In Honor of Ordinary Fathers

Sometimes you find heroes in the most unlikely places. Since today is Father’s Day, I want to honor those ordinary dads everywhere who are living quietly, faithful lives. These guys are the real heroes.

A few months ago, I traveled to our nation’s capital. I was there with my husband for the 64th annual National Prayer Breakfast. David and I walked our nation’s corridors of power and met influential men and women who faithfully serve our country. We spent time with our congressmen. And we took fascinating tours of the capitol,  awestruck at the compelling stories about the faith of our Founding Fathers. They were truly great men of honor. Their names are written in history, and their impact will last for generations.

But the real hero showed up—of all places—in a taxi while we were traveling back to our hotel. Our driver was a gentle,  friendly man with an east African accent. He began talking about his 33 years driving a cab in Washington DC. Times had changed, he explained, and drivers now had to guard against criminals who no longer just robbed, but sometimes killed taxi drivers.

So he had moved his family to the suburbs. His three kids, he went on to tell us, had all graduated from fine colleges on scholarships. He beamed with that special dad-kind-of-pride. All three now held prestigious jobs in the DC area. “I’m blessed,” he smiled. “I have my health and I’m able to work. I have all I need,”

“You must have done some pretty good parenting on your part,” I commented. “What’s your secret?” “My secret,” he laughed, “is America.” “In America, if you’re willing to work hard, you can reach your dream.”

“Hmm,” I replied. “There are some who would say it’s not possible here.” “Ah,” he paused. “They have never lived in another country.” He was from Eritrea, he went on to tell us. One of the most oppressive countries in the world, Eritrea heavily persecutes Christians. Some refer it the “North Korea of Africa. He was a man of deep faith and I noticed the cross prominently displayed on his dashboard. “People here don’t know what it’s like to not have freedom,” he said quietly.

He fled the persecution and came to America. Educated as an accountant by trade, he managed to find work as a cab driver.  A job he’s held ever since.  Day after day. Month after month. Year after year. But he made sure his kids were successful. “They are very smart kids,” He smiled.

His other secret to raising successful kids, he confessed, is his wife. “My wife, too. She is very nice.”   “Even though our kids now have professional careers, they call every weekend and want to come see us.” They say, “Mom, what are you cooking?” “Yes, I am a blessed man, indeed.”

I reflected on how the extraordinary can happen when an ordinary man lives a faithful, ordinary life. I knew we’d been in the presence that day of an honorable man. A hero.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the subject of honor this year since David and I completed our books on how to reclaim honor in marriage: Eight Great Ways to Honor Your Husband and Eight Great Ways to Honor Your Wife. One way I’m trying to recapture this lost art is to notice and celebrate honor when I see it.

Let’s reflect on those quietly honorable husbands and fathers in our lives today. And perhaps let them know just how thankful we are for their faithfulness in the ordinary.

The Best Kind of Honor

Who doesn’t like to receive honor? To be praised? I know I do. And I have yet to meet a child—or adult, for that matter—who doesn’t respond better to words of affirmation than criticism.

That said, our desire for praise can be a double-edged sword. Especially when it comes to standing for truth. There are times when my commitment to follow Jesus brings me face-to-face with a choice:  Will I try to win praise from people or from God? It’s impossible to always have the respect and admiration of both. Following Jesus doesn’t come with the promise of popularity.

Controversy always surrounded Jesus–especially during His time on Earth. Many religious leaders had secretly come to believe in Him.  But they wouldn’t openly acknowledge their faith for fear they would be “put out of the synagogue.” We’re told, “they loved human praise more than praise from God” (John 12:42, 43). The Message Bible puts it this way: “When push came to shove they cared more for human approval than for God’s glory.”  

Ouch! Any approval addicts out there? The truth in God’s Word presses us into this question: Do I say or do things that make me look good in the eyes of those around me or in the eyes of God?  Do we love the praises of men more than praise from God?

The word translated “praise” comes from the word doxa.  It can be defined as “honor, respect, prestige, fame, or approval.” These are good things. It’s important to give and receive honor.  The Bible teaches us to honor God and one another. I talk further about why I believe our culture is desperately thirsty for honor in my recently released  Eight Great Ways to Honor Your Husband.

But sometimes the gospel calls us to risk losing the approval of others.  Recently, I sensed God nudging me toward an uncomfortable conversation with a friend.  She and I have markedly different views on a number of issues, including abortion. I tried to respectfully share how my beliefs about the sanctity of life are grounded in the Bible. Jesus is even referred to as “the author of life” (Acts 3:15).   And since we didn’t create life, I explained, I don’t believe we have the right to destroy a human life in the womb. My friend listened and paused to think. She asked questions and shared her thoughts. Inwardly, I prayed.  Our conversation became a little intense—but not hostile. My hope is that it opened the door to further discussion.

Bottom line is that following Jesus comes with a risk. I’m trying to become more alert to opportunities to share His truth.  To obey His calling to love. To give. And to serve. Sometimes my words are accepted. Other times, not so much.

Will you join me in praying that the Lord will open doors for us to speak of His grace and truth? To seize the moment for His glory? Let’s remember to listen for the quiet whisper of the Father’s approval—truly the best kind of honor of all.

“I will honor those who honor me…” declares the Lord (1 Samuel 2:30).

“Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me” (John 12:26).

Grudge Not!

I can’t seem to get away with gossip. What I mean is that I usually get caught red-handed, or maybe I should say foot-in-mouth. Here’s how it happens. I complain about someone—in confidence to another friend—only to turn around and discover that the person about whom I’m speaking is right behind me! Or within earshot. Now the person didn’t necessarily hear what I said about them. But I’m ashamed and convicted, nevertheless. Busted, as my kids used to say!

I remember once in junior high school that I casually pointed out to my friend that a rather awkward boy in our class “ran kinda funny” on the playground. I turned around and gasped as I noticed that same boy had changed seats and was sitting right behind me! Did he overhear my thoughtless comment? I was never quite sure, but I felt terrible. The thought still makes my face flush, all these years later.

This kind of thing has happened often enough that I’m now very watchful about my words. It’s as though the Lord just won’t let me get away with speaking badly about someone. Perhaps it’s because He knows that words can be so destructive. Not just to the hearer, but also to the speaker.

The Bible spells it out plainly: “Do not complain against one another, believers, so that you will not be judged [for it]. Look! The Judge is standing right at the door” (James 5:9 AMP).

The word translated as “complain” is stenazo. It means: “to groan, sigh, to give vent to critical or censorious feelings. To call attention to someone’s flaws.”  Other versions use words like grumble, murmur, or groan. I especially like the way this rather antiquated translation puts it: Grudge not, brethren, one against another, that you may not be judged. Behold the judge standeth before the door” (James 5:9 DRA).

My paraphrase? “Grudge not…so that you are not judged!” It’s not just our words that God is warning us about. It’s also the thoughts behind those words.  As believers, we’re on the same side in a war against our enemy, the devil, and his minions.  Grumbling about one another not only hurts feelings, but it breaks our unity.

In 21 Days of Strength, we learned the importance of “sticking together” if we want to be strong—especially in battle. Breaking faith with our fellow believers leaves us especially vulnerable to the enemy. Let’s remember, the word for devil is diabalos, “the divider.” His specialty is strife. As I heard the head of a large organization once say, “I have only one immediate firing offense—stirring up strife.”

Maybe I stepped on your toes today. I sure came down hard on my own. Let’s soberly reflect on the warning in God’s Word: “Grudge not…that you may not be judged.” Like I’ve learned the hard way: The judge might be standing at the door!

The Power of Love-Day 21

Congratulations! You’ve reached the end of 21 Days of Strength. I hope you’ve found a few strategies that will help you strengthen yourself in the Lord. Remember. God is near to the broken hearted.  He loves us when we’re weak.  But He delights in making us strong.

We’ve talked about the importance of abiding in Christ, of spending time alone with God in His Word and prayer. Jesus Himself reminds us to make time to “go to our room and shut the door and pray to our Father in secret.” If we want to remain strong in the fight of faith, it’s important to stick together with our fellow believers, to de-clutter the sin that weighs us down, to obey God’s calling, and to give our lives away to others.

Growing strong in the Lord occurs as we fervently seek Him day in and day out. But even when we grow weary and weak, we know that God is ready and waiting to give us His strength. It’s His character and His very nature to give out of His own storehouse of strength and power to His children. The Apostle Paul puts it this way as he pours out his heart in prayer for all believers, including you and me:

“I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (Ephesians 3:14-16).

Did you catch that? Strength comes in the form of power through the Holy Spirit in our inner being. We grow strong so that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith. Amazing. No wonder God wants to make us strong!

The next verses give more reasons to grow strong in the Lord: “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:16-19).

Strength from the Holy Spirit helps to ground us….to root and establish us in love.  Together with other believers, united by love,  we’re enabled to grasp this enormous love of Christ.  A love that’s beyond comprehension.  A love that fills us with the “fullness of God.”  A love that gives strength and power!

Paul attempts to describe this wonderful love-power in his final benediction.  May this promise from the Word of God send us back out into our hurting and broken world, armed with unshakeable strength and wrapped in love:  “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us” ( Ephesians 3:20).  -Amen!

Breakthrough in Strength-Day 20

Strength comes as we give life to others. It’s another of the Bible’s beautiful ironies. Jesus said it this way: “Whoever would gain his life must lose it.” We’ve focused on finding strength in the Lord through 21 Days of Strength.   At times, we may discover that strength–even healing–comes when we’re encouraging someone else.

I can still remember that steamy, hot August day when I experienced this truth firsthand.  I was sitting beside the shallow end of our local YMCA swimming pool.  Our daughter splashed happily in the waist deep water with a little girl she’d befriended a few minutes earlier.  Her name was Janie.   The child seemed a bit insecure and quite needy.  No wonder.  As I watched the interactions between Janie  and her very surly father, one thing was clear.  This little girl probably lived in an angry home.  My heart went out to her.

Now, since our daughter was a toddler, she’d had a fear of water. Our happy and active child was fine in the shallow end of the pool but terrified to put her face in the water. A well-meaning swim instructor had once tried to “dunk” her under the water to teach her how to hold her breath.  After that, my strong-willed preschooler resisted learning to swim.  She informed me in no uncertain terms: “Mommy, I don’t want to swim now, or ever. And when I am a teenager, I will walk through the water.” Our family had always loved the water, so I wanted her to enjoy swimming.  Plus, I couldn’t trust her to be safe in the water since she couldn’t swim.

Earlier that same summer, my husband and I had made the decision that we would enroll our daughter in the public kindergarten that coming fall, rather than the local Christian school. This decision came with lots of prayer, but also some apprehension.  This was back in the days of forced busing, and our school drew from some rough neighborhoods.  Quite likely, a few of our young daughter’s classmates would come from fragile and broken families. How would my five-year-old handle leaving the “cocoon?”

Deep in thought, I couldn’t help overhearing the conversation next to me between two moms who were discussing how excited they were that their daughters Brittany and Sally would be kindergarten classmates at the nearby private Christian school in the fall.

My heart sank a little. Were we doing the right thing for our daughter? Should we have considered Christian school?  Instead of the “Brittanies and Sallies,” our daughter would be with the “Janies”—the broken, hurting, unpredictable Janies of this world.

The two little girls continued splashing in the shallow water. Suddenly, I caught my breath as our daughter stood up up in the waist deep water and did a beautiful dolphin dive beneath the water’s surface!  I sat there in awe as she began swimming under the water halfway across the pool.  My “terrified to get her face wet” five-year-old emerged from the water laughing and playing, completely unaware that something of a miracle had just occurred.

I looked at my watch and realized it was exactly twelve o’clock noon.  Quietly, the familiar words from one of my favorite verses,  Isaiah 58:10, swept over me: “If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.”

At exactly twelve o’clock noon, the “night” of my child’s long-standing fear of water had become as “noonday.” While she was busy loving on a little girl named Janie who needed a friend, our daughter experienced a breakthrough in a long standing fear of water.  And I found my own faith strengthened, along with a sense of peace that God could be trusted as He called us to this new adventure.