Cries for Help

Bible:

When Mordecai learned all that had been done, Mordecai tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city, and he cried out with a loud and bitter cry. He went up to the entrance of the king’s gate, for no one was allowed to enter the king’s gate clothed in sackcloth. And in every province, wherever the king’s command and his decree reached, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting and weeping and lamenting, and many of them lay in sackcloth and ashes. Esther 4:1-3 ESV

Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord?
Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever!
Why do you hide your face?
Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?
For our soul is bowed down to the dust;
our belly clings to the ground.
Rise up; come to our help!
Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love! Psalm 44:23-26 ESV

Reflection:

People who are out sailing on a boat need to know how to call for help by radio if they get into some kind of trouble. There are three different types of distress calls that can be sent out if something goes wrong. If people run into some kind of danger that they want to warn others about, they use the distress call, “Securite,” a French word that means safety or security. It might be used if there is a log blocking an entrance channel, for example. For a more serious problem, such as running out of fuel and being stuck out on the water, or having someone on the boat hurt and needing medical attention, people use the signal, “Pan Pan.” The most serious distress call is, “Mayday!” This is only used if there is the danger of a loss of life or of the boat. If rescue authorities hear the distress call, “Mayday,” they will do everything they can to help the people who are in trouble.

When Mordecai and the other Jews throughout the empire heard about the edict that called for their death, they sent out a distress call to God. They knew that they were in terribly serious trouble, and that they wouldn’t be able to come through it safely without God’s help. They cried out loud and dressed themselves in rough, scratchy sackcloth and put ashes on themselves. Mordecai tore his clothes to show his terrible grief, and many people fasted, or went without food. In these actions they were all calling out to God to see their trouble and to come and help them.

When we were helpless and in terrible distress because of our sins, we weren’t even able to call out to God for help, but he saw our trouble and he responded to our need. He sent Jesus, our Savior, to come to us and to give his life for us. Jesus defeated sin and death and all the forces of evil that had us in their power when he died on the cross and rose again. Because of what Jesus did for us, we are saved from everything that would separate us from God. We know that when we have troubles, we can cry out to God, and that he will hear us. He promises that he will always hear and answer our prayers in the way that is best.

Prayer:

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for hearing our cries for help, and for the help you’ve given us in Jesus. In His Name, Amen.

Source:

http://www.great-lakes-sailing.com/Distress_Call.html

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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 Bitter Day of Mourning

Bible:

“And on that day,” declares the Lord God,
“I will make the sun go down at noon
and darken the earth in broad daylight.
I will turn your feasts into mourning
and all your songs into lamentation;
I will bring sackcloth on every waist
and baldness on every head;
I will make it like the mourning for an only son
and the end of it like a bitter day.” Amos 8:9-10

As [Jesus] drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Luke 7:12-15 ESV

And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Mark 15:33-34 ESV

Reflection:

In Bible times, and even today in some cultures, a son is very important to his parents, because he is the one who will take care of them when they get old. They will usually live with their son in the same house, and the son will give his parents the best food and whatever else they need to be happy and comfortable. If parents have only one son, he is all they have to make sure they will have someone to help them in their old age, and it is a terrible sadness if they lose him. When Jesus came to a city where a woman’s only son had just died, he felt very sorry for her, because she had already lost her husband and would now be all alone with no one to take care of her. He brought her son back from the dead and gave him back to his mother.

The prophet Amos talked about the Day of the Lord, a day of judgment and punishment for sins. He talked about darkness coming at noon, and terrible sadness coming to the people. They would stop their festivals and sing mournful songs and wear scratchy sackcloth, which people wore to show they were sorry for their sins. The Day of the Lord was going to be a day of bitter mourning, like the sadness of parents who lose their only son. Someday God’s people would be defeated in battle and taken away from the promised land to live in a country far away, and that would be a day of judgment and of grief for them.

The most awesome Day of the Lord, the day when God poured out his judgment against sin, came when Jesus died on the cross. The light of the sun failed and it became very dark at noon. God’s only Son died on the cross in our place, to take the punishment for our sins. Because of what Jesus did for us, we have God’s forgiveness. We don’t have to be afraid of the final Day of the Lord, when Jesus comes again to judge the whole world. For everyone who believes in Jesus, it will be a day of rising from the dead and living in God’s Heavenly Kingdom forever.

Prayer:

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for sending your only Son to die for us and bring us into your kingdom. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

God Shows Mercy

Bible:

And when Ahab heard those words, he tore his clothes and put sackcloth on his flesh and fasted and lay in sackcloth and went about dejectedly. And the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, “Have you seen how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself before me, I will not bring the disaster in his days; but in his son’s days I will bring the disaster upon his house.” I Kings 21:27-29 ESV

The Lord is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
The Lord is good to all,
and his mercy is over all that he has made. Psalm 145:8-9 ESV

Reflection:

In the Middle Ages, Henry IV was the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire (part of what is now Germany), and Gregory VII was the pope. These two men spent a lot of time fighting each other, and one of the problems was that Henry was appointing bishops in the church. Pope Gregory said that only the pope should do that. He wrote a letter to Henry telling him to stop, and Henry wrote a letter back to Gregory angrily refusing. Then Gregory excommunicated Henry. At this time to be excommunicated was a big deal. It put Henry outside of the church, and said that his nobles didn’t have to obey him anymore. Henry’s nobles stopped supporting him, and Henry knew he had to win the pope’s forgiveness. He went to the castle of Canossa where the pope was, in northern Italy, and stood outside, barefoot, in the snow, until Gregory forgave him and brought him back into the church. Henry thought that causing himself pain might make the pope feel sorry for him and have mercy on him.

Ahab did the same thing when he heard God’s words of judgment through Elijah. He fasted, which means he stopped eating for awhile, and tore his clothes and put on sackcloth. Sackcloth is a very rough material, and it’s uncomfortable to wear. It scratches the skin and might leave a rash. Ahab hoped that God would feel sorry for him when he saw Ahab suffering, and God did have mercy. Ahab didn’t earn God’s mercy by making himself miserable. God’s mercy is always a gift, and he is happy to give his mercy to even a wicked man like Ahab. His actions showed that his heart was open to God’s mercy, and God softened Ahab’s punishment by saying that the end of his dynasty would come after his death. He wouldn’t have to watch all his sons and grandsons die.

We are all sinners who need God’s mercy, but we can’t earn it by doing good things or by hurting ourselves or making ourselves suffer. Jesus did all that for us. He suffered pain and died on the cross for our sakes, and earned God’s mercy for everyone in the world. God’s mercy to us is a free gift, and it is ours every day. We don’t have to earn it, and we don’t have to pay God back, but he sends us his Holy Spirit to keeps our hearts open to his mercy and to show our love for God by living a life that pleases him.

Prayer:

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for showing us mercy through our Savior, Jesus. In His Name, Amen.

Source:

http://saburchill.com/history/biblio/006.html