse of gallivanting all over the countryside, and he noticed after some time that his foliage wasn’t quite as thick as it had been when he was attached to the Vine.  Many of his fine, shimmering leaves had fallen or been knocked off during his adventures outside the vineyard.  He wisely concluded that he would just have to be more careful – but this was no crisis too terrible for one such as him.

At first, the foolish branch didn’t even notice the parching thirst that came over him – he was so distracted with all the fun he was having away from the Vine.  He was not accustomed to this lack of water.  All his life it had constantly been supplied to him through a constant and invisible mystery; but that was when he had been attached to the Vine, and its distended veins allowed the sweet, life-giving liquid to flow steadily into him.  But now, his few remaining leaves lost their sheen, growing dry and brown around the edges.  The foolish branch knew that he must find a water source on his own if he was to survive, but without the strong, deep roots of the Vine, this was proving very difficult indeed.  When he finally did manage to locate a filthy little mud puddle, he was shocked to learn that the healthy veins that had connected him to the Vine were steadily closing up, as though an invisible firebrand had cauterized the place that had once secured him to life and health.  The foolish branch became worried.

As the branch trudged along, no longer reveling in the liberty and excitement of his enlightened lifestyle, he stopped to rest against the fence behind the barn.  Peering across the field, he saw something strange; the vineyard workers carried sad, dilapidated bundles of something brown and twisted.  Squinting, the foolish branch recoiled in horror as he realized what it was; it was the branches that year after year produced no fruit and had been cut off from the Vine.  When he had seen them last, they looked healthy enough; true, they had no fruit on their stems, but their leaves had been green and lustrous as his own…

He looked down at himself and almost withered on the spot.  He was no longer bearing even the slightest bit of fruit.  His leaves were wilted and dried up.  Everything about him bore a striking exactitude to the branches now being carried by the vineyard workers, to…where were they taking them?  The branch’s eyes were drawn toward a thick billowing cloud of inky black smoke on top of the hill.  His eyes continued to follow the workers as they approached the burning heap, stopped, and promptly cast the great burden into the waiting flames!  The horror, the shock of seeing it sent the foolish branch reeling.  What was he doing here?  Why did he leave the Vine in the first place?  Who did he think he was?  He was a branch, grown to produce fruit – not amble about the countryside idly enjoying the sights!  There was only one thing to do; he must produce fruit, and now!

The foolish branch thought that perhaps he could produce fruit on his own, without the Vine.  Yes!  That’s it!  The branch hunkered down where he lie and squeezed with all his might.  He pushed and grunted and heaved, but it was no good.  He suddenly came upon the terrible realization that he had no idea how to produce to a single grape.  Sure, he had produced thousands before, while still attached to the Vine, but back then it had just sort of…happened.  Now, now that he must perform this feat for himself or be destroyed, it was simply impossible.  The same life-giving waters that the Vine had poured into him had been the very source of the nutrition that produced each and every grape on his stems.  He realized now that – by himself – he had never been able to produce any fruit to begin with.

Parched, wilted, and despairing, the branch crawled its way back to the Vine.  He could see, well up the Vine, the very place where he had cut himself off from life.  The spot was healed over now.  Even if he could reach it – which he knew was impossible – there would be no way to be grafted back onto the Vine at this point.  He was as good as dead.  He lay down on the ground and waited for the inevitable – when the vineyard workers came and made their rounds, picking up the dead branches to be cast into the fire.

Toward evening, he heard steps approaching.  The footsteps stopped just next to where he lay.  He felt himself being slowly lifted from the ground, saw the bundle of brown, twisted, fruitless branches a few yards away, and waited to be tossed atop the pile.  But something happened then that he wasn’t expecting.  As gentle hands turned him over, he found himself looking at no mere worker; it was the face of the very Gardener Himself.  The Gardener just looked at him; looked at him for a long while with a very sad, compassionate look on his face.  He then nodded to himself, took a knife out of his pocket, and trimmed away the crusted surface where the branch had once held onto the Vine.  What was he doing?  The foolish branch looked on apprehensively as the Gardener reached out to his own Vine, the Vine he had loved and cared for all these years, and sliced into the surface of that Vine directly where the branch had cut itself away.  The branch could have cried out for pity’s sake – don’t hurt the Vine!  It’s my fault!  I was the fool!  I deserve the fire!

The branch didn’t understand what was happening, but watched with shame and sorrow as the sap poured out of the Vine which had been wounded because of him.  The Gardener continued to work, pressing the now clean surface of the branch to the freshly-wounded Vine, grafting the branch back in its very own place.  He bound the foolish branch there with strong and gentle cloth, working with care and diligence.  The foolish branch felt life flowing back into it once more through the wound of the Vine.  In time, his leaves began to green once more and luscious fruits ripened and filled on his stems.  And the once-foolish branch never again forgot that this miracle was only possible because of the ever-sustaining Vine and the love and sacrifice of the Vine and the Gardener.


 

My friends, it is a very dangerous thing to cut ourselves off from Jesus, the true Vine.  We know that in Him, and in Him alone, is found life and salvation.  Yet we neglect His Word, always finding something “better” to do with our time than read the life-giving Scriptures.  We fail to pray, to call upon him in praise and thanksgiving, to put our every sorrow and need into His loving hands, opting instead to face the impossible in our own feeble power.  We stray from our worship habits, relishing Sunday mornings as “our own time,” and not even noticing the slow withering of our leaves and the decay of our fruits as we distance ourselves from the Church that would feed and nourish us with His Word and Sacraments, cleansing our sinful wounds through the confession and absolution of sins.

We, like the branch, are all fools.  We go our own way, looking for excitement and adventure even at the very cost of our own destruction.  We cannot produce any good work that is pleasing to God apart from Jesus, for Jesus is ultimately all that matters in this world.  We cannot even take credit for the growth of our faith, just a branch does not decide to grow itself, but starts as nothing and grows up out of the Vine, by its power and discretion.  And when we fall away, it is only through the caring, gentle hands of the Father that we are brought back to life and salvation through the True Vine, Jesus Christ, who poured out His own blood on the cross that we might live in Him and through Him.

May Jesus sustain and nourish you always through His Word, and may you always rest in the loving hands of God the Father.  Amen.

Dissentions and Factions – By Schisms Rent Asunder

“I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.” (1 Corinthians 1:10)

The army of saints is most effective in spiritual warfare when we move as a single unit under one Lord and General.  Part of our training process is learning to fight side by side with other Christians in humble submission to God’s Word, rather than each faction, congregation, or individual insisting on “having things my way.”

But aren’t doctrinal issues serious enough to warrant thorough study of the Scriptures and – if need be – diligent discussion and debate among God’s people?  Of course.  Can Christian brothers and sisters pursue the teaching of God’s Word in truth and purity without becoming weakened and divided?  Absolutely.

Even the apostles disagreed upon certain issues.  The disciples didn’t always “get it” when Jesus would reveal to them a certain facet of heavenly truth.  Does this mean that they weren’t united?  For all of the frustration that Jesus must have had to deal with in teaching His twelve students, He yet confessed that He was united with them – even at the end of His earthly ministry, while they still did not understand the basic mission that He had come to accomplish: “For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them.  They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me…I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world” (John 17:8,14).

Faced with His hour of suffering and ultimate victory, Jesus knew that the unity of the Church today would be a vital part of carrying the message of that victory into the world.  He even spent his last precious moments before being arrested and taken to die praying for us – the Christians of today – that we would be united in Him:

“I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.  May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me.  May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23)

Even as we engage in debate and discussion concerning the Scriptures, Christians of all synods and denominations can find unity in the love of God through Christ Jesus.  The Holy Spirit further equips us against the dangers of factions and dissensions by giving us powerful weapons; the joy of salvation through Christ alone; patience, kindness, and gentleness as we lovingly respond to our Christian brothers and sisters; the inexpressible comfort and peace that comes from knowing that God has loved all of us enough to send His Son to suffer and die for our sins.

Onward, Christian soldiers.  Be one in spirit and purpose, united in our assault against the prince of this dark world.  Let our love of God show in the love that we direct to those around us, humbly walking hand in hand – even when we don’t see eye to eye.

“I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing.” (1 Timothy 2:8)

“Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace.  And the God of love and peace will be with you…May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (2 Corinthians 13:11,14)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, send Your Spirit in power and unity upon Your Church.  Bless us through diligent study of Your Word, that we may come to know You ever more deeply.  Grant that all of Your children may work steadfastly for Your kingdom, united by Your love and the peace that we have in the forgiveness of sins; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord.  Amen.

Kindness – Ready, Aim, Fire!

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)

While Christians can take courage knowing that God has bestowed upon them the most excellent spiritual armor, we also ought to be mindful of the fact that evil often comes thoroughly defended and fortified as well.  So let’s talk for a little bit about an offensive weapon that God has armed us with – one that can pierce the shell of darkness with a concentrated demonstration of pure love, penetrating deep into the hearts of those we seek to serve.

When trying to touch the hearts of unbelievers or fellow Christians with whom we are at odds, we are often met with thick walls and heavy armor.  Envy, rage, malice, suspicion, doubt, fear, hatred, and unbelief – all of them are weapons of darkness that hold protective qualities of their own; measures to “protect” the host against the Gospel message or against spiritual unity and cooperation.  Sometimes, before we can witness to these individuals or render service to them, we must break down the barriers that Satan has erected between us through his clever use of worldly motives or our own sinfulness.

Kindness is the battering ram of love.  It is the armor-piercing arrow that can cleave Satan’s defenses and allow our love, our service, and our witness to enter the heart of the one before us.  Sometimes our kind words and deeds will need to be showered upon a person in a prolonged barrage as we spiritually lay siege to their hearts.  It may be days, months, or even years before we see their defenses fall, allowing us to come into their lives with God’s love (and ours).  Other times, a single act of kindness may be the silver bullet that shatters the barrier erected between us, opening the door to a relationship of service and evangelism.

Thankfully, the power to use this incredible weapon does not come from within our own sinful hearts – it comes from God.  It is the power of God’s love through Christ Jesus that enables us to forgive others in our hearts and pour our love and kindness upon them despite lingering feelings of tension or resentment.  If kindness is a battering ram, it is God’s power that pushes it; if an arrow, He is the bow and the hand that draws the string.  All we have to do is take aim.

We all know people who need to hear the Gospel but resist any attempt at witness.  We all have people in our lives with whom we just don’t seem to get along very well.  Pray to the Father that He would empower you through the love and forgiveness you have in Christ Jesus to show kindness to these people today.  Pray that He would soften their hearts to receive your entreaties.  Then take aim and let the Holy Spirit do His work as the kindness you shower upon them removes Satan’s defenses from between you, opening the door for witness and Christian partnership like never before.

“For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.  But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.  Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.” (James 3:16-18)

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, empower me through Your love to forgive my neighbors.  Provide opportunities for me to show kindness unto them, demonstrating Your love by my words and deeds; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.

Bartimaeus – Have Mercy on Me

“When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’” (Mark 10:47-48)

It must have been a motley crew following Jesus that day.  Among the crowd were Jesus’ disciples, as usual, staying close to their teacher and trying to learn whatever they could from Him.  There were, no doubt, a great many who were there to be healed of their sicknesses and demons.  More than likely, a fair number of them were following Jesus to glean from His wise sayings.  And of course, there were probably the ever-present Pharisees out to trap Jesus or try to prove Him wrong.

It’s funny how little times change.  Large crowds still follow Jesus, and it seems they are every bit as diverse today as they were two thousand years ago.  Naturally, Jesus’ modern-day disciples are among the crowd, still trying desperately to understand and hold fast to His teachings.  Then there are those who follow Jesus thinking He’s a bread king or a magic formula for health, financial success, or self-actualization.  Others today follow Jesus because of His wisdom, seeing Him as a moral teacher and no more.  Or they pursue Him for historical research, or as an interesting archaeological specimen, or as a juicy piece of material for their next movie or documentary.  And still others tag along because they can’t stand Him, and are waiting for an opportunity to argue Him out of the way.

And what about Bart?  Poor, blind, begging Bartimaeus wasn’t even able to join the crowd following Jesus around.  So what does he do?  He calls out to Jesus using the single most effective plea in all of Scripture: “Have mercy on me!”

Of course, this doesn’t fit with the rest of the crowd’s desires and expectations of Jesus.  There are plenty of “Shooshers” there to try to silence Bartimaeus, but he just calls out all the louder.  And you know what?  Jesus stops, turns, and calls him to Himself.

After all, Jesus wants to hear exactly what Bartimaeus is calling out for: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  Finally, someone who yearns for what Jesus came to give!  As it turns out, blind Bartimaeus saw who Jesus is more clearly than anyone else in the throng.  The proof?  Well, what does Bartimaeus do after Jesus heals him?  “Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.” (Mark 10:52)

Jesus will always pick that voice out of the crowd – the one that cries out to Him, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  That’s exactly what He’s listening for.  Until He reaches out and touches us with His merciful hand, we cannot really follow Him; at least not the way He wants us to.  As He heals our spiritual blindness and forgives our wretched sinfulness, He also enables us to walk with Him.  May we be the voice that leads everyone in the crowd to join in the plea: “Have mercy on me!”

“This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles.” (Psalm 34:6)

Prayer: Lord God, have mercy on me, a sinner!  Remove my blindness that I may walk with You always; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.

The Centurion – Just Say the Word

“Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.  But just say the word, and my servant will be healed.” (Matthew 8:8)

If anyone in Jesus’ day understood the meaning of authority, it would be an officer in the Roman military.  Perhaps it was the centurion’s position as a subordinate of more powerful commanders that gave him the sense of humility to confess his unworthiness before Jesus.  While it would have been easy for someone of his rank to become conceited and arrogant, he recognized that there were many others in the hierarchy of power who were above him – and he saw clearly that Jesus was over them all.  Being confronted with the kind of authority that was over his commander, his general, and even his emperor, the centurion is convicted of his own guilt and publicly professes that he is not fit to be in the Lord’s presence.

And yet, the centurion can relate to Jesus’ authority in one respect – he knows what it is to command: “For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me.  I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes.  I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it” (Matthew 8:9).  The centurion knows that his orders will be followed swiftly and obediently by his men.  But he also knows that his own authority has its limits.  While he can order his servant to “Do this” and the servant will obey, it won’t do any good for him to tell the servant, “Rise,” “Be healed,” or “Your sins are forgiven.”  Only the Word of power spoken by Jesus has the authority to accomplish these tasks.

It’s strange how the Roman centurion treats Jesus with the utmost respect and humility, while we ourselves often feel like we’re pretty big stuff – like we’ve been such wonderful Christian people that God owes it to us to grant this favor or answer that prayer the way we want.  In fact, this was the very mindset of those who came to Jesus on behalf of the centurion: “This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.”  But the centurion himself rebutted: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.  That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you” (Luke 7:4-7).  Like the centurion, we need to know our place.  We make humble requests, not haughty demands.

But the greatest thing we can learn from this Roman centurion lies in his model of faith for us.  Although he knows that he is completely unworthy of Jesus’ love and healing power, he appeals to Him in faith.  He trusts Jesus’ power so much that he is satisfied by His Word alone.  While many in his position would have expected the honor of such a dignified celebrity’s personal appearance, the centurion is blessed with faith that believes the power of Jesus’ Word without the necessity of seeing Him in person. (John 20:29)

The centurion’s faith – a faith which believed the promise of the Word without signs and without making demands – was able to amaze even the very Son of God.  As we are convicted of our own guilt and unworthiness through the Law, we can approach God for healing and cleansing from sin with humility and penitence.  As we trust in the promise of forgiveness through the Word, the Spirit works in our hearts to produce this same amazing faith – a most gracious gift from our merciful God!

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, give me the meekness and humility to accept the censure of Your Law and the faith to humbly trust the promise of Your Gospel, through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.

The Paralytic’s Friends – Whatever it Takes

“When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’” (Mark 2:5)

If you’ve ever had a really close friend who was sick or injured, you know how hard it is to see them suffer.  Most of us would be willing to do almost anything for the sake of helping someone we love.  Imagine for a moment that one such person to whom you are very close is suffering from a terminally debilitating condition, and that an individual who could immediately heal them was close at hand.  What would you not dare in order to get this friend into the presence of that healer?

Now imagine that this friend of yours suffers not from a mere physical ailment or disease, but from a spiritual plague that is eating away at their very soul and threatening to cause eternal death.  Their condition worsens daily, and at any moment they could pass the threshold of physical death, where their malady would be beyond anyone’s help.  What would you not dare to get this person you love into the presence of the One who is able to heal him?

It’s strange how our hearts become overwhelmed with pity for the physical suffering of those around us, and yet we all know friends, relatives, or neighbors whose souls are in critical condition.  If any of these people were physically dying, we would be willing to carry them on foot for miles to whatever specialist was available, go to great lengths to attract the personal attention they need, and pay whatever price was demanded for their treatment.  But often, we neglect to get them the necessary spiritual treatment because we are ashamed, embarrassed, or reluctant to cause tension in our relationship with them.

The paralytic’s friends loved him very much.  They knew that only one person could heal him and restore the use of his legs.  And so, they were willing to do whatever it took to get him into Jesus’ presence, trusting in the merciful Lord to heal him.  What they didn’t realize is that Jesus came first and foremost to remove our spiritual disease of sin – a much more serious condition than even paralysis – and that they all needed His medical attention.  He then restored their bed-ridden friend’s physical capacities in order to show everyone present that He had the power and authority to remove even the most aggressive strains of humanity’s sinful disease.

If you have a friend or relative who is suffering from sickness or physical adversity, by all means bring them to the Lord in prayer for strength and healing.  But also realize that sometimes physical ailments are just what the Doctor ordered for our spiritual sickness.  Pray more so that God would use whatever adversity they are facing to bring them closer to Himself.

If you have a loved one whose spiritual health is on life-support, the best thing you can do is to take a lesson from the paralytic’s friends: Do whatever it takes to bring them into Jesus’ presence.  Then, trust in His mercy to heal and restore them.  Your job is not to work the miracle – but you can remove the barriers and bring them face to face with their risen Lord.  Only by Jesus’ grace, power, and authority will they arise and walk once more with Him.

“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we bring before you all those who do not know the joy of Your forgiveness.  Bend their hearts that they may turn to You in repentance and faith, receiving redemption and salvation through Jesus Christ, You Son, our Lord.  Amen.

Daniel – The Repentant Leader

“The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him” (Daniel 9:9).

Daniel is often honored as one of the greatest warriors of the faith in the Old Testament, and for good reason.  He faithfully served and honored God even under pagan rulers who were hostile to believers.  He turned the hearts of some of the most powerful leaders on earth toward God and paved the way for the Gospel to be spread quickly and received with faith even in foreign lands – think of the magi from the east and many, many others who would remember the God of Israel when the apostles spread the news of Jesus’ death and resurrection abroad.  He endured extreme tests of faith, even being cast into a den of ravenous lions, and was honored by God and angels as “one high esteemed.”

But more than anything else, Daniel deserves to be called a hero of the faith because of his keen understanding of the duty of spiritual warriors – to call sinners to repentance and salvation.  Daniel’s prayer in chapter nine is perhaps one of the most beautiful passages in the whole Bible.  Feeling the weight of sin under which God’s people are suffering, Daniel falls before God and pleads for mercy:

                “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands, we have sinned and done wrong.  We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws.  We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name…[we] are covered with shame because we have sinned against you.  The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him…Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant…We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy.  O Lord, listen!  O Lord, forgive!  O Lord, hear and act!  For your sake, O my God, do not delay…” (excerpts from Daniel 9:4-19; read the whole passage there!)

Daniel’s wonderful prayer echoes in our churches today.  In keeping with the true line of faith heroes, our pastors and leaders turn our hearts to God – not only for temporal relief, but especially for forgiveness and cleansing.  Daniel knew that earthly and eternal salvation rested with God alone, and that the merciful Lord will not ignore the pleas of those who fall before Him.  In fact, Gabriel even tells Daniel, “As soon as you began to pray, an answer was given” (Daniel 9:23).

Like Daniel, we serve God best when we cry out to Him with contrition and repentance for ourselves and on behalf of our people.  The greatest leadership we can provide is the act of ultimate humility; to confess our sins and iniquities and place ourselves in God’s merciful hands.  When we hear the promise of forgiveness and salvation through God’s Word, we can be at peace with God.  We are strengthened in faith and enabled to rise and glorify Him through works of love:

“Again the one who looked like a man touched me and gave me strength.  ‘Do not be afraid, O man highly esteemed,’ he said.  ‘Peace!  Be strong now; be strong.’” (Daniel 10:18-19)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I praise You for Your unending mercy and love for sinners like me!  Bend the hearts of all mankind to turn to You in repentance, that they may receive strength through faith unto life everlasting; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord.  Amen.

Josiah – Facing Bad News with Faithfulness

“Josiah removed all the detestable idols from all the territory belonging to the Israelites, and he had all who were present in Israel serve the Lord their God.  As long as he lived, they did not fail to follow the Lord, the God of their fathers.” (2 Chronicles 34:33)

Hearing the words of our country’s top politicians lately has left many Americans yearning for a return to Godly leadership.  Unfortunately, our government officials haven’t exactly been striving for a morality that follows God’s Law.  We need to continue praying for faithful leaders who will direct this nation in the way of the Lord, asking Him to send those who will reform the evils of this land.

Josiah was the kind of king that the faithful remnant had been praying for.  Already at the age of sixteen, he had started down the path of a rock-star reformer.  2 Chronicles 34:3-7 is just a fun passage to read: Josiah the warrior-king, smashing the pagan altars and chopping down the false gods, crushing the wickedness of idolatry wherever he trod.  The God-fearing people of Judah must have wept with joy as he led the people back to the Lord and ordered that His temple be restored.  And then…they found the Book of the Law.

I’m sure Josiah had known that the people had not been doing what was right in God’s eyes, but he never imagined how utterly short they had fallen of God’s demands until now.  He tore his royal clothes and immediately sent messengers to the prophetess Huldah.  They returned shortly:

Josiah: “Well?  What did she say?”

Shaphan: “Well, my liege, we have good news and bad news…”

Josiah: “Hmm, better hit me with the bad news first.”

Shaphan: “Huldah says that all of Judah is going to be destroyed because of the wickedness of our fathers.  Jerusalem will be completely destroyed and all the people will either be killed or carried off as slaves.”

Josiah: “That’s terrible!  Well, what’s the good news?”

Shaphan: “You’re going to die, so you won’t have to see how bad everything will get.”

Imagine; Josiah had put his whole heart into reforming the kingdom and turning the people back to God, only to hear that everything he’s done will be destroyed soon and his life will be taken from him.  Most people would react to this news with anger, resentment, and despair.  How does Josiah react?  “The king stood by the pillar and renewed the covenant in the presence of the Lord – to follow the Lord and keep his commands, regulations and decrees with all his heart and all his soul, and to obey the words of the covenant written in this book” (2 Chronicles 34:31).

Josiah doesn’t question God’s judgment.  He doesn’t curse at Him for this “unfair” pronouncement of doom.  He doesn’t even despair of all the good that has been done in Judah, but rather redoubles his efforts in leading the people with Godliness and humility.  He celebrates the Passover with joy and festivity, and leaves the people with an imprint on their hearts of God’s mercy and love before being gathered to be with Him.  Perhaps it was Josiah’s faithful example that gave the remnant the hope they would need to get through the coming ordeals of destruction and exile.

Unlike Josiah, we don’t know what the future holds for our country, our world, or even our own family.  But even if we did, and even if it looked really terrible, would that be a reason to despair?  Or would we be like Josiah, and rejoice with great gladness in all that the Lord has done and all that He’s promised yet to do?  Would we leave a Godly example for the remnant that would follow us?

I’m not sure if Josiah knew that it wouldn’t be long before those in exile would see Cyrus deliver them out of bondage and exile; and then the true Messiah, Jesus Christ, deliver them from the bondage of sin and death as well as exile from God.  But He knew that God was faithful, and he was saved from despair and despondency by his faith in God’s promises.  We cling to those promises yet today, for they are our hope and salvation, and our strength in the face of dark times.

“I called on your name, O Lord, from the depths of the pit.  You heard my plea: ‘Do not close your ears to my cry for relief.’  You came near when I called you, and you said, ‘Do not fear.’  O Lord, you took up my case; you redeemed my life.” (Lamentations 3:55-58)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, hear now the cries of our nation for leaders who will faithfully guide us in Your truth.  Forgive the many sins of our people and redeem our country, that we may be a city on a hill and light to all the nations of the world; to the glory of Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord.  Amen.

Samuel – Growing with God

“And the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favor with the Lord and with men.” (1 Samuel 2:26)

Warriors don’t generally appear overnight.  They usually undergo years of training and preparation to become the fighting machines that will eventually defend the weak and the innocent on the battlefield.  Resplendent knights started out as mere pages in their youth, working their way up as squires and finally being dubbed worthy to bear arms in the king’s name.  For the greatest warriors of all time – men like Sir Lancelot, Gawain, and Galahad – this process began early in life and remained intensive well into knighthood.

Hannah’s little boy Samuel was dedicated to service to the Lord from before the time he was born.  His training undoubtedly began under her prayerful guidance, becoming even more rigorous after he was placed in the care of Eli the priest.  Surrounded by corruption and villainy, Samuel’s early training gave him a head start on the path to becoming a great warrior of the faith.  Already as a young man we find him turning the hearts of the Israelites back to their true God, ridding them of the degenerate lifestyles and pagan idolatry they had been practicing for years.

Samuel’s training regimen consisted first and foremost of hearing the Word of God and preaching the Word of God.  Like Samuel, we can train to be spiritual warriors by daily opening God’s Word and saying in our hearts, “Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.”  And when we base our own words on the sure foundation of God’s Law and Gospel, we can be confident that God will be with us (1 Samuel 3:19).

Samuel’s life as a faith warrior shows us the importance of teaching our children and youth God’s Word from a very early age.  It also shows us that our training program of prayer and Scripture must continue throughout adulthood so that God may continue to develop our faith and even use us as guides and instructors for the next generation.  Then we can join with Samuel and other veteran warriors of the faith in proclaiming:

“As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you.  And I will teach you the way that is good and right.  But be sure to fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you.” (1 Samuel 12:23-24)

Prayer: Gracious Heavenly Father, bless my training as Your faithful warrior.  Help me to remain steadfast in Your Word, ever listening with a contrite heart.  May the words of my mouth and the deeds of my hands be a guide and model of Your precepts for others in their training.  Let me consider the great things You have done for me, but especially the greatest thing of all – sending Your Son Jesus Christ to die for my sins and rise again in triumph, bringing life and salvation to all who believe.  Continue to arm me with this Gospel and equip me with faith to serve You, through Jesus Christ.  Amen.