Have you ever wondered, What do I have to do to live a stable life, to not be twisted with every fierce wind of opposition or pulled from what is right to what is ultimately degrading? How can I have the kind of healthy fellowship with God that will bring joy and fulfillment?
1 Timothy 4:16—Pay close attention to your life and your teaching; persevere in these things, for by doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.
The Apostle Paul wrote his protégé Timothy to encourage him but what makes his words so powerful is his own example. He faithfully paid close attention to his life and his teaching. Next to Jesus, the case could be made that he influenced Christianity worldwide through his leadership more than any other man. His epistles continue as vital roots of the worship, theology, and pastoral life in the Catholic and Protestant traditions of the West, and the Orthodox traditions of the East.
What made Saint Paul such a strong leader was that he:
Sadie is amazing. Her body is constantly wracked in arthritic pain yet her countenance reveals mostly joy. She has more broken bones than most football players. Her abusive husband died leaving her penniless and with no insurance to handle her ever-mounting medical bills. Still, she does not complain. Her ’96 faded blue Ford Taurus won’t start so she must rely on the help of others to get around until she can find the money to pay a mechanic to fix it. Her son is addicted to meth and her daughter is in her fourth relationship with a man who is a total controller. If anyone was a candidate for bitterness it would be Sadie. Yet she is serene and confident in her faith. She consistently encourages others—an empathy distributing angel in a world of mean, selfish people. What is her secret?
Dashrath Manjhi by his own hands carved a road through a 300-foot mountain to provide his town access to doctors, education and opportunities. After his wife fell down and got hurt while trying to cross the mountain that separated two villages, Manjhi sold three goats to buy a hammer and chisel. He decided to do something to make it safer for his family and those in their village. So from 4:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. and from 1:00 p.m. to evening each day he attacked the mountain—pounding his way through massive rock. From 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. he plowed the fields of his neighbors to earn enough money to sustain his family.
If Chandra’s* street address reflected what most of her life is like it would be called Despair Circle. Her father died when she was young and he was the one person who truly understood and loved her. Before entering college she was brutally raped on her way home from work—an assault that left her scarred and devalued. She married a man who promised to take care of her but it was never a union of love. He would become an alcoholic, cheat on her and verbally abuse her and the three children she would conceive. Eventually, battling horrific pain, he would succumb to brain and liver cancer leaving her with thousands of dollars of credit card debt and zero income.
Psalm 138:8—The LORD will fulfill His purpose for me. LORD, Your love is eternal; do not abandon the work of Your hands.
There is natural reason for Ukrainians to dread Russia taking over their country again—oppression under communism was intense and costly. Ukrainian Kostyantyn spent many years in a Soviet labor camp. The authorities disliked his actions as an elder in his church so they sent him to be re-educated. Over 200 pastors were also sent to the same camp.
He stood to my left with the most perplexed look on his face. No matter which sink the teenager chose to extend his hands, water would not come out of the metal pipes. They were invisible under the sensors which should have triggered action. I left that men’s room in Baltimore Washington International airport laughing, thinking of all the times the same thing happened to me.
Dmitri determined to educate his sons from the Bible at a time when Russia was dominated by communism. Soon neighbors began joining the family Bible study which grew to about 75 people crammed into his little house and standing outside in hearing range. Angry at his refusal to stop teaching the Bible, an officer and soldiers pushed inside during a time of fellowship and arrested him. As the authorities were leaving, a small grandmother waved a finger at the officer and declared, “You have laid hands on a man of God and you will NOT survive.” Two nights later that officer died of a heart attack. The fear of God so filled that community that 150 people joined the next time of teaching. Meanwhile Dmitri was sent to jail.
Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s youthful dictator pushes his nation towards the brink of war. Threatening a “‘preemptive nuclear attack’ on the United States, a ‘final destruction’ of South Korea, and a ‘nuclear attack’ on Tokyo” leaves much of the world holding its collective breath. While we should pray that war does not break out, we should also remember that even bullies and police states cannot keep God from revealing His love in amazing ways.
2 Timothy 1:16,17-- May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he diligently searched for me and found me.
A runner sees endurance as vital to finishing a race; a parent sees endurance as the ability to shepherd a child to adulthood. Endurance originates from the compound Greek word: hupo (under) + meno (to remain) to give us the concept continuing under pressure. It is much more than a physical resolve, it is a mental resolve. Without sufficient why, the what loses meaning and we are more prone to quit.
Every day I receive emails from the Pentagon with news of a soldier taking his or her life. Some days there are multiple messages. The reports are concise and heartbreaking. Today after three emails I just had to cry. A colonel facing retirement put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger; a female captain hung herself; a sergeant overdosed on drugs; a private threw himself in front of traffic; and, a specialist leaped from a bridge. Relentlessly these bitter messages invade my computer.
Toxicity is an ongoing condition of antagonism which perpetuates open wounds. Toxic people are experts in creating hostile environments. For over a year now my son has put up with an older woman who badgers him and his fellow employees constantly. She whines, manipulates to get her way, criticizes, and uses sarcasm and mocking to tear down those around her. Why she is such an unhappy person, no one seems to know. But going to work is not fun for Bryan.
In 1928 a book called Nestorian Missionary Enterpriseby the Reverend John Stewart was published. It shattered a misconception I held and brought to light valuable lessons. I thought that much of China, northern India, Afghanistan, Mongolia and the nomadic regions had little exposure to the gospel. In reality, by the middle of the sixth century, Nestorian missionaries canvassed India, Ceylon, China, and Mongolia. Professor P.Y. Saeki states that “the leaven of Nestorianism has penetrated the whole of Chinese literature.” From China the gospel spread to Japan and the Empress Komyo in the eight century was reputedly a Christian. While Genghis Khan and his heirs wiped out millions of people through his brutal campaign across Asia and into parts of Europe, his grandson Guyuk was a Christian and under his leadership Christianity flourished across the Mongol empire.
Roman Catholic monk Girolamo Savonarola, (September 21, 1452 – May 23, 1498), was shocked by the immorality in Italy and by the corruption he observed within the church. As a teenager, he walked beside the River Po where he sang to God and wept over the condition of the people. At the age of 22, he wrote “Contempt of the World,” comparing the sins of his time to Sodom and Gomorrah. Years later, while praying, the Holy Spirit gave him a vision in which he was told to announce to the people that hard times were coming to the church.
Almost five years ago, I shared the story of David Knecht, a West Point classmate who suffered a horrifying injury while on a military exercise that left him partially paralyzed and blind in his right eye. The name of that reveration was Glory. This week I was able to visit Dave and Annette in their home in Tampa, Florida.