In His Presence

Sir Robert Stopford commanded a ship in the Royal British Navy at the end of the 18th century. He himself was under the command of Vice Admiral Lord Horation Nelson. Nelson’s fleet was in pretty bad shape; their ships were battered and low on munitions, the food was nearly gone, and the fleet they were pursuing was almost twice the size of their own. Despite these difficulties, morale was unusually high.

When asked about this phenomenon, Stopford replied, “We are half-starved and otherwise inconvenienced by being so long out of port, but our reward is that we are with Nelson.”

The men fighting under Nelson knew the danger they were heading into. They knew that no amount of money could tempt them forward nor recompense what they were about to face. There was only one thing that made it all worth while: They were with Nelson.

Friends and fellow warriors, we know that constant difficulties and hardships will beset us as God’s children. The world does not want to hear the message of Christ crucified for our sins. In some places, Christ’s disciples are mocked and ridiculed. In other parts of the world, they are treated with no less hostility that He himself was when He walked on earth. The path of discipleship is not an easy road to walk. Tragedies and heartache abound in this life; our struggle often leaves us feeling weary, battered, and on the verge of despair.

We can certainly find comfort in the words, “Great is your reward in heaven.” And yet, we have comfort even in the trials of today as we go forward into the uncertain future with the resolve to stand by our Commander and Chief, bearing the full armor of God and wielding the Sword of the Spirit.

We are with Him.

Whatever difficulties we will face are nothing compared to the reward of being in Christ’s presence throughout our fight. He comes to us in His Word, as we hear it preached by faithful servants and as we read it in our homes. He comes to us in Sacrament, as we receive His very body and blood in His supper and as we remember the marks put upon us in our baptism. He comes to us through those who fight alongside us in this spiritual battle, promising that even in those who seem to be least in the body of all believers, indeed, there He is.

Of all the hardships we face, morale should never have to be among them. We have our reward, and it is not a distant, far-off future promise. We hold it in our hand and clutch it to our breast as we recall his words, “Behold, I am with you always.”

Our reward is that we are with Him, and that He is with us.

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation.  But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Prayer: Heavenly Father, grant us the peace that comes through knowing that Your Son has defeated our enemies of sin, death, and the devil.  Be with us in our struggle against the world and our own sinful nature.  Let our joy be ever in You, through Jesus Christ, Your Son.  Amen.

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.

Drunkenness, Orgies, and the Like – Indulging Sinful Sensuality

“Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” (2 Timothy 2:22)

Our sinful nature constantly wages war upon us.  Our selfish will defies God’s good decrees and vainly seeks temporal pleasures instead.  The corrupt flesh holds such power over us that we willingly forfeit true peace and lasting happiness for fleeting physical gratification.

One the one hand, as redeemed children of God, we deeply and sincerely desire to serve and glorify Him for the great gift of salvation He has given us through His only Son, Jesus Christ.  But on the other hand, our wicked impulses drive us to flout the commands of our great God and Father, bringing shame and trouble upon ourselves and rendering our ministry flimsy and hypocritical at best.

We know that our own good works have no power to save us – that victory is complete and final, by the power of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and triumphant resurrection.  And yet, as God’s chosen warriors in a world filled with darkness and despair, we earnestly yearn to please Him through thankful service that extends the fruits of His love to those around us.  Paul tells Timothy that “cleansing” is necessary if the Christian soldier is to be set to serve: “If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work” (2 Timothy 2:21).

Paul doesn’t say, “Do this in order to be saved” – he says, “Do this in order to serve.”  What child in a loving family doesn’t wish to please his or her parents?  What student wouldn’t want to please and honor his wise, kindly teacher?  What noble soldier wouldn’t willingly go above and beyond the call of duty for a faithful and caring commander who has saved the lives of his men time and again?

Perhaps you, like many others, long to do what is pleasing in the eyes of God, but find that your sinful flesh often gets the best of you.  Some may even be at a point where they find very little desire to do what God wills, and are wondering what that means for their spiritual state.  In either case, the answer can be found in the same place: the Word of God.  The Law convicts us of wrongdoing, guiding and directing us in the way we should go.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ shows us that God has taken our sins and placed them upon the cross of our Redeemer, making us free from the terrible eternal consequences of our sin and releasing us from the power it holds over us here and now.

If you desire to be prepared to serve God as a loving child, a faithful student and a noble soldier, turn to God’s Word for the weapons of faith.  In an amazing, miraculous way, the Holy Spirit equips us with all of the spiritual armaments we need to fight evil wherever it may lie; in our world, in our nation, in our community, in our household, and in our own hearts.  Through weapons like the love, peace, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control which the Spirit imparts through the Word, God adds to the joy of our salvation by showing us true meaning for our lives in service to Him.  And when faced with the most deadly attack that can be directed at our souls – the ugly accusations of Satan himself over our failures – our defense is in much more capable hands; it rests securely upon the breastplate of Christ’s own righteousness and the helmet of His salvation.

“The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:8)

“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.” (Titus 2:11-14)

Prayer: Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me – help me to know the fullness of Your love and mercy, that I may ever serve You joyfully; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.

Sexual Immorality, Impurity and Debauchery

“It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God…For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5;7)

Sexual immorality is a “twice threefold” attack on our souls.

First of all, it comes from three different fronts.  It can be one of the most common temptations we face from our sinful nature – and one of the most difficult to overcome.  Mind, spirit and flesh often work together against us to draw us into this uniquely powerful sin.  While battling this temptation within our own hearts, we face constant bombardment from a society and world obsessed with perversion and sensuality, making the struggle that much more difficult.  And the Devil is ever on the prowl, ready to use our own weakness and the corruption and permissiveness of a promiscuous society against us by very intentionally leading us into sexual temptation.

Not only is the threat of this temptation threefold in how we are drawn into sin, but also in the effects this sin has on our life.  For one thing, sexual sins open the doors to all kinds of other rebellion and disobedience: deceit, anger, jealousy, slander, and violence to name just a few.  Not only that, but the earthly consequences of sexual sins are generally unparalleled: broken relationships, lack of trust, personal shame, loss of reputation, diseases, and even murder.  Furthermore, sexual sins have the tendency to wreak havoc on our relationship with God as we try to hide or justify our wrongdoing from Him and others, slip further and further into sin and guilt, and eventually reject the need for forgiveness or despair of the hope of His mercy.

There is no denying that this six-headed monster is one of the most powerful foes we face in our daily spiritual warfare.  So what advice does God give to His brave warriors for when they encounter this deadly adversary?

Run.  Flee.  Retreat.  Hightail it out of there.  As Adam Clarke said, “If you parley you are undone; reason not, but Fly!”  Scripture tells us plainly, “Flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18); “Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22).

Which of God’s spiritual weapons can help us to escape this fiend and beat a hasty retreat?  Which armaments will best protect us and keep us from being cornered by this beast in the first place?  As Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians, self-control is an obvious choice for warriors who find themselves embattled with this particular temptation.

So how do we develop self-control in the context of lust or sexual temptation?  Love is the key – not the “love” that we find in modern romance novels and movies (a mere pretext for infatuation and sexual desire), but the selfless love that God teaches us by His own example.  Setting our hearts and minds more on God and less on earthly desires, pleasures, and pursuits goes a long way in avoiding such carnal lusts.  Seeing our neighbors (especially those who have the potential to become the objects of our sexual desire) as God’s precious children and our brothers and sisters in faith will also help us to interact with them within the framework of God’s will rather than our own perverse cravings.  If we truly seek what is good, right, and holy for their sake and put our own wants behind us to genuinely serve them, we will be proof against the combined attacks of Satan, the world, and our own sinful nature.

As Paul reminds Timothy (see above verse), the breastplate of righteousness is also particularly useful against sexual temptation – not only to ward off the Devil’s attacks as we live just and holy lives in God’s sight, but also to defend us from the despair we might face in our failures if we did not have Christ’s own righteousness.  The shield of faith can also block the fiery lies and accusations of the Devil as we look to God’s grace alone for our salvation.  Keeping our feet fitted with the Gospel of peace can help us to be ever ready to flee from earthly temptations and prevent us from stumbling or being swayed by our own sinful passions.  Equipped with these arms, we can escape the threefold ambush of sexual immorality, defend ourselves from falling, and strike back against an evil that rages out of control in our dark world.

“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?  You are not your own; you were bought at a price.  Therefore honor God with your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” (Proverbs 4:23)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, help me to live a pure and holy life, filled with goodness and self-control.  Forgive me for the times when I have failed, and grant that I may look at others only as objects of Your love and serve them with a pure heart; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.

Spiritual Self-Defense

“He will not let your foot slip – he who watches over you will not slumber” (Psalm 121:3)

When I look at my self carefully, I don’t always like what I see.  I see a self that constantly wants to do what God in His love forbids.  I see a self that relies on its own powers and abilities instead of trusting the Lord.  I see a self that is sinful, arrogant, and weak.

I see a self that needs defending.

It’s some comfort to know that I’m not alone in this assessment.  In fact, St. Paul came to the same conclusion when he looked at his self: “So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.  For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.” (Romans 7:21-23)

So much for comfort.  If St. Paul couldn’t defend his self from the attacks of the world, the Devil, and his own sinful flesh, then I figure I’m pretty much toast.  I know Paul called himself the “chief of sinners” and all, but let me you – there are days when I think I could teach him a thing or two about being a sinner (and not in a good way).

It’s fairly evident that if my self is going to be defended against evil, it had better not be left up to me to get the job done.  I haven’t the strength to resist even the pettiest temptations and attacks that Satan throws at me.  So, who you gonna’ call?  “I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from?  My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:1)

St. Paul came to the same conclusion: “What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25)  Thankfully, it isn’t up to ourselves to defend our selves in our spiritual self-defense.  My self is protected against all evil by the One who has already rescued me from sin, death, and the power of the Devil.

We may be able to delight in God’s law as we see the inherent goodness and holiness of His will for us, but we could never live up to its requirements, so it brings only death.  But through the power of the Gospel, the Law has been fulfilled and we are saved from the dreadful consequences of our failure.  God’s love, shown though Jesus’ death and resurrection, not only justifies us before His judgment seat, but it also transforms our hearts through the Holy Spirit, empowering us to live as His children and disciples.  And yet our defense doesn’t come from self; it comes from God through Christ Jesus.

In the coming devotions, we will examine many of the individual ways we are attacked spiritually in our walk with God.  Praise be to God that through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, we are daily enriched in faith, strengthened in will, and renewed with the drowning of the Old Adam in us so that we can stand firm against the Devil’s assaults as we minister to the world.

And even so, we will stumble; we will fail to live perfectly and will allow many thrusts, jabs, and slashes to get through our defenses.  But underneath, we have the ultimate protection – the cloak of Christ’s own righteousness that renders us immune to the accusations of the Evil One.  In His incredible mercy and grace, God uses even our failures to testify to His power and goodness through the free forgiveness we have in Christ.  Be blessed by this knowledge, and let it defend your self against all evil.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, teach me to delight in weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties.  Give me grace to always point to Your love and forgiveness in every situation.  Strengthen and defend me against all the attacks of the Devil, that I may always honor You before men; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.

Self-Control – Fortified Against Evil

“Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control.” (Proverbs 25:28)

Benjamin Franklin tried to be a moral man.  He decided one day that he was simply going to stop sinning.  After all, he was an intelligent man, possessed of a spirit of unusual industry and determination.  He knew what society considered to be moral flaws, and he knew exactly how and when he was falling victim to various vices.  So he set up a schedule of these flaws and vices, from least serious to most grievous, and went to work eliminating them from his life one at a time.

He didn’t get very far, I’m afraid.  He began to realize that human nature is exceptionally weak, and as soon as he would move on to conquering a new vice, the “old” ones would flare up again.  His own power was insufficient; the walls of his personal self-control were too thin and frail to stand up against the barrage of attacks from the world, the Devil, and his own sinful flesh.  Perhaps this is why he periodically gave up the “morality” struggle, turning – in later years – to various indiscretions and even trying at times to redefine which things are “moral” or “immoral.”

As Christians, we have many reasons to be sad about our sins: the awful price exacted upon our Lord to pay for our redemption; the estrangement from God that results from our sin; the dishonor to Christ’s name and the weak, flimsy testimony that often results from our sinful words and actions.  Our “inability” to control our sinfulness hurts everyone.  It becomes even sadder when we realize that it isn’t an “inability” at all – we continually choose to do evil despite God’s intervention: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.  And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

The amazing, incredible news is that all of these depressing facts about sin shouldn’t be cause for despair in the life of a Christian – they should be cause for rejoicing!  God has always known the rebellious hearts of His children, and yet He sacrificed His own Son to provide a way out for us.  In light of this glorious truth, we can be strengthened and fortified in our faith.  If our salvation was up to us, we would either despair over our complete failure or insanely deny any wrong-doing.  But because Christ has paid for all of our sins, we are freed to fearlessly love and serve God and neighbor.  His love for us fortifies our self-control, protecting us from the many threats and temptations that assault our faith each day – including the temptation to despair over our sins or disbelieve God’s promises.

No doubt about it, self-control is an important weapon of faith in our fight against the Devil and the world’s darkness.  The love of God through the Gospel of Jesus Christ has the power to produce in us what the Law could not – hearts and minds ready and willing to serve in thankfulness.  The walls of self-control that faith erects around us will thwart the attacks of the Devil as he prowls around in frustration.  These walls can serve as a welcome refuge to all who flee the misery and ruin of a world that has been ravaged by sin and sensuality.  From behind these walls, we will fight on against all spiritual assaults, trusting only in Jesus’ name for the final victory.

“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.  Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.  For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.  For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.” (2 Peter 1:3-9)

“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.” (Titus 2:11-14)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I thank and praise You for freeing me from my sins and restoring me in love to Yourself.  Protect my faith by granting me self-control, that I may be able to resist the temptations of this world and serve as an effective witness to Your grace; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.

Joy – The Best Defense

“The joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10)

It’s certainly no secret that one of the best defenses a Christian has against the attacks and troubles of this world is the tremendous joy that comes from the righteousness and salvation granted by Christ Jesus.

And yet…too often we recklessly venture forth stripped of our joy, weak and vulnerable to the Devil’s lies and the wearisome burdens of everyday life.

There isn’t anything wrong with the armor, that’s for sure.  Ask Paul and Silas, who – armed with the joy of the Lord – turned a seeming defeat at the prison in Philippi into a smashing victory for the Gospel through their joyous prayers and praises.  Ask any of the noble martyrs, whose joy in the Lord enabled them to face even death boldly, witnessing and testifying to the love of God even as they received the fulfillment of their hope.  Yes, joy is the best defense – and it seems that it can serve as a very effective offense as well.

So what’s my problem?  Maybe I’m not strapping it on tight enough; I tend to forget the incredible reality of all the riches Christ has delivered unto me through His death, and without the “belt of truth” my joy and my armor crashes around my feet.  Maybe I just carelessly venture forth without bothering with armor at all, figuring I’ll wait until “things get really bad” to arm myself with the hope and joy of my salvation – then get so wrapped up in winning the battle through my own strength that I don’t find an opportunity later to don my protective gear.  Maybe the flimsy enticements of this world seem to offer more joy than the adamantine Good News of the Gospel, and I stupidly look to shallow, empty worldly pursuits for my strength, joy, and defense against Satan.

I think sometimes we Christians look at our salvation as something far off in the distant future, so we miss out on the joy that it brings for us today.  Like Marty McFly in Back to the Future, we’re “not thinking fourth-dimensionally!”  We forget that the salvation Christ has won for us through the cross is already a reality for us today, here, now! – despite how things appear to us in our present situation.

It’s sad how we can find strength and consolation in the midst of a difficult work week by eagerly anticipating the weekend to come, and yet fail to find the real joy of Jesus’ triumph over every problem in this life.  When compared to the joy we have through the Gospel, all of our troubles and difficulties seem utterly insignificant – even pain and death.  By clinging steadfastly to this joy, we can trust God and avoid the temptations of seeking worldly “happiness” through the transitory pleasures and false securities of this fleeting life.  And as others watch us laugh as the Devil’s attacks bounce harmlessly off our impenetrable armor, they too can see the strength and power of the Gospel and find refuge in the joy of the Lord.

“Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:8-9)

“Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, guard and protect me through the sure knowledge and joy of Your salvation.  Let my joy be evident to all, that they may see the fruit of Your Spirit within me and come to know the joy I have in the hope of eternal life; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.

Love – The Strength to Fight

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

1 Corinthians 13 begins a beautiful exposition of one of the most powerful weapons at our disposal in our Christian witness and an essential ingredient in our relationship with our Lord.  Indeed, trying to wield the Word of God without love is like trying to swing a sword without any hands.  Love is the motivating power behind our witness and testimony; it is the crux of our relationship with God; it must be the source of every good and pleasing deed that serves our neighbors and glorifies our God in heaven.

How and why this can be ought to be no great mystery.  Scripture reveals it to us plainly: “God is love” (1 John 4:8).  Everything that we are to be and everything that God asks us to do is rooted in love: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’…’Love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31).

So we see that the whole of God’s will is grounded in the force of love, and we cannot possibly please Him if we do not have love for Him and for others.  1 John goes on to explain how God’s love is the source and origin of every good and pleasing thing that comes from us: “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (4:9-11).

The weapon of love is so powerful that we could not possibly wield it through our own power.  It is a force beyond anything we are capable of.  Any real love that we can muster for God or for our neighbors is merely a reflection of God’s love for us, and even this “ricochet” love is powerful enough to defeat the darkness of the world in which we live.

Like the Word of God, love is versatile and reliable – a trustworthy primary weapon that ought to be standard issue for any soldier of Christ.  We can use it defensively to protect ourselves from the fear and doubt with which Satan daily assails us: “There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18).  We can use it to penetrate the armor of hard hearts and impenitence: “’If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:20-21).  Finally, love has the power to scatter the darkness of sin as God’s love gives us the power to forgive our neighbors and live at peace with them: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).

Like the Sword of the Spirit – the Word of God – Jesus’ love is a weapon without which we dare not set foot upon the battlefield.  It is only through His love that we find the strength to reach out to our enemies with the Gospel of healing and salvation.  It is only by the power of God’s love that we are enabled to serve God and minister to the needs of others.  And we mustn’t doubt the effectiveness of this incredible weapon, as Scripture assures us: “Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:8).

“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:9-11)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I thank and praise You for Your great love which You have shown to me through Your Son, Jesus Christ.  By Your Spirit, enable me to share this great love with those around me through service and witness to them, that You may be glorified in everything I do.  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.

The Beautiful Beggar – Returning Thanks

“When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.” (Acts 3:9-10)

His story is the story of every Christian who has received from the Lord free and abundant life.

He was crippled from birth, unable to help himself in any way.  He had to be carried daily to the temple, where he depended on the mercy of others for his daily bread.

He had no merit or worthiness in him.  He did not even ask to be healed.  But Jesus came to him through the witness of two men, and in a single day his life was changed forever.  His legs – that had never walked a step throughout his life – bore him instantly up with a strength that came not from himself, but from God.

Like this poor, crippled beggar, all of us were born spiritually lame and weak under the curse of sin.  We could not believe through our own power, being unable to take even a single step toward our Savior and the life He could offer.  If left to our own devices, we would have gone nowhere.

But God came to us, through the preaching of His Word by faithful men and women in our lives.  Through this Word and by our Baptism, our souls were filled with a strength that came from beyond ourselves.  Jesus took us by the hand and bid us rise and walk with Him – and by His grace, we were able to do just that.

Since this has been the pattern of every Christian’s life, you may think that it’s hardly the stuff heroes of the faith are made from.  But the most remarkable part of this crippled beggar’s account is yet to be seen; it is in his response to the great work that has been done in him.  He cannot contain himself – he rushes into the temple, “walking and jumping, and praising God.”  He simply must use this new God-given ability, and it seems he can only use it to glorify the Lord and testify to His goodness.

You see, we aren’t walking our way to heaven.  We don’t earn forgiveness by jumping up and down and praising God any more than a cripple can “earn” the use of his legs by running and leaping; it’s simply impossible.  Our saving faith, like the beggar’s miraculous mobility, is a free gift of God.

The crippled beggar is a hero of the faith because he shows us the appropriate response to being healed of our sin.  In faith, we run and jump and shout and praise God for the miraculous gift He has given us.  The beggar’s response draws many onlookers to him, and his thanksgiving becomes the catalyst for thousands of others coming to faith in Jesus Christ.  May God grant that our own thank offerings would bring such fruitful results!

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.  Let the redeemed of the Lord say this” (Psalm 107:1-2)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I thank and praise You for redeeming me from all my sins and enabling me to rise and walk with You.  Give me always a thankful heart, that I may proclaim Your goodness and mercy wherever I go; through Jesus Christ, You Son, my Lord.  Amen.