The Heart of a Champion: Stay Loyal
People said it was a record that would never be broken.
It was called “the Iron Man” record. It was Lou Gehrig’s string of playing in 2,130 consecutive major league baseball games. And then, just a year ago now, the record which many thought would never be broken was shattered by Cal Ripken, Jr. of the Baltimore Orioles. That means that Cal Ripken has played in every game since 1982. And he didn’t play just a few innings or appear as a designated hitter just to keep the streak alive. I am sure that there have been a lot of days when Cal Ripken felt bad or had some injury. I am sure that there were some days when he would have preferred to be somewhere else. I am sure he frequently faced the temptation to just slack off a bit. But not Cal Ripken. He was always on the field, always hustling, always giving his best for the team. And he didn’t just go for the record and then stop. Now, a year later, he still hasn’t missed a game.
Put that record in perspective. Cal Ripken has now played in nearly 2,300 consecutive games. The major league player in second place in this category has played in only 250 games. That’s about twelve years short of the record. I remember watching the night Cal Ripken broke that record and I remember being so impressed with his humility and his devotion to his team and to the fans of Baltimore. When they interrupted that game for a standing ovation that lasted 22 minutes, Cal Ripken circled the field slowly, shaking hands and “high-fiving” the fans in the stadium. It was one of the greatest moments in the history of sports. As this remarkable scene unfolded, I remember the TV commentator saying: “There is a man who understands the meaning of the word ‘loyalty’”. Other players have had greater ability. Other players have made a lot more money. But Cal Ripken has stayed loyal to his own priorities, to his team, and to the people of Baltimore.
Loyalty—that’s the key. In a time when too many professional athletes go running after the illusive allure of money and fame and self-interest, Cal Ripken stands as a glorious exception. He has the heart of a champion. He stayed loyal. And his is the story of how dreams can come true through persistence and tenacity and deep, deep commitment.
Cal Ripken’s story reminds me of some words Jesus spoke in the Book of Revelation to the Christians at Philadelphia. Philadelphia was located in what we know today as Turkey. It was a rather large city, and it was known for its worship of pagan gods. And yet in the midst of that city there lived a company of Christians who faced strong opposition every day of their lives, but they were faithful to Christ. In fact, they were so faithful that Jesus said to them: “I know your works…I know that you have little power, and yet you have kept my word and you have not denied my name. That’s loyalty. There is great beauty and power in loyalty. If you have a loyal friend, someone who will stand beside you when everyone else falls away; if you have a loyal friend who will come to your aid no matter what you need, great or small; if you have that kind of loyal friend, you are blessed indeed. These Christians in Philadelphia were loyal to their Lord and consequently, they became a great blessing to the world around them. So I want us to look at what Jesus said to those loyal Christians so long ago, for what he said to the loyal then, He says to the loyal now.
The first thing Jesus says is: “Look, I have set before you an open door which no one is able to shut.”
In other words, Jesus is saying that those who live in loyalty to Him will have greater opportunities and accomplish more in life. I was reminded of that truth when I heard from a young minister who receives tapes of the sermons preached here, but whom I have never met. He told me of attending a conference where one of the speakers was a woman named Dr. Nikame Tek. She teaches now at the University of Connecticut. She is a Polish Jew and grew up in Poland during the Nazi Holocaust. She has devoted her life since to studying and memorializing the lives of those Christians who, at great personal risk, helped to save the Jews the Nazis were trying to kill. She claims that she has found four characteristics common to all those Christians who sacrificed to save the Jews. The first characteristic was that they were strong individuals. They did not go with the crowd. They followed the inner compass of their lives directed by God. The second thing she discovered was that they all had a long history of doing good. Acts of generosity and sacrifice were basic to their lives. The third characteristic was that doing God’s will had become their will. Therefore, they didn’t have to struggle over the choice of whether to help or not. When the moment of challenge came, they responded instantly. The fourth thing she discovered about those Christians who saved the lives of her fellow Jews was that they lived lives of unquestioned loyalty to God.
Do you get the point? Loyalty is God-centered living. Loyalty is putting God and the things of God and the people of God first. And when you do that, the Lord is going to open for you doors of opportunity which no one can shut.
The Carey brothers are a case in point. Mr. Carey, Sr. was a successful and wealthy merchant in England at the turn of the century. He had two sons, George and William. He saw to it that they were educated splendidly at Oxford University, but he made no effort to determine what field of work they would choose for their lives. He said: “I will support you in whatever choice is yours.” The older boy, George, decided that he would become involved in politics and eventually he did become a member of Parliament. The younger boy, William, decided to become a missionary to India. The rest of the family sought to dissuade him from this, but without success. He claimed that his loyalty to God required that he respond to God1s call to this place of service. The foremost experts in the history of India have since declared that no single person, not even Mahatma Gandhi, has affected the course of Indian history in this century as did William Carey. There is a book called Who’s Who in Great Britain. In that book, the names of the two Carey boys appear. Under the name of William Carey there are two full pages listing his accomplishments in his ministry and in his work in India. Under the name of George Carey, there is one line which reads: “He was the brother of William Cary.”
The fact is that those who live in loyalty to God have greater opportunity and accomplish more in life. Jesus said: “I set before you an open door which no one is able to shut.”
Then Jesus says to those who stay loyal: “Because you have kept my word of patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial.”
In other words, He is saying that for those who live in loyalty to Him, when they encounter the tough times in life, they won’t have to face them alone—Jesus will be with them.
The musician, James Galway, is one of the most brilliant and popular flute players of our time. One night, after playing a concert in Switzerland, James Galway was walking with some friends to a restaurant just down the street from the concert hall. Suddenly, they heard the loud roar of an approaching motorcycle behind them. They moved quickly to the side of the road, but not quickly enough. The motorcycle plowed into the group. Three of them, including James Galway, were seriously injured. Galway spent months in the hospital trying to restore his broken body. After his release, it was still a long time before he was able to play in public again, and then only in a wheelchair. James Galway’s reaction to that terrifying experience speaks volumes for his champion’s heart and his courageous faith. Referring to what he called “the need to pick up the pieces of my life” and start all over again, James Galway said this: “I am closer to the Lord now than ever before. And I have decided that henceforth I will play every concert, cut every record, and give every TV performance as if it were my last. The important thing is to make sure that every time I play the flute, my performance will be as near perfection as God intended, and I shall not be remembered for a shoddy performance.”
I believe that God does take care of Christians in the time of trial. Life is not easy. Sometimes, in fact, it is incredibly hard. Being a Christian does not mean that we shall be spared the heartaches and the heartbreaks of life. But those who stay loyal to the Lord in life can claim this great promise from the lips of Jesus: “I will keep you. I will take care of you when the time of trial shall come.”
Next, Jesus says to those who stay loyal: “I will make you a pillar in the temple of God.”
You’ve heard that expression, haven’t you? We say: “He or she is a pillar in the church.” That expression comes from right here in Revelation. A pillar of the church is one who supports it, undergirds it, upholds it, keeps it strong and stable. Now in Asia Minor where this Philadelphia church was located, it was an area where earthquakes frequently occurred. Because that was true, the people of Philadelphia knew how important it was to build buildings with strong supports. Therefore, this word would have had a special meaning to the Christians in that place. They would have understood that Jesus was reminding them that a church built upon strong, solid, committed Christians could withstand the jolting attacks of evil in this world.
I thank God for the pillars in this church, those people who so freely give of themselves, their time and their money, to build this church strong, stable, and secure for the future. No doubt you are aware of the movement sweeping our country known as “Promise Keepers.” I am thrilled that this weekend more than 50 men from this church attended the Promise Keeper’s rally. One of the reasons the movement is so helpful is that it challenges men to make some promises- seven promises—powerful promises—promises which are worthy of both men and women in Christ. Here they are:
- … a Promise Keeper is committed to honoring Jesus Christ through worship, prayer and obedience to God’s word in the power of the Holy Spirit.
- …a Promise Keeper is committed to pursuing vital relationships with a few other men, understanding that he needs brothers to help him keep his promises.
- …a Promise Keeper is committed to practicing spiritual, moral, ethical and sexual purity.
- … a Promise Keeper is committed to building strong marriages and families through love, protection, and biblical values.
- …a Promise Keeper is committed to supporting the mission of the church by honoring and praying for his pastor, and by actively giving his time and resources.
- …a Promise Keeper is committed to reaching beyond any racial and denominational barriers to demonstrate the power of biblical unity.
- …a Promise Keeper is committed to influencing his world, being obedient to the Great Commandment and to the Great Commission.
People who make and keep those kinds of promises are people who stay loyal to Jesus Christ—and they hear this word from the Lord Himself: “I will make you pillars in the temple of God.”
It seems that a group of theological students in one of our Presbyterian seminaries regularly played basketball late at night in a nearby public school. The janitor of that school was an elderly African American man with thick white hair. He would sit in the bleachers each night waiting for the students to finish playing so that he could close up the gym for the night. Always while he waited, he would read his Bible. One night one of the seminary students said to him: “What are you reading in your Bible?” He said, “The book of Revelation.” The student was surprised. He said: “But that’s such a difficult book. Do you understand it?” The older man replied: “Oh, yes, I understand it all right!” The student said: “You understand the Book of Revelation? Well, tell me, what do you think it means?” The old man looked up, smiled warmly, and said: “It means Jesus is gonna win! Yes, that’s what it means. Jesus is gonna win!”
He’s right. Dear friends, stay loyal to Jesus Christ and to His church. Why? Because in the end Jesus is gonna win!
Count on it.