A Stronghold in the Day of Trouble

Bible:

An oracle concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum of Elkosh.

The Lord is good,
a stronghold in the day of trouble;
he knows those who take refuge in him.
But with an overflowing flood
he will make a complete end of the adversaries,
and will pursue his enemies into darkness.
What do you plot against the Lord?
He will make a complete end;
trouble will not rise up a second time.

Thus says the Lord,
“Though they are at full strength and many,
they will be cut down and pass away.
Though I have afflicted you,
I will afflict you no more.
And now I will break his yoke from off you
and will burst your bonds apart.” Nahum 1:1, 7-9, 12-13 ESV

In you, O Lord, do I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame;
in your righteousness deliver me!
Incline your ear to me;
rescue me speedily!
Be a rock of refuge for me,
a strong fortress to save me!

For you are my rock and my fortress;
and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me;
you take me out of the net they have hidden for me,
for you are my refuge.
Into your hand I commit my spirit;
you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God. Psalm 31:1-5 ESV

Reflection:

Joe’s younger brother, Zach, was having trouble with a bully in his class named Caleb. Caleb sometimes would wait for Zach after school and pick a fight with him, and because Caleb was bigger and stronger than Zach, Zach always lost. He could have gone to his parents or his teacher for help, but he wanted to try to take care of things by himself. But one day Zach told Joe what was happening, and Joe decided to take care of Caleb once and for all. The next time Caleb tried to pick a fight with Zach, Joe was waiting nearby, and he came to his brother’s rescue. After that, he always walked home with his younger brother, protecting him, and Zach didn’t have any more trouble with the bully.

The prophet Nahum spoke to God’s people when they were being threatened by the Assyrian empire. The capital city of Assyria was Nineveh, and Nahum had some strong words to say against Nineveh. He said that Nineveh was plotting against the Lord, but that the Lord would put an end to it, and the Assyrians wouldn’t rise up a second time to hurt his people. The Lord called to his people to take refuge in him and to let him protect them, and he would be good to them. They had gone their own way, and he had allowed the Assyrians to hurt them, but the time for that had come to an end. He would set them free from Nineveh and the power the Assyrian empire had over them.

We also were under the power of death and all the forces of evil, and it was all because we turned away from God and went our own way. But God loves us very much, and he wants to help us and protect us. He sent Jesus to bring us back to him. Jesus died on the cross and rose again from the dead to defeat all the forces of sin and death and the devil, and we can take refuge in Jesus and in what he’s done for us. He has set us free from everything that had power over us, and he is our stronghold in the day of trouble, now and always.

Prayer:

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for sending Jesus to be our protection and our Savior. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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Fasting with Bad Hearts

Bible:

“Why have we fasted, and you see it not?
Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?”
Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure,
and oppress all your workers.
Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to hit with a wicked fist.
Fasting like yours this day
will not make your voice to be heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose,
a day for a person to humble himself?
Is it to bow down his head like a reed,
and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
Will you call this a fast,
and a day acceptable to the Lord? Isaiah 58:3-5 ESV

[Jesus said:] “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” Matthew 23:23-28 ESV

Reflection:

Patty and Violet were making mud pies together. They took a hose and added water to some dirt, then sloshed it around with their feet and mixed it around with their hands. Then they sat down in the mud and started working on their mud pies. When Charlie Brown walked by, Patty and Violet were very dirty. Their hair was messy, and their dresses and arms and legs and faces were all streaked with mud. Charlie Brown told them what a mess they were. “Wait until your mothers see you!” he warned them. But the girls couldn’t understand what the problem was. “Why? What’s wrong? We’ve got our aprons on!” they said.

God’s people were just as silly as Patty and Violet. They had turned away from God and sinned in many ways against him, but they thought that they were very righteous because they went without food and sat in ashes and wore rough, scratchy sackcloth against their skin. They seemed to be very religious when they did this, but even when they fasted they also were fighting and quarreling and even hitting each other with their fists! They were enjoying their solemn fasts and at the same time being unfair to their workers and taking advantage of them. They couldn’t understand why God spoke through the prophet Isaiah to warn them that they weren’t pleasing God with their fasting. Just as Patty and Violet thought their aprons would cover them and keep them clean from all the mud they were playing in, God’s people thought their fasting would keep them clean from sin and keep them right with God.

God doesn’t look at a few nice or religious things we do, but he looks inside, at our hearts. He looks for love and trust and obedience, and if he doesn’t see that, it doesn’t matter what we do to look righteous. The Lord will judge us as sinful and wrong based on what is in our hearts. This is a really scary thought, because we all have thoughts of anger and selfishness and rebellion against God inside ourselves. No one can ever be right with God in the heart. But Jesus came with a heart that was perfectly loving and obedient to his Heavenly Father. Jesus paid for all our sins, including the sins of our hearts, when he died for us on the cross. Because of Jesus, we are forgiven every day, and God sends us his Holy Spirit to give us new hearts of faith and trust.

Prayer:

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for sending Jesus to die for us so that all our sins could be forgiven. Please give us new and better hearts every day. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Source:

Schulz, Charles M. The Complete Peanuts 1953-1954 Seattle: Fantagraphics Books, 2004, p. 59.

A Soft Answer

Bible:

A soft answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1 ESV

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. James 1:19-20 ESV

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. I Peter 2:21-25 ESV

Reflection:

One day Shermy came to warn Charlie Brown that he was in trouble and that he’d better get out of town. Then Linus came along to say that the girls were looking for him and that they were very angry. Then the girls came, furious, shouting, pointing their fingers at Charlie Brown. “What have you got to say for yourself?” they demanded. Charlie Brown didn’t yell back at them. He answered them gently and calmly, and the girls were so surprised by this that they walked away, and the fight was over. Charlie Brown remembered the words from Proverbs and said that his soft answer had turned away “a whole flock of wrath.”

It might not always work, but often if someone is angry, if the other person answers calmly and gently it can end the argument. Fights usually happen when both people are angry and say harsh and hurtful things to each other. God wants his people to live in peace as much as they can, and the Bible says that the anger of people doesn’t produce the righteousness of God. Love and forgiveness happen more easily when we control our temper and avoid getting involved in angry fights.

Jesus is the best example of someone who didn’t fight back when people hurt him. They called him names and whipped him and beat him and put him on the cross. Jesus let himself be hurt so that he could die to pay for the sins of all people. Because Jesus died for us, he forgives us for our sins of anger and fighting and hurtful words. Whenever we fall short, here’s there to forgive us and to help us, and to heal us from the hurt we suffer from our own and others’ actions. He helps us to die to anger and hurtfulness and to live a new life with him, a life of calmness and peace and love.

Prayer:

Dear Jesus, thank you for taking my anger and fighting to the cross with you. Help me to live as a peacemaker. Amen.

Source:

Schulz, Charles The Complete Peanuts, 1961-1962 Seattle: Fantagraphic Books, 2006, p. 148.