Courage

I’m not sure why it took me so long to see my mother as the exemplar of courage, but that’s what she was. In retrospect, her whole life was a portrait of courage, so why did it take me so long to realize it? I have a hunch.

Always honest, Mom characterized herself as being naturally fearful, and it’s true that, like so many, she fretted too much. But courage isn’t the mere absence of fear, as some would shortchange it to be; rather, courage means going forward despite our fear, confronting that which frightens us. And Mom only knew one direction in life—forward. For her, there was no retreat from life’s challenges; she faced them with sincere faith and walked through them in steely resolve.

Her second lesson in courage was likely one Mom never knew she had taught, but it remains indelibly etched on my soul, and that is this: courage is best taught—or best caught—by example. When widowed at a young age, it was in courage that she raised three young children to adulthood alone. Asked to manage a bookstore despite having no experience running a business, it took courage to step up to the task. (She turned a profit in her first year.) And though her family was with her as she approached death’s door, we could only look on with deep love and respect as she alone crossed over its threshold, dying with the courage in which she had lived.

The apostle Paul knew the best way for all of us to encounter our fears is to jettison our knee-jerk reactions to them through the Spiritual fruit of self-control, and he understood there is no better way to bolster faith and confidence in others than to exemplify courage among them. So, when coaching a pastor through distance-learning, he wrote this piece of practical advice to Titus, “Encourage the young men to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech…” (Titus 2:6-8).

To which I say, “Well said, Paul.” And, “Well lived, Mom.”

Father, though I trust in you, I still fear what I should not fear. Send your Spirit to produce in me self-control and to encourage me with truth. In the name of Jesus, I pray. Amen.

Christ in me is confidence.

A Bust in the Hall of Faith

When he was in the fourth-grade, our son chose as his “Ohio project” to report on the Pro Football Hall of Fame. (Thank you, Matthew, for leaving Ohio’s canal systems, salt mines and burial mounds in the capable hands of your classmates.) Located in North Canton, the HOF was just a two-hour drive away, which, of course, meant, “road trip!” There we saw bust after bust of pro football’s greats—from Jim Brown to Dick Butkus—and the array of memorabilia, including Jim Thorpe’s Canton Bulldogs uniform, was mesmerizing for two admiring pilgrims. For these real-life relics recalled an excellence displayed on the field week after week, year after year.

Yet I couldn’t help but to think about the true excellence we did not see. Sprints run, weights lifted, and drills executed until exhaustion, only to rest for a moment and then do some more. Tireless resolve driving bone-weary bodies, hour after hour, day after day. The Hall welcomed us fans who came to visit, but it paid homage only to those content with nothing less than induction.

Hebrews 11 is a stroll through a different showcase of legends. Here we pause before the busts of believers—Noah, Abraham and Moses. We honor Gideon, Rahab, David and other everyday folks who persevered through the obstacles they could see, trusting in the God they could not see. Through faith some escaped the sword, and others, through faith, endured it. In trust some administered justice; in trust, some suffered injustice. All of these have finished life’s race and yet remain, urging us on from this Biblical Hall of Faith.

This particular Hall, however, is no place for mere visitors: we are all called to persevere as people of faith and to be content with nothing less. “Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,” writes the author of Hebrews, “let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”1 And so we do. Like Paul, we “press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called [us] heavenward in Christ Jesus.”2 For our own time comes soon enough, and the Hall awaits.

Father, though doubts come and go, I do trust you, for you have shown yourself to be faithful. Show me the Kingdom work you have prepared for me to do today, and strengthen me with your power to do it in faith. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

Christ in me is hope.

1 Hebrews 12:1
2 Philippians 3:14

Read today’s Scripture in Hebrews 12:1-3.

Once Many, Now One

Matthew McConaughey starred as coach Jack Lengyel in the true and inspiring story of a major college football program re-birth, a rising, of sorts, from the wreckage of a 1970 plane crash that had claimed the lives of the university’s entire team and coaching staff. Hired to build a team anew, Lengyel went to work to create something from nothing, one player and one coach at a time. They assembled from among the poor and the well-off, from the very fast to the very strong, from model lives to troubled youths, from African descent, European descent and more. What began as no individuals became many, and from many individuals emerged a team, together now proclaiming their identity of one—“We Are Marshall.”

In its way, the movie illustrates the body of Christ, a singular people made up of many persons. “Once you were not a people,” writes Peter, “but now you are the people of God.” In His mercy, we have come from backgrounds unimaginably diverse—from rich and poor, from East and West, North and South, from other religions or no religion, from ethnicities, tribes and nations around the globe. What have we become? Once many, we are one—“a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God.”

On the surface, such lofty titles can sound at least a little elitist, institutional and antiquated. Candidly, it’s easier for us to relate to football! Life is not a weekend pastime, however; it is toughed out every moment of every day and with real consequences. People crave goodness in an unjust world, and love amid cruelty, so God sends His chosen people, to reflect His character, where hope resides. People swim in confusion over who God is and how to find him; His holy nation points clearly and joyfully to Him who is the way, the truth and the life. People not only need prayer, they want prayer; what more can this humble priesthood do than to intercede for them and with them. And who but a people belonging to God is called to sacrifice our comfort for others’ care, and to exchange self-soothing convenience for outreaching compassion. It is still true: we thrive as one. We Are Priesthood.

Father, though I do not deserve it, you have saved me in Christ and joined me to His body. Lead me into the priestly duties you have for me — to speak hope and truth, to serve in your name, to give of myself as you give of yourself. I pray in the name of Him who died to make us holy. Amen.

Christ in me is holiness.

Read today’s Scripture in 1 Peter 2:9, 10.