The last few days, I have been around friends with young children. My youngest is about to be 20, so it has been striking to me to remember the commitment it is to raise a little child. When you are in the thick of it, it seems perfectly normal and comes naturally to most people, but it is truly a massive undertaking. Taking a helpless newborn and nurturing them, training them, helping them learn to walk and talk and act properly, and eventually to be independent is no small achievement. It is a long game, and takes much patience, day after day, for many years.
If any of us were to try to select a word that perfectly described the heart of American culture in 2019, several words might pop into mind - rushed, busy, plugged-in, frustrated - but patient is not likely to be anywhere near the top of the list. You read all the time about road rage, fistfights on Black Friday, rude comments in response to social media posts, and so many other incidents of complete impatience and annoyance. Beyond that, we have become so used to things happening instantly that we have lost the ability to wait for anything. We want what we want right now, and tend to become frustrated when it does not happen. Fast food used to be a novelty, and two-day shipping was unheard of. Now we are mad when the order takes fifteen minutes or if the package comes a day late. Carefully and lovingly written letters used to be something we took the time to compose - and how wonderful it was to anticipate the reply. Now we are frustrated when people do not respond to our quick text within the hour. We are not patient as a collective.
The older translations of the Bible sometimes used a different word for patience, a word that has sadly fallen out of common use, and that is long-suffering. What a great term - it clearly describes the reality of the parent/child relationship. It plainly spells out the fact this is going to take a very long time and cost me a great deal. But implicit in the parent-child relationship is the truth that all of the long-suffering is absolutely worth it. Patiently helping our little ones learn and grow has great reward and pleasure that far outweighs the personal sacrifice of time, resources, and energy.
This understanding of patiently and selflessly helping others who need care ought to be treated seriously in each of our homes, but could also transform our neighborhoods and cities. Things are not ideal in our society, and most of us are perpetually disheartened. We all look around for someone else to fix things, and quickly, but it never seems to happen. What could happen if every Christian embraced this long-game mentality like that of a parent with a child, and really helped others learn to grow in the grace and knowledge of God?
One of my favorite Psalms has always been Psalm 40. Verses 1-3 say...
“I waited patiently for the Lord; He turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me up out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and the mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.”
This is my personal testimony. As a college freshman, I had selfishly opted out of the lifestyle in which my parents had raised me – one of godliness, temperance and faithfulness – and jumped wholeheartedly into the college scene. Jesus indeed lifted me out of a slimy pit – I hate to think of what my life would look like now if He hadn’t saved me! He truly set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand; He did put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.
This psalm is my story - with one great difference. I was not the person who waited patiently for the Lord, it was a wonderful woman named Melanie who waited patiently on my behalf. I have no doubt that she will one day receive a great reward in Heaven for her long-suffering and selflessness. Eli had been attending a Bible study that Melanie's husband held that year, and had a tremendous salvation experience. Melanie introduced herself to me and invited me into her home and into her life, and very kindly began causing me to question some of my beliefs and behaviors.
Over a period of months she listened to me and loved me – without judging me- and patiently guided me to the feet of Jesus. I am quite sure that without her influence I would not know the Lord as I know Him today, nor would every person that I have been able to help over the years, nor the ones that they have helped in turn. When I think back to the year I spent in her care and discipleship, I am amazed by her patience. I vividly remember some of the jumbled thoughts I shared with her, sadly unaware of my own spiritual ignorance, but she never gave up on me. Melanie and her husband poured themselves into us for months, tirelessly guiding and redirecting us until our feet found that firm place to stand. They could have done so many other things with their time, but they chose to spend it helping us learn to walk with God and to care for others around us, and it changed our lives.
God has dealt so patiently with me. He sent a woman into my life who took me by the hand as I stumbled, and who helped me fan my faith into flame. Now I must ask myself whether I have done the same for others. Have I been unselfish with my life, choosing to give my time to people who need some guidance and encouragement? We have a saying in our ministry that we try to impart to everyone who comes through: what God does in me, He wants to do through me. In other words...
I am never an end for the blessings of God to flow into and just remain. I am a conduit for the blessings of God to flow through, so that many may experience His goodness.
Many hurting people could experience the love and hope of Jesus if we would take this seriously. Many people in our churches and neighborhoods and places of work are floundering in the mud and mire, waiting for one of us to reach out a hand and help them find the firm place to stand. It took a year of Melanie's life and time to get me on the right track and solidly plugged into a Christian community where I could continue to learn and grow, and I had been raised in a loving, Christian home with much regular church and Bible influence. How much more time and effort might it take for someone who starts at a much more disadvantaged place? Just like my friends with infants and toddlers, it might take years of patience and commitment to help someone meet Jesus and learn to walk with Him.
Look around this week - who could use your help and time and care? Many people - especially young people - all around you are lacking help and direction, and plenty of people with wicked motives are likely to find them. Perhaps the Lord would lead you to be a godly and safe influence in their life instead? Opening up our hearts and homes in long-suffering hope and care for others certainly costs, but the reward of helping someone walk with Jesus far outweighs the toll. Let's choose this path so that many may see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.
Today we celebrate Valentine’s Day! Every store is filled with cards, chocolates, flowers, and stuffed animals to purchase so we can all be sure to let our loved ones know how much we care for them. We really love Love, don’t we? There is no end to the number of poems and songs that have been written and sung about love. Is is the great theme through the ages, and just about everyone recognizes our deep desire to love and be loved.
The best movies - the ones that go on to be called classics and that many will watch even tonight - involve the concept that there is something deep and profound called true love. This special kind of love is so powerful that nothing can stop it - not money or time or even death. Many enduring childhood stories reflect this search. Old fairy tales like Cinderella, or Beauty and the Beast, or Snow White all bear witness to the idea that true love is something real and transformational.
Of course, this means that there is a lesser thing, also called love, that is not as powerful at all. We could call it false love. This imposter is very often selfish and fleeting. Sadly, it is also sung about and portrayed in countless songs and movies - a “love” that only means taking and leaving. It means that someone is satisfying some kind of appetite - be it lust or power or influence or acceptance - but will only stay as long as that appetitie is being satisfied. Is is nothing less than tragic to watch the toll false love has exacted on our society. This kind of love is not love at all, and it leaves a great trail of wreckage and confusion in its wake.
Unfortunately, we are limited in the English language by the fact that we have but one word to describe such a wide range of meaning. I can say, “Oh, I love this shirt,” and mean that I really appreciate the fit and fabric and think that it looks nice. You might say, “”I really love football,” and by it mean that you enjoy watching games and keeping track of the different players and their statistics, and even that you will arrange your weekend schedule as often as possible to accomodate watching entire games. But this same word to describe how we feel about clothing or a hobby is the only word we have to describe our relationship with the people who are most important to us in life. No wonder there is such confusion about what true love actually is.
If only there was something we could look to and say, “This is love!” How wonderful it would be if we could teach our children and encourage one another with a beautiful model and picture of what true love actually is. I am sure that many well-meaning people are unclear on what love is because they are not aware that there is actually a standard - but there is...
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. -1 John 4:10
It is not just sentiment or rhetoric - it is reality. God is love, and we can see what that looks like because Jesus came down and showed us. True love is not selfish, but selfless. True love is not taking, but giving. True love is just like God, and the Apostle Paul explained this love beautifully in 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” It isn't a myth or an impossible dream. True love is real through Christ.
So, what does true love look like in someone other than Jesus? Can regular people live in such a way that true love flows through their lives and impacts others?
I can think of many great examples in history, but none better (considering the day) than St. Valentine himself. Little is known about this man or his life, except that he was a Christian priest in Rome in the middle AD 200’s. Tradition says that St. Valentine stood up for biblical marriage against the vast Roman Empire, which was against marriage in fear that it made its young soldiers weaker. Valentine was put under house arrest, and during that time prayed for his judge’s daughter to be healed. Jesus opened her blind eyes, and the whole household became Christian. The day we are celebrating in his name, February 14, is the day that he was martyred by the Roman government for refusing to denounce his faith in Jesus Christ. Legend says that before his death, he sent a note of encouragement to the judge's daughter signed, "from your Valentine."
Far from being a day to celebrate cheap love that only takes from its object, this is a day to celebrate real, true love - love that would give its very life for its object. I pray that the great love of God would be renewed today in your heart and in your relationships. May your life be a light that shines brightly with the true love of Jesus to the lost and broken all around you.
Hi! I'm Mary - mother to two wonderful grown daughters, wife to an incredible husband, and loving our life in the piney woods of Texas... (read more!)
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