SIMON...I HAVE PRAYED FOR THEE
Dale H. Brown
Those of us who have served in the military are familiar with a custom involving a special bronze coin about the size of a silver dollar. Its called a challenge coin. How many of you have heard of such a thing? How many of you still have one?
The challenge coin bears the emblem of the squadron or battalion a military person belongs to. It is always to be carried, not officially, but as a matter of military custom or tradition. If you have served in the military you have probably heard various versions of how the challenge coin custom originated. One I heard recently goes like this.
During World War I, American volunteers from all parts of the country filled the newly formed flying squadrons. Some were wealthy youths attending colleges such as Yale and Harvard who quit in midterm to join the war.
In one squadron, a wealthy lieutenant ordered medallions carrying the squadron emblem struck in solid bronze for every member of his squadron. He himself carried his medallion in a small leather sack about his neck.
Shortly after acquiring the medallions, the pilots aircraft was severely damaged by ground fire. He was force to land behind enemy lines and was immediately captured by a German patrol. In order to discourage his escape, the Germans took all of his personal identification except the small leather pouch around his neck.
In the meantime, he was taken to a small French town near the front. Taking advantage of a bombardment that night he donned civilian clothes and escaped. However, he was without personal identification. He succeeded in avoiding German patrols and reached the front lines. With great difficulty, he crossed no-mans land. Eventually, he stumbled into a French outpost.
Unfortunately, saboteurs had plagued the French in this sector of the front. They sometimes masqueraded as civilians and wore civilian clothes. Not recognizing the young pilots American accent, the French thought him to be a saboteur and made ready to execute him.
At the last minute, the pilot remembered his leather pouch containing the medallion. He showed the medallion to his would-be executioners. His French captors recognized the squadron insignia on the medallion and delayed long enough for him to confirm his identity.
Instead of shooting him, they gave him a bottle of wine. Back with his squadron, it became a tradition to ensure that all members carried their medallion or coin at all times. This was accomplished through a challenge in the following manner: a challenger would ask to see the coin. If the challenged could not produce his coin, he was required to purchase a drink of choice for the member who had challenged him. If the challenged member produced his coin, then the challenging member was required to pay for the drink.
This tradition contended throughout the war and for many years while surviving members of the squadron were still alive. (1) If you have a son or daughter in the military ask them about the challenge coin. They will probably know about it and may even carry one.
In our scripture lesson Jesus tells Peter, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat, but I have prayed for you, that your faith will not fail.
Jesus tells Peter, make no mistake about it, Satan is out to destroy your life. You and I, dear ones, are no different. There is an enemy of our soul and he jumps with glee every time we trip up. If the devil were to write his beatitudes they might go like this:
Blessed are the touchy. With a bit of luck, they may stop going to church.
Blessed are the trouble makers - they shall be called my children.
Blessed are the complainers - Im all ears to them.
Blessed are they who are bored with the ministers mannerisms and mistakes - for they get nothing out of his sermons.
Blessed is the church member who expects to be invited to his own church - for he is part of the problem instead of the solution.
Blessed are they who gossip - for they shall cause strife and divisions that please me.
Blessed is he who professes to love God but hates his brother and sister - for he shall be with me forever. (2)
Satan uses all of these things to sift people and destroy the work of God. Thats the bad news.
The good news is that Jesus told Peter that Had prayed for him that his faith would not fail. This is mighty good news, indeed. Not just for Peter, who became one of the great leaders of the early church, but for us today.
You see, we have an advocate who stands between our accuser and God. Revelation 12:10 refers to the accuser being cast down, the one who accused the brethren day and night before God. Remember the challenge coin the pilot wore around his neck in the leather pouch? It saved his life because the French recognized the insignia. Christ has placed his insignia on our life and he backs it by being our advocate in heaven.
Listen, my friend, if you are struggling in your faith tonight Ive got good news. You believe in Christ but it just seems you just cant overcome your struggle, Ive got good news. You once had the joy but now you seem to be in the doldrums, Ive got GREAT news! Pull out your challenge coin. The one that bears the insignia of the Holy Spirit Jesus handed to you when you believed.
Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 1:20-22: For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him amen, unto the glory of God by us. Now he which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God; Who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the spirit in our hearts.
Thats our spiritual challenge coin. And its backed by all the power of Heaven through Christ Jesus.
Heres the truth, friends: God loves you more than you can possibly imagine. Theres an old Jewish proverb that says: It is a sin not to teach people to believe in God. It is a greater sin not to teach people that God believes in them.
Why do you think God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life? Because He loves you. He believes in you. Thats why Jesus told Peter that he had prayed for him. Jesus knew what was about to happen. Peter boldly declared, I am ready to go with you, both to prison, and to death.
Jesus said, No, Peter, before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.
Dear ones, Jesus knows our weaknesses, just as He knew all about Peter. But He also knows our heart. He loves us even when we dont measure up. He loves us.
(Have the congregation sing with you Jesus Loves Me.)
Doesnt that warm you heart to sing those words?
Theres one final thing I want to say. I mentioned some of Satans possible beatitudes earlier. Theres one more tool he uses to defeat us: busyness. If he can keep us so busy doing this and doing that, often good things, he can keep us from giving time to whats really important.
I am reasonably certain that the prayer of Jesus for us in His role as our advocate may include something like this: Father, keep your children from becoming so busy that they dont have time to commune with us. What do you think? Do you think theres a chance that weve become so busy that we neglect our quiet time with Jesus?
One day an expert in time management was speaking to a group of business students and to drive home a point he used an illustration those students will never forget.
As he stood in front of this group of high powered overachievers he said, Okay, time for a quiz. Then he pulled out a one-gallon, wide mouthed Mason jar and set it on the table in front of him. Then he produced about a dozen fist-sized rocks and carefully placed them, one at a time, into the jar. When the jar was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit inside, he asked, Is this jar full? Everyone in the class said, Yes. The he said, Really?
He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then, he dumped some gravel in and shook the jar causing pieces of gravel to work themselves down into the space between the big rocks. Then he asked the group once more, Is the jar full?
By this time the class was on to him. Probably not, one of them answered.
Good, he replied. He reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He started dumping the sand in the jar and it went into all the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel. Once more he asked the question, Is this jar full?
No! the class shouted.
Once again he said, Good. Then he grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in until the jar was filled to the brim.
Then he looked at the class and asked, What is the point of this illustration?
One eager beaver raised his hand and said, The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard you can always fit some more things in it.
No, the speaker replied, thats not the point. The truth this illustration teaches us is: If you dont put the big rocks in first, youll never get them in at all. (3)
What are the big rocks in your life? Your children; your loved ones; your church; your education; your dreams; a worthy cause? These are all important. How about time to visit with our Heavenly Father?
Jesus said, Simon, Simon, behold Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for you that your faith fail not.
Thank God for the intercession of Jesus on our behalf. Thank God for His never failing love for us. As we reflect during this Lenten season and soon to be Easter how Christ is interceding for us, lets allow His Spirit to work in us that which is well pleasing in his sight.
1. Lee Sexton, CMSgt (Ret), Tiger Flight, The Official Journal of the USAF Security Police Association, March-April 2000, page 42.
Salem Congregational Church
2001 7th Ave., Scottsbluff, NE 69361