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.

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.

John the Baptist – Preparing the Way

“And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.” (Luke 1:76-79)

John’s mother, Elizabeth, certainly “got it” when it came to God’s plan for salvation and what the Messiah was all about.  Zechariah, her husband, shows that he also understood exactly how God saves His people and what it means to be a hero of the faith.  He proclaimed that John, his son, would prepare the way for the Lord by telling the world of God’s forgiveness of sins through His great mercy.  As John prepared the way for Jesus’ ministry, he was preparing the people around him for the Way – Jesus Christ, the only Way to the Father.

John the Baptist’s ministry is summed up nicely in the Gospel of John: “He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe.  He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.  The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world” (1:7-9).  John could certainly have made a big deal out of himself, but he faithfully and humbly used all his resources to point everyone he met to the coming Messiah.  In a time when the Jews were looking for a political leader who would lead them once again to military and economic dominance, John rightly testified to the people what the work of Jesus Christ would really be – to suffer and die on their behalf, as a Lamb with blemish, for the forgiveness of their sins.

There may be no better hero of the faith than John the Baptist, because he shows us exactly what Christians ought to be doing in order to have an effective ministry.  John spends his days doing two things; preaching repentance and forgiveness, and baptizing all who come in faith.  He humbles himself before God and loudly proclaims Jesus as the only source of life and salvation.

As Christians today find themselves in spiritual deserts with parched souls around them thirsting for Living Water, they too can take up John’s mantle and “make straight the way for the Lord.”  We can prepare the hearts of our neighbors and communities to receive God’s Word by what we say and do.  We can correct in love and gentleness, calling our nation and our world to repentance and holding out to them the free forgiveness of sins won by God’s Son.  We can testify concerning the Light of the World and act as a lampstand to hold that Light up for all to see.  That is still what we are called to do as God’s heroes of the faith.

“Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!…I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:29,34)

Prayer: Lord, help me to faithfully prepare the hearts of those around me, so that You may enter into their lives with life and forgiveness, through Jesus Christ, Your Son. Amen.