There is a remarkable true story about a 21-year-old farm boy from West Virginia who faced his sure death in World War II against the Germans. On his first combat mission, Charles Brown looked outside his crippled B-17 Bomber to see a gray German Messerschmitt just a few feet away, moments from shooting them to smithereens! Brown’s tail gunner was dead and half his crew were wounded. His co-pilot, Spencer “Pinky” Luke, looked out of the window of the plane to see the German and he said, “He’s going to destroy us.” Something amazing happened that December day in 1943. The German took his finger off the trigger and he looked at Brown and nodded. Franz Stigler was an ace fighter pilot for the Germans. At the time, he needed one more kill to win the Knight’s Cross, which was the German’s highest medal of valor. What caused Stigler to deny himself of such an award and risk being executed by the German military? Mercy! Charles Brown would later seek to find the German, Franz Stigler. Brown and Stigler would develop a friendship which would last many many years. They became fishing buddies. All because of one act of mercy!
In the Book of Exodus, God granted mercy on the Israelites. After Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, God prohibited them from serving idols. However, just 40 days later we see the Israelites make for themselves a golden calf breaking their Sinai covenant with God and becoming His enemy (Exodus 32:1-6). God tells Moses He will destroy them for their disobedience (Vv. 7-10). Moses intercedes for them and God shows His mercy and relents (Vv.11-14). In Exodus 34:6-7, we read, “…The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin…” We can be happy and thankful that we serve a merciful Father who has granted the same mercy upon us when we were once His enemies. Our God is a compassionate and merciful God. But like Franz Stigler, we must also be people of mercy. When we grant mercy, we receive it, “Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy!” (Matthew 5:7).
I vividly remember the darkest day of my life, which turned out to be the worst four years of my life. I had just spent a perfect day at my parents for a Fourth of July barbecue. The call came in at midnight from my cousin, who informed me that my dad was taken away in an ambulance. My heart sank. My father had a massive stroke and we took him off life support six days later on July 10, 2006. Just four years later my mom got brain cancer. Not long after, I held her hand as she took her last breath. In just four years my life turned upside down. Tracy and I had three young daughters who loved their grandparents so much, and just like that, they were gone. My family was devastated. However, in our darkest time, God was there. He felt our pain. He heard our prayers. He gave us peace and comfort in a time when our whole world seemed to be crashing down.
It makes me think of Naomi in the Book of Ruth. This was during the time of the Judges when Israel had lost God’s favor. God was finished sending them a Judge to deliver them. Israel was dealing with famine, so the times were dark for them. They got darker for Naomi. She not only lost her husband Elimelech, she also lost her two sons, Mahlon and Chilion (Ruth 1:3-5). Naomi was in deep grief. She thought God was afflicting her and she became bitter (Ruth 1:11-21).
We seem to blame God when trials, tribulations and tragedy strikes us, don’t we? God, however, blessed Naomi with two daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah. Ruth was a gift from God to Naomi because she loved her and was there by her side. After Ruth met Boaz and married him, she bore a son. The woman said, “Blessed is the Lord, who has not left you without a redeemer today; and may his name become famous in Israel. May he also be to you a restorer of life and a sustainer of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you, and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him. Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her lap and became his nurse (Ruth 4:14-16). The baby was named Obed. Obed became the father of Jesse and Jesse becomes the father of David (verse 22). Through this lineage Israel triumphed to her greatest heights of glory and where the Savior of the world came through.
Although times were dark and grim for Israel and Naomi, God is behind the scenes at work for His people. When we think He is farthest from us or that He has turned against us, He is paving the roads of greater happiness for us. We cannot forget Jesus is there with us in our darkest times, in the times we may feel alone and helpless. Blessed be the Lord who has not left us.
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