Tag  |  faithfulness

Living With Lions

When I visited a museum in Chicago, I saw one of the original Striding Lions of Babylon. It was a large mural-type image of a winged lion with a ferocious expression. Symbolizing Ishtar, the Babylonian goddess of love and war, the lion I saw was an example of 120 similar lions that would have lined a Babylonian pathway during the years of 604-562 bc.

Historians say that after the Babylonians defeated Jerusalem, the Hebrew captives would have seen these lions during their time in Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom. Historians also say it’s likely that some of the Israelites would have believed Ishtar had defeated the God of Israel.           

Daniel, one of the Hebrew captives, did not share the doubts that might have troubled some of his fellow Israelites. His view of God and his commitment to God stayed steady. He prayed three times a day—with his windows open—even when he knew it would mean entering a den of lions. After God rescued Daniel from the hungry animals, King Darius said, “[Daniel’s God] is the living God and He endures forever . . . He rescues and He saves…” (Dan. 6:26–27). Daniel’s faithfulness allowed him to influence Babylonian leaders.

Staying faithful to God despite pressure and discouragement can inspire other people to give Him glory.

Praise in the Dark

Even though my friend Mickey was losing his eyesight, he told me, “I’m going to keep praising God every day, because He’s done so much for me.”

Jesus gave Mickey, and us, the ultimate reason for such never-ending praise. The twenty-sixth chapter of Matthew tells us about how Jesus shared the Passover meal with His disciples the night before He went to the cross. Verse 30 shows us how they concluded the meal: “When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.”

It wasn’t just any hymn they sang that night—it was a hymn of praise. For millennia, Jews have sung a group of Psalms called “The Hallel” at Passover (“hallel” is the Hebrew word for “praise”). The last of these prayers and songs of praise, found in Psalms 113–118, honors the God who has become our salvation (118:21). It refers to a rejected stone that became a cornerstone (v. 22) and one who comes in the name of the Lord (v. 26). With mystery, we can now understand, they sang, “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (v. 24).

As Jesus sang with His disciples on this Passover night, He was giving us the ultimate reason to lift our eyes above our immediate circumstances. He was leading us in praise of the never-ending love and faithfulness of our God.

 

Don't Give Up

Bob Foster, my mentor and friend for more than 50 years, never gave up on me. His unchanging friendship and encouragement, even during my darkest times, helped carry me through.

We often find ourselves determined to reach out and help someone we know who is in great need. But when we fail to see improvement right away, our resolve can weaken and we may eventually give up. We discover that what we hoped would be an immediate change has become an ongoing process.

The apostle Paul urges us to be patient in helping one another through the stumbles and struggles of life. When he writes, “Carry each other’s burdens” and so “fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2), he is compares our task to the work, time, and waiting it takes for a farmer to see a harvest.   

How long should we keep praying and reaching out to those we love? “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up”  (v. 9). How many times should we reach out? “As we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (v. 10).

The Lord encourages us today to trust Him, remain faithful to others, keep on praying and don’t give up!

Bearing Good Fruit

The view from my airplane window was striking: a narrow ribbon of ripening wheat fields and orchards wending between two barren mountains.  Running through the valley was a river.  Life-giving water, without which there would be no fruit.

Just as a bountiful harvest depends on a source of clean water, the quality of the “fruit” in my life—my words, actions, and attitude—depends on my spiritual nourishment.  The psalmist describes this in Psalm 1: the person “whose delight is in the law of the Lord…is like a tree planted by streams of water which yields its fruit in season” (v. 1-3).  And Paul writes in Galatians 5 that those who walk in step with the Spirit are marked by “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (v. 22-23).

 Sometimes my perspective on my circumstances turns sour, or my actions and words become persistently unkind.  There is no good fruit, and I realize I haven’t spent time being quiet before the words of my God. But when the rhythm of my days is rooted in reliance on Him, I bear good fruit.  Patience and gentleness characterize my interactions with others; it’s easier to choose gratitude over complaint.  

The God who has revealed Himself to us is our source of strength, wisdom, joy, understanding, and peace (Ps. 119: 28, 98, 111, 144, 165).  As we steep our souls in the words that point us to Him, the work of God’s Spirit will be evident in our lives.

Sacrificial Faith

It’s Sunday afternoon, and I’m sitting in the garden of our home, which is near the church where my husband is the minister. I hear wafts of praise and worship music floating through the air in the Farsi language. Our church in London hosts a vibrant Iranian congregation, and we feel humbled by their passion for Christ as they share some of their stories of persecution and tell of those, such as the senior pastor’s brother, who have been martyred for their faith. These faithful believers are following in the footsteps of the first Christian martyr, Stephen.

Stephen, one of the first appointed leaders in the early church, garnered attention in Jerusalem when he performed “great wonders and signs” (v. 8) and was brought before the Jewish authorities to defend his actions. He gave an impassioned defense of the faith before describing the hard-heartedness of his accusers. But instead of repenting, they were “furious and gnashed their teeth at him” (v. 54). They dragged him from the city and stoned him to death—even as he prayed for their forgiveness.

            The stories of Stephen and modern martyrs remind us that the message of Christ can be met with brutality. If we have never faced persecution for our faith, let’s pray for the persecuted church around the world. And may we, if and when tested, find grace to be found faithful to the One who suffered so much more for us.

That Thing You Do

As the convoy waited to roll out, a young marine rapped urgently on the window of his team leader’s vehicle. Irritated, the sergeant rolled down his window. “What?”

            “You gotta do that thing,” the marine said. “What thing?” asked the sergeant. “You know, that thing you do,” replied the marine.

Then it dawned on the sergeant. He always prayed for the convoy’s safety, but this time he hadn’t. So he dutifully climbed out of the Humvee and prayed for his marines. The marine understood the value of his praying leader.

In ancient Judah, Abijah doesn’t stand out as a great king. First Kings 15:3 tells us, “His heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God.” But as Judah prepared for war against Israel, outnumbered two to one, Abijah knew this much: Faithful people in his kingdom of Judah had continued worshiping God (2 Chron. 13:10–12), while the ten tribes of Israel had driven out the priests of God and worshiped pagan gods instead (vv. 8–9). So Abijah turned confidently to the one true God.

  Surely Abijah’s checkered history had caused grave damage. But he knew where to turn in the crisis, and his army won soundly “because they relied on the Lord, the God of their ancestors” (v.18). Our God welcomes whoever comes to Him and relies on Him. 

A Faithful Servant

Madaleno is a bricklayer. From Monday to Thursday he builds walls and repairs roofs. He is quiet, reliable, and hardworking. Then from Friday to Sunday he goes up to the mountains to teach the Word of God. Madaleno speaks Nahuatl (a Mexican dialect), so he can easily communicate the good news of Jesus to the people in that region. At age 70, he still works with his hands building houses, but he also works to build the family of God.

His life has been threatened several times. He has slept under the stars and faced death from car accidents and falls. He has been kicked out of towns. But he thinks that God has called him to do what he does, and he serves happily. Believing that people need to know the Lord, he relies on God for the strength he needs.

Madaleno’s faithfulness reminds me of the faithfulness of Caleb and Joshua, two of the men Moses sent to explore the Promised Land and report back to the Israelites (Num. 13; Josh. 14:6-13). Their companions were afraid of the people who lived there, but Caleb and Joshua trusted in God and believed He would help them conquer the land.

The work entrusted to us may be different than Madaleno’s or Caleb’s and Joshua’s. But our confidence can be the same. In reaching out to others, we rely not on ourselves but on the strength of our God.

2 A.M. Friends

A friend told me about a group of people who share a strong bond of faith in Christ. One of them, a 93-year-old woman, said, “I feel like I can call any of you at 2 a.m., and I don’t even have to apologize if I feel the need for any type of assistance.” Whether the need is prayer, practical help, or someone to be there during a time of need, these friends are unconditionally committed to each other.

The same sense of commitment shines through Paul’s letter to the followers of Jesus in Colossae. Writing from prison in Rome, Paul says he is sending Tychicus and Onesimus to encourage them (Col. 4:7-9). Aristarchus, Mark, and Justus send their greetings (vv.10-11). And Epaphras is “always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured” (v. 12). These are bold assurances of practical help and deep-seated love.

Are you part of a “2 a.m. group”? If so, give thanks for the faithfulness of friends. If not, ask the Lord to connect you with another person with whom you can share a commitment to pray and care. I suspect it will soon grow to include others. Share the love of Christ with one another.

Anything. Anytime. Anywhere. All in Jesus’ name!

Failure Is Not Fatal

Prime Minister Winston Churchill knew how to bolster the spirits of the British people during World War II. On June 18, 1940, he told a frightened populace, “Hitler knows that he will have to break us . . . or lose the war. . . . Let us therefore brace . . . and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire [lasts] for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour!’ ”

            We would all like to be remembered for our “finest hour.” Perhaps the apostle Peter’s finest hour was when he proclaimed, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:69). Sometimes, however, we let our failures define us. After Peter repeatedly denied that he knew Jesus, he went out and wept bitterly (Matt. 26:75; John 18).

            Like Peter, we all fall short—in our relationships, in our struggle with sin, in our faithfulness to God. But “failure is not fatal,” as Churchill also said. Thankfully, this is true in our spiritual life. Jesus forgave the repentant Peter for his failure (John 21) and used him to preach and lead many to the Savior.

            Failure is not fatal. God lovingly restores those who turn back to Him.

A Work In Progress

Pablo Casals was considered to be the preeminent cellist of the first half of the 20th century. When he was still playing his cello in the middle of his tenth decade of life, a young reporter asked, “Mr. Casals, you are 95 years old and the greatest cellist that ever lived. Why do you still practice 6 hours a day?”

Story Stewards

Many people take great care to make sure their resources are used well after they die. They set up trusts, write wills, and establish foundations to guarantee that their assets will continue to be used for a good purpose after their life on earth is done. We call this good stewardship.

Another Hero Of Christmas

For most of my life, I missed the importance of Joseph in the Christmas story. But after I became a husband and father myself, I had a greater appreciation for Joseph’s tender character. Even before he knew how Mary had become pregnant, he decided that he wasn’t going to embarrass or punish her for what seemed to be infidelity (Matt. 1:19).

An Honest Heart

I came across an epitaph on an old gravestone in a cemetery the other day. It read, “J. Holgate: An honest man.”

D-Day

Recently I asked my older sister, Mary Ann, if she remembered when our family moved into the house where we lived for many years. She replied, “You were about 9 months old, and I remember that Mother and Daddy stayed up all night packing boxes and listening to the radio. It was June 6, 1944, and they were listening to live coverage of the Normandy Invasion.”

What’s In A Name?

My friend wrote a letter to his newborn child that he wanted him to read when he was older: “My dear boy, Daddy and Mummy wish that you will find and stay focused on the Light. Your Chinese name is xin xuan. Xin means faithfulness, contentment, and integrity; xuan stands for warmth and light.” He and his wife carefully chose a name based on their hopes for their baby boy.

The Blessing Of Giving

It made no sense for a widow to donate her last few coins to a corrupt institution in Jerusalem, where scribes who were dependent on those gifts “devour[ed] widows’ houses” (Mark 12:40). But in that woman’s act, Jesus saw a moving display of the proper attitude toward money (vv.41-44).

The Good And The Bad

Recently, I began studying the kings of the Old Testament with some friends. I noticed on the chart that we were using that a few of the leaders of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah are labeled good, but most of them are labeled bad, mostly bad, extra bad, and the worst.

Faithful To The Finish

After running 32 kilometers (20 miles) of the Salomon Kielder Marathon in Great Britain, a runner dropped out and rode a bus to a wooded area near the finish line. Then, he re-entered the race and claimed third prize. When officials questioned him, he stated that he stopped running because he was tired.

Tell The Story

In an interview with Wired magazine, filmmaker George Lucas was asked how he wanted to be remembered. He replied: “I’ll be remembered as a filmmaker. . . . Hopefully some of the stories I told will still be relevant. . . . If you’ve raised children, you know you have to explain things to them, and if you don’t, they end up learning the hard way. . . . So the old stories have to be reiterated again in a form that’s acceptable to each new generation. I don’t think I’m ever going to go much beyond the old stories, because I think they still need to be told.”

Expect Great Things

William Carey was an ordinary man with an extraordinary faith. Born into a working-class family in the 18th century, Carey made his living as a shoemaker. While crafting shoes, Carey read theology and journals of explorers. God used His Word and the stories of the discovery of new people groups to burden him for global evangelism. He went to India as a missionary, and not only did he do the work of an evangelist but he learned Indian dialects into which he translated the Word of God. Carey’s passion for missions is expressed by his words: “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.” Carey lived out this maxim, and thousands have been inspired to do missionary service by his example.