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Hold Fast…

 

“Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 1:13, NKJ)

 

In the Name of Jesus.  Amen.

How easy it is to be distracted from the things of God to the things of men, to neglect the One thing needful, and to take for granted God’s grace and favor!

St. Paul, writing to Timothy, writes the words above (2 Timothy 1:13), because, as he indicates in v15, “all those in Asia have turned away from me.”  In other words, “those in Asia” ceased listening to Paul and stopped following the words that Paul preached.

Though many do the same thing concerning the very Word of our Lord, and though many view such diversion from the truth as of little significance, for the Christian, the Word of God has more than importance.  The Word of God is life (John 6:63, 68; 2 Timothy 3:15-17), and directs towards Christ Jesus.  The Law shows us our sin.  The Gospel shows us our Savior, Jesus Christ.   Only Christ saves from sin and hell.  The believer believes this, and desires, seeks, and strives to remain in this faith.

The text from this past Sunday speaks about the challenges of being a disciple of Jesus (Luke 14:25-35).  “Holding fast” is such a challenge, for we, of ourselves, are not strong enough to do so.  We are sinners.  But “holding fast the pattern of sound words” is continuing to believe in the Jesus who saves and not in our strength that falters.

God gives strength to remain “in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” by means of His Word and Sacraments.  God has not forsaken you.  Rather, He continues to call you, preaching His Word of forgiveness and salvation through the death of His Son.  So hear, and hold fast to, Christ, who holds you even more strongly (Philippians 3:12).

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, direct us ever to Your Holy Word which gives life, that we live and not doubt, nor reject Your forgiveness and mercy won for us on the cross.  Keep us fast to you, that we live confidently in and by Your grace alone.  Amen.

“I have my faith”?

Therefore, having been justified by faith,

we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Romans 5:1

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

There is much talk about faith these days. Recently, I heard one numerous times in discussion say, “I have my faith.” Yet, such talk about faith is quite vague. It seems to emphasize the “me,” of faith, and doesn’t really get to the object of the Christian faith, which is Christ.

MyFaithChristian faith doesn’t exclusively speak in the way of “me” or “my” kind of faith. Rather, Christian faith confesses Christ, front and center.

Remember the words of Jesus. “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24).

Remember the words of St. Paul, too. “He who glories, let him glory in the LORD” (1 Corinthians 1:31).

These words also apply to Christian faith, even our own faith, which is neither self-derived or self-chosen, a personal decision or a choice. Rather, the Christian faith is the God-given faith.

The Bible teaches such truth, for as Jesus says, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh. That which is born of the spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). Speaking of the flesh, St. Paul writes, “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:8).

According to God’s Holy Word, which is what the Bible is, “those who are in the flesh” are not of faith. This applies to all people, as all people are born through the womb. Naturally, such people are in need of a Savior since the Fall of AdaBorn-of-God1m and Eve (Romans 5:12). Dead in sin, from conception to physical death, a spiritual birth is needed. One must be reborn.

Such rebirth cannot and does not happen by choice or personal decision. That which is dead cannot do anything of itself. It is God, through His Holy Word, which gives life, new life, abundant life (John 6:63, 10:10). Thus do we have Christ, who speaks life, that we be born anew, even through water and word (John 3:5; Titus 3:5; 1 Peter 3:21).

Similar to the account of Jesus calling dead Lazarus from the tomb (John 11:38-44), so Jesus calls us from death to life by means of His Word, even His Word preached today (John 6:63). Where His Holy Word continues to be preached today, He continues to bring forth the hearers from death to life.

The preaching of Christ’s cross does not make Christians either lazy or unproductive (Ephesians 2:10, Galatians 5:6). Instead, the preaching of Christ’s cross, of His death and resurrection, enlivens true faith. Evangelicalism here gets it wrong where they empty their preaching of the Gospel and instead preach only what you must do of yourself and how to live, yet apart from faith in Christ. They also get it wrong where they emphasis personal faith over and against objective faith, which is the faith given by God through the hearing of Christ and His holy Word (Romans 10:17).

This faith, and this faith alone, that which is of God and His Son Jesus Christ, wrought by the Holy Spirit, is that faith which does not seek its own, but glories in Christ, clearly confessing Him to be Savior.

Rom01.16,4The Christian faith does just this, and unashamedly (Romans 1:16). This faith confesses Christ, giving Him and Him alone all the glory. So, more than speaking of “my faith” and taking comfort in what “I personally believe” (subjectively, as in “I have my faith”), the Christian faith speaks of Christ and what He has done for me, according to Holy Scripture. Instead of confessing, “I have my faith,” the Christian boastfully confesses in who that faith is—Christ.

My faith” does not save me. Christ does! Thanks be to God! Amen.

“For the faith that takes hold of Christ, the Son of God, and is adorned by Him is the faith that justifies, not a faith that includes love. For if faith is to be sure and firm, it must take hold of nothing but Christ alone; and in the agony and terror of conscience it has nothing else to lean on than this pearl of great value (Matt. 13:45–46). Therefore whoever takes hold of Christ by faith, no matter how terrified by the Law and oppressed by the burden of his sins he may be, has the right to boast that he is righteous. How has he this right? By that jewel, Christ, whom he possesses by faith. Our opponents fail to understand this. Therefore they reject Christ, this jewel; and in His place they put their love, which they say is a jewel. But if they do not know what faith is, it is impossible for them to have faith, much less to teach it to others. And as for what they claim to have, this is nothing but a dream, an opinion, and natural reason, but not faith.” (Luther’s Lectures on Galatians, LW 26, p88-89)

Prayer: Father in heaven, give us faith which takes hold of Christ and no other. Preserve us in this faith by the means which You freely give and deliver, and keep us from despising Your free gifts of Baptism, Word, and Supper, that we remain yours, and, denying ourselves, follow you. Amen.

National Day of Prayer–Some thoughts

“The LORD is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous.”

Proverbs 15:29

 

In the Holy Name of the risen Christ. Amen.

NationalDayOfPrayer2According to the National Day of Prayer task force, “The National Day of Prayer is an annual observance held on the first Thursday of May, inviting people of all faiths to pray for the nation. It was created in 1952 by a joint resolution of the United States Congress, and signed into law by President Harry S. Truman.”

This encouragement to pray is a good thing. In fact, God commands prayer (the Second Commandment).   Not praying, therefore, is a sin. Praying for the nation in which we live is also a good thing (1 Timothy 2:1-4).

Prayer for ourselves and for others, as well as for our nation, is indeed “good” and “pleasing in the sight of God our Savior.” God promises to hear prayer, as revealed through the Psalmist, “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me (Psalm 50:15).

Thus, not only does God command prayer. He also promises to hear prayer (Read the Introduction to the Lord’s Prayer in Luther’s Large Catechism). The command and the promise of prayer move the Christian to pray, and so His people do pray, even “without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

Yet, the National Day of Prayer task force and the annual observance do not make the distinctions that God does. They lump people of all faiths together, as if all prayer of all people are acceptable to God, and therefore, heard by Ps1bHim.

Nevertheless, God does not hear the prayers of all people, as recorded in the Proverb text above. The Psalmist, too, exalts this truth by saying, “The LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish” (Psalm 1:6).

The righteous are they who look to God for mercy in Christ, who repent of their sin, who seek salvation from Christ alone, recognizing their dependency on the Lord for help and deliverance from sin and death. These are they who have faith, and only these have the certainty of God’s hearing and help (Hebrews 11:6; Luke 17:5-10; 1 John 5:14-15).

The wicked, however, are they who reject God’s salvation in Christ and have a different confession of faith than the faith revealed in Holy Scripture (John 8:31-32, 47; 14:23-24; 1 John 5:9-13; 2 John 1:9) . God does not hear the prayers of the unbeliever because they do not pray in faith (Romans 14:3; James 1:6).

We make such distinctions because God Himself makes such distinctions. Thus, instead of lumping all people together as having the same God, and praying to Him, we believe God’s Word and therefore, seek to speak the truth of that Word which alone converts souls from death to life.  We also humbly pray that the Lord would keep us from arrogance and pride, even as we pray for all people, our nation and ourselves, even concerning the more significant and eternal matters of God’s mercy and forgiveness through His Son, in whose Name God’s people with confidence pray.

All is well

All is well–In God’s hands are we

And though all–our eyes are not able to see

Such is not necessary to be

For Christ is our strength, vision, and sight

It is sufficient for Him to know our plight,

For He will not leave or forsake His own.

We need not at all fear, salvation has already been won.

BelieveNow Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:24-29)

 

In the Name of Jesus.  Amen.

 

Like Thomas, we too want signs, proof, evidence of claims made by others.  Skeptics demand such things.  Thomas was such a skeptic.  He wanted verification that what the disciples were telling him was actually true.  And by God’s grace, Jesus gave such verification.  Jesus appeared to Thomas, showing His hands and side.  He said, “Do not be unbelieving, but believing.”  And at Jesus’ Word, Thomas believed.  Christians do the same, not because they see with their eyes or experience this or that, but because God gives His Word.  And so it is.  Thus, we believe that Christ rose bodily from the dead.  We believe that God created the world in six days, that Jonah was swallowed by a fish, that Jesus healed and raised the dead, that He was born of a virgin, that He suffered and died, rose again the third day, ascended into heaven, and will return in all of His glory.  We believe this because God has revealed it in His Word.  And through that Word, God creates (Romans 10:17) and sustains faith (John 8:31-32).  We believe that before God, all is well, that we have peace, that we have life, and that we live in His good favor, all because of Christ.

We don’t have to see to know that these are true, because God has given us His Word.  This we trust, for His Word makes Christ known, your Savior and your Redeemer, who is risen from the dead.  In Him, all doubt is cast aside.  In Him, we have all the confidence that we need.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Forgiveness & Love

Apology, IV. Justification

(Tappert)

152 There is a familiar figure of speech, called synecdoche, by which we sometimes combine cause and effect in the same phrase. Christ says in Luke 7:47, “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, because she loved much.” But he interprets his own words when he adds: “Your faith has saved you” (v. 50). Now Christ did not want to say that by her works of love the woman had merited the forgiveness of sins. 153 Therefore he clearly says, “Your faith has saved you.” But faith is that which grasps God’s free mercy because TwoDebtorsof God’s Word. If anybody denies that this is faith, he utterly misunderstands the nature of faith. 154 And the account here shows what he calls “love.” The woman came, believing that she should seek the forgiveness of sins from Christ. This is the highest way of worshiping Christ. Nothing greater could she ascribe to him. By looking for the forgiveness of sins from him, she truly acknowledged him as the Messiah. Truly to believe means to think of Christ in this way, and in this way to worship and take hold of him. Moreover, Christ used the word “love” not toward the woman but against the Pharisee, because Christ contrasted the whole act of reverence of the Pharisee with that of the woman. He chides the Pharisee for not acknowledging him as the Messiah, though he did show him the outward courtesies due a guest and a great and holy man. He points to the woman and praises her reverence, her anointing and crying, all of which were a sign and confession of faith that she was looking for the forgiveness of sins from Christ. It was not without reason that this truly powerful example moved Christ to chide the Pharisee, this wise and honest but unbelieving man. He charges him with irreverence and reproves him with the example of the woman. What a disgrace that an uneducated woman should believe God, while a doctor of the law does not believe or accept the Messiah or seek from him the forgiveness of sins and salvation!

155 In this way, therefore, he praises her entire act of worship, as the Scriptures often do when they include many things in one phrase. Later we shall take up similar passages, like Luke 11:41, “Give alms; and behold, everything is clean.” He demands not only alms, but also the righteousness of faith. In the same way he says here, “Her Eph2,8sins, which are many, are forgiven, because she loved much,” that is, because she truly worshiped me with faith and with the acts and signs of faith. He includes the whole act of worship; but meanwhile he teaches that it is faith that properly accepts the forgiveness of sins, though love, confession, and other good fruits ought to follow. He does not mean that these fruits are the price of propitiation which earns the forgiveness of sins that reconciles us to God.

156 We are debating about an important issue, the honor of Christ and the source of sure and firm consolation for pious minds — whether we should put our trust in Christ or in our own works. 157 If we put it in our works, we rob Christ of his honor as mediator and propitiator. And in the judgment of God we shall learn that this trust was vain and our consciences will then plunge into despair. For if the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation do not come freely for Christ’s sake, but for the sake of our love, nobody will have the forgiveness of sins unless he keeps the whole law, because the law does not justify so long as it can accuse us. 158 Justification is reconciliation for Christ’s sake. Therefore it is clear that we are justified by faith, for it is sure that we receive the forgiveness of sins by faith alone.

Rise Up and Build? Build what?

RU&BHave you seen advertisements like this before?  Some of the wording about the conference, which I recently received in my email, follows:

“Has God placed a vision on the heart of your church or Christian school to reach out in new ways and expand ministry opportunities to your community and beyond?”

“Is your facility limiting your ability to accomplish that vision?”

“If so, this seminar will encourage you to apply the determination and courage of Nehemiah and step out in faith.”

Quoted (in part) on their web page is Nehemiah 2:8, 18: “And because the gracious hand of my God was upon me, the king granted my requests…And they said, “Let us rise up and build”.

Since this conference advertisement quotes the Bible, it is necessary to try to understand how the passages used are to be understood according to their context in Scripture, and then compare the actual scriptural use of the passage with the how the words are used to raise interest in this conference, “Rise up.”

Very briefly, the Old Testament book of Nehemiah concerns the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s city walls and the reform (repentance) of the people of Jerusalem.  The city walls had been in disarray since the Babylonia Captivity, [1] and this demonstrated the neglect of the city where God’s temple was, neglect for the temple, and the state of affairs between God’s people and their Lord.  God had punished His wayward people by exile due to their apostasy and waywardness, yet by His grace, He would bring them again to Himself.

The words of Nehemiah 2 (v8), quoted above, refer to the request of Nehemiah to King Artaxerxes concerning materials and the building of the city walls (2:1-8).

The “Let us rise up and build” of verse 18 is the response of the city officials to Nehemiah after he had examined the condition of the city walls himself and said to them, “You see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire. Come and let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer be a reproach.” And I told them of the hand of my God which had been good upon me, and also of the king’s words that he had spoken to me” (v17-18).

Essential to note concerning Nehemiah’s motive and God’s gracious hand concerning the “building project” are both the report of Jerusalem and the people living there (Nehemiah 1:1-3) and Nehemiah’s response and prayer.

When Nehemiah heard the news about the condition of Jerusalem and the people, he “sat down and wept.”  He also “mourned and fasted and prayed.”  In his prayer, Nehemiah said:

“I pray, LORD God of heaven, O great and awesome God, You who keep Your covenant and mercy with those who love You and observe Your commandments, please let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open, that You may hear the prayer of Your servant which I pray before You now, day and night, for the children of Israel Your servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel which we have sinned against You. Both my father’s house and I have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against You, and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses. Remember, I pray, the word that You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations; ‘but if you return to Me, and keep My commandments and do them, though some of you were cast out to the farthest part of the heavens, yet I will gather them from there, and bring them to the place which I have chosen as a dwelling for My name.’ Now these are Your servants and Your people, whom You have redeemed by Your great power, and by Your strong hand. O Lord, I pray, please let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant, and to the prayer of Your servants who desire to fear Your name; and let Your servant prosper this day, I pray, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.” (Nehemiah 1:5-11, NKJ)

Notice the bold face words in Nehemiah’s prayer?  These are telling, because Nehemiah is calling on God to do as He had promised.  He is calling on God to fulfill His Word of mercy (i.e. Leviticus 26 (40-45).  Additionally, and not at all to be ignored, is the humble and repentant heart of Nehemiah, demonstrated by his words.  He recalls why the people of God suffered exile and the reason for the city’s condition—because of their sinfulness (i.e. Leviticus 26 (14-39)).

Nehemiah confesses His sin to God, and the sin of Israel, and asks for God’s mercy and help. These are not at all to be ignored with reference to the passages, Nehemiah 2:8 and 18, quoted on the “Rise Up” conference website.  They draw attention to two essential elements, which, if removed, misapply scripture and attempt to make God’s Word say something which it in truth does not.

The two elements are just those stated: confession & repentance (faith), and the word & promise of God.  In his prayer and by his request, Nehemiah was seeking for the Lord to fulfill His Word.  He wasn’t asking for something that he simply wanted personally, dreamed up, or envisioned.  Rather, Nehemiah’s motive and prayer had as their basis, foundation, and directive the very Word of God.

This truth is an imperative that cannot be removed from any discussion (or conference) concerning any “vision of your heart,” reaching out “in new ways,” or “expanding ministry opportunities.”  Nor should the Bible be used to say something that it doesn’t.

This conference, “Rise up,” may already be suspect, at least from the questions raised, and in relation to the Scripture used.  In context, Nehemiah is not about his “vision,” “new ways,” or “expanding.”  Instead, Nehemiah seeks to do according to God’s mercy.  And initially, he rightly confesses his sin and the sins of God’s people.  He seeks God’s mercy concerning himself, God’s people, and the work that he desires to do.  Also, initially and throughout, God’s Word and promise alone guide Nehemiah.  He recalls God’s promise and Word, and directs God to do what He has already spoken and according to what He has already said.

In contrast, the questions used on the web site about the “Rise Up” conference direct, not to God and His Word, but to self.  The word, “vision,” remaining undefined, could mean anything, and though reference is made to God placing it, any such vision, if it is of God, finds its sole foundation in the Holy Scriptures.  Yet, reaching “out in new ways” and expanding “ministry opportunities” is not something that God has promised or commanded.  Rather, God would have His people not be ashamed of him and confess His name (not ashamed–2 Timothy 1:8; 1 Peter 3:15-16; 4:16-17; confess– Matthew 10:32-33; Romans 10:8-13; 15:9; 1 Timothy 6:12).  These characteristics have God’s approval, yet our “visions” do not.

Trust in God’s Word is what God calls us to be about doing (Psalm 37:3; Proverbs 3:5-6; John 6:29; 14:6).  Concerning “new ways” of reaching out, these might be new, but in the sense that God opens our blind eyes to His ways and work, that we make use of the time that He has given according to His Word and will (the latter we only know from the former) within the callings that He has already given (1 Corinthians 1:26; 7:20).

Similarly “expanding ministry opportunities” doesn’t have to do with us doing it, but God “opening the doors” (Colossians 4:3) for us and using us as He will.  The challenge, though, is that we don’t always believe, act, and do according to the will of our Lord, because of our sinfulness (Thus is the Christian always and constantly in the state of repentance, denying self, and turning to God for mercy in Christ, like Nehemiah before us).  Yet God continues to use us and work through us, too, according to His grace and mercy.

Additionally, St. Paul writes:

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:6-11).

That foundation and the building of which Paul speaks is not man’s doing, but God’s, and again, according to His Word (see Matthew 7:24-27), and not all apart from it or conditional on man and his ways.

As to the question about “your facility limiting your ability to accomplish” your “vision,” this too is founded on the precepts of man.  For one thing, man’s facilities are gifts of God, and to be used for His purposes, not ours.  And as mentioned before, “your” vision is to be tested only by and according to the Word.  Thus, if your “vision” is of God, then it’s not yours at all, but God’s.

The question, “Is your facility limiting your ability to accomplish that vision?” is the wrong question, as is the first, for it (and the other) places the emphasis on you, the sinner, and not on God the Giver and Savior.  It also assumes that any change can (and should?) be affected by you.  The questions do not call for repentance from sin (individual and corporate) and assume that any personal “vision” is already godly in nature and not all misdirected.

For these reasons, such a conference (see here for more information) may just be contrary to the very will of God for His people, for God calls His people and church to be faithful to Him and to His Word (Revelation 2:10, to the Church in Smyrna), and in doing so, will speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) and preach His name:

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.’ Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Corinthians 1:18-25, NKJ)

Lastly, for the present, the intended result of the conference, “will encourage you to apply the determination and courage of Nehemiah and step out in faith,” also is misdirected.  First of all, the “determination and courage of Nehemiah” cannot be ours, because it was his.  Thus, the wording is at minimum, incorrect.  Secondly, who applies that which is of Nehemiah (the determination and courage)?  You do, not God.  And thirdly, the word faith is undefined.  Faith can mean any number of things, and correlated with “vision,” the word may not at all be that which Jesus and Paul speak of, that is, the God-given faith of Christianity according to the very Word of Holy Scripture.  Many, for example, speak of believing, yet such believing is not of God unless it be according God’s Word, centered on Jesus Christ.

Some will likely read this and consider these concerns about such a conference as miniscule and “making mountains out of mole hills.”  After all, shouldn’t Christians be about spreading the Gospel and “reaching people for Christ?”  Yes, indeed!  Yet the church doesn’t need such conferences to do this.  Instead, God calls His church to repent of her selfishness and to speak His truth, not according to our “vision,” but according to His Word, not only for herself, but for others, that they “be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9).  This happens as God’s people, moved by God with repentant faith, believe, speak, and live according to His Word.

For the Sake of Christ’s Commission-Evangelism & Church Growth

The Not-So-Great Commission, IE1, 2011

The Not-So-Great Commission, IE2, 2011

VOCATION AND EVANGELISM.Pless


[1] Nehemiah 1:1-4: The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah. It came to pass in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan the citadel, that Hanani one of my brethren came with men from Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews who had escaped, who had survived the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem. And they said to me, “The survivors who are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire.” So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven. (NKJ)

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