Growing up during the 1950s, I never questioned racism and the segregation practices that permeated daily life in the city where we lived. In schools, restaurants, public transportation, and neighborhoods, people with different shades of skin color were separated.
My attitude changed in 1968 when I entered US Army Basic Training. Our company included young men from many different cultural groups. We soon learned that we needed to understand and accept each other, work together, and accomplish our mission.
When Paul wrote to the first-century church at Colossae, he was well aware of the diversity of its members. He reminded them, “Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11). In a group where surface as well as deeper differences could easily divide people, Paul urged them to “clothe [themselves] with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (v. 12). And over all these virtues, he told them to put on love “which binds them all together in perfect unity” (v. 14).
Putting these principles into practice may often be a work in progress, but that is what Jesus calls us to. What we as believers hold in common is our love for Him. On that basis, we pursue understanding, peace, and unity as members of the body of Christ.
Amid all our wonderful diversity, we pursue an even greater unity in Christ.
As I stepped into the music-filled sanctuary, I looked around at the crowd that had gathered for a New Year’s Eve party. Joy lifted my heart with hope, as I recalled the prayers of the previous year. Our congregation had collectively grieved over wayward children, deaths of loved ones, job losses, and broken relationships. But we’d also experienced God’s grace as we recalled changed hearts and healed personal connections. We’d celebrated victories, weddings, graduations, and baptisms into God’s family. We’d welcomed children born, adopted, or dedicated to the Lord, and more−so much more.
Reflecting over the history of trials our church family faced, much like Jeremiah remembered his “affliction” and his “wandering” (Lam. 3:19), I believed that “because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail” (v. 22). As the prophet reassured himself of God’s past faithfulness, his words comforted me: “The
That night, each person in our congregation represented a tangible expression of God’s life-transforming love. Whatever we’d face in the years to come, as members of the interdependent body of Christ, we could rely on the Lord. And as we continue to seek Him and support one another, we can, as did Jeremiah, find our hope being ratified by faith-building memories of God’s unchanging character and dependability.
When Denise met a hurting young woman in her church, her heart went out to her and she decided to see if she could help. Every week she spent time counseling her and praying with her. Denise became her mentor. However, some church leaders didn’t notice Denise’s efforts and decided to assign a church staff member to mentor the woman. No one, they commented, seemed to be taking care of her.
While she was not expecting any credit, Denise couldn’t help but feel a little discouraged. “It’s as if I wasn’t doing anything all,” she told me.
One day, however, the young woman told Denise how grateful she was for her comfort. Denise felt encouraged. It was as if God was telling her, “I know you’re there for her.” Denise still meets with the woman regularly today.
Sometimes, we feel unappreciated when our efforts don’t get recognized. Scripture, however, reminds us that God knows what we’re doing. He sees what others don’t. And it pleases Him when we serve for His sake—not for man’s praise.
Perhaps that’s why Jesus gave us an example by telling us to do our giving “in secret,” so that “your Father, who sees what is done . . . will reward you” (Matthew 6:4). We need not look to others for recognition and praise; we can take heart that God knows when we’re faithful in serving Him and others.
“How can you be so kind if you don’t even know me!”
By making the wrong decisions, Linda had ended up in jail in a country not her own. For six years she remained in prison, and when she was set free she didn’t have anywhere to go. She thought her life was over! While her family gathered money to buy her ticket home, a kind couple offered her lodging, food, and a helping hand. Linda was so touched by their kindness that she willingly listened as they told her the good news of a God who loves her and wants to give her a second chance.
Linda reminds me of Naomi, a widow in the Bible who lost her husband and two sons in a foreign land and thought her life was over (Ruth 1). However, the Lord hadn’t forgotten Naomi, and through the love of her daughter-in-law and the compassion of a godly man named Boaz, Naomi saw God’s love and was given a second chance (4:13–17).
The same God cares for us today. Through the love of others we can be reminded of His presence. We can see God’s grace in the helping hand of people we may not even know well. But above all, God is willing to give us a fresh start. We just need, like Linda and Naomi, to see God’s hand in our everyday lives and realize He never stops showing us His kindness.
One of my favorite churches started several years ago as a ministry to ex-prisoners who were transitioning back into society. Now the church flourishes with people from all walks of life. I love that church because it reminds me of what I picture heaven will be like—filled with different kinds of people, all redeemed sinners, all bound together by the love of Jesus.
Sometimes, though, I wonder if church seems more like an exclusive club than a safe-haven for forgiven sinners. As people naturally gravitate into groups of “a certain kind” and cluster around those they feel comfortable with, it leaves others feeling marginalized. But that’s not what Jesus had in mind when He told His disciples to “love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12). His church was to be an extension of His love mutually shared with all.
If hurting, rejected people can find loving refuge, comfort, and forgiveness in Jesus, they should expect no less from the church. So let’s exhibit the love of Jesus to everyone we encounter—especially those who are not like us. All around us are people Jesus wants to love through us. What a joy it is when people unite to worship together in love—a slice of heaven we can enjoy here on earth!
I had a lump in my throat as I said good-bye to my niece on the eve of her move to Massachusetts to attend graduate school at Boston University. Though she had been away four years as an undergraduate, she hadn’t left our state. A two and a one-half-hour drive easily reunited us. Now she would be more than 800 miles away. No longer would we meet regularly to talk. I had to trust that God would take care of her.
Paul likely felt the same way as he said good-bye to the elders of the church in Ephesus. Having established the church and taught them for three years, Paul concluded these elders to be as close as family to him. Now that Paul was headed to Jerusalem, he would not see them again.
But Paul had parting advice for the Ephesians. Though they would no longer have Paul as their teacher, the Ephesians did not have to feel abandoned. God would continue to train them through “the word of his grace” (Acts 20:32) to lead the church. Unlike Paul, God would always be with them.
Whether it’s children we launch from the nest or other family and friends who move away—saying good-bye can be very difficult. They move beyond our influence and into their new lives. When we let go of their hands, we can trust that God has them in His. He can continue to shape their lives and meet their real needs— more than we ever could.
In the 2016 Rio Olympics, two athletes in the 5,000 meters race caught the world’s attention. About 3,200 meters into the race, New Zealander Nikki Hamblin and American Abbey D’Agostino collided and fell. Abbey was quickly up on her feet, but stopped to help Nikki. Moments after the two athletes had started running again, Abbey began faltering, her right leg injured as a result of the fall. It was now Nikki’s turn to stop and encourage her fellow athlete to finish the race. When Abbey eventually stumbled across the finish line, Nikki was waiting to embrace her. What a beautiful picture of mutual encouragement!
It reminds me of a passage in the Bible: “Two are better than one . . . If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up” (Eccl. 4:9–10). As runners in a spiritual race, we need one another—perhaps even more so, for we are not racing in competition with each other but as members of the same team. There’ll be moments where we falter and need someone to pick us up; at other times, someone may need our encouragement through our prayers or presence.
The spiritual race is not to be run alone. Is God leading you to be a Nikki or Abby in someone’s life? Respond to His prompting today, and let’s finish the race!
“Is God doing something new in your life?” was the question the leader asked in a group I was in recently. My friend Mindy, who is dealing with some difficult situations, responded. She told of needing patience with aging parents, stamina for her husband’s health issues, and understanding of her children and grandchildren who have not yet chosen to follow Jesus. Then she made an insightful comment that runs contrary to what we might normally think: “I believe the new thing God is doing is He’s expanding my capacity and opportunities to love.”
That fits nicely with the apostle Paul’s prayer for new believers in Thessalonica: “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else” (1 Thess. 3:12). He had taught them about Jesus but had to leave abruptly because of rioting (Acts 17:1–9). Now in his letter he encouraged them to continue to stand firm in their faith (1 Thess. 3:7–8). And he prayed that the Lord would increase their love for all.
During difficulties we often choose to complain and ask, Why? Or wonder, Why me? Another way to handle those times could be to ask the Lord to expand His love in our hearts and to help us take the new opportunities that come to love others.
In today’s celebrity-obsessed culture, it isn’t surprising that entrepreneurs are marketing “celebrities as products … allowing them to sell their personal time and attention.” Vauhini Vara’s article in The New Yorker noted that for $15,000, you can have a personal meeting with singer Shakira, while $12,000 will give you and eleven guests lunch with celebrity chef Michael Chiarello at his estate.
Many people treated Jesus like a celebrity as they followed Him from place to place, listened to His teaching, observed His miracles, and sought healing from His touch. Yet Jesus was never self-important or aloof, but available to all. When His followers, James and John, were privately jockeying for position in His coming kingdom, Jesus reminded all His disciples, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all” (Mark 10:43-44).
Soon after Jesus said this, He stopped a procession of people following Him to ask a blind beggar, “What do you want me to do for you?” (v. 51) “Rabbi, I want to see,” the man replied.” He received his sight immediately and followed Jesus (v. 52).
Our Lord “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (v. 45). May we, like Him, be compassionate and available to others today
We worked patiently to help our son heal and adjust to his new life with our family. Trauma from his early days in an orphanage was fueling some negative behaviors. While I had enormous compassion for the hardships he experienced in his early days, I felt myself begin to withdraw from him emotionally because of those behaviors. Ashamed, I shared my struggle with his therapist. Her gentle reply hit home: “He needs you to go first . . . to show him he’s worthy of love before he’ll be able to act like it.”
John pushes the recipients of his letter to an incredible depth of love, citing God’s love as both the source and the reason for loving one another (1 John 4:7, 11). I admit I often fail to show such love to others, whether strangers, friends, or my own children. Yet John’s words spark in me renewed desire and ability to do so: God went first. He sent His Son to demonstrate the fullness of His love for each of us. I’m so thankful He doesn’t respond as we all are prone to do by withdrawing His heart from us.
Though our sinful actions don’t invite God’s love, He is unwavering in offering it to us (Rom. 5:8). His “go first” love compels us to love one another in response to, and as a reflection of, that love.
As a friend drove to the grocery store, she noticed a woman walking along the side of the road and felt she should turn the car around and offer her a ride. When she did, she was saddened to hear that the woman didn’t have money for the bus so was walking home many miles in the hot and humid weather. Not only was she making the long journey home, but she had also walked several hours that morning to arrive at work by 4 am.
By offering a ride, my friend put into practice in a modern setting James’s instruction for Christians to live out their faith with their deeds: “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (v. 17). He was concerned that the church take care of the widows and the orphans (James 1:27), and he also wanted them to rely not on empty words but to act on their faith with deeds of love.
We are saved by faith, not works, but we live out our faith by loving others and caring for their needs. May we, like my friend who offered the ride, keep our eyes open for those who might need our help as we walk together in this journey of life.
On the two-hour drive home from a family member’s wedding, my mom asked me for the third time what was new in my job. I once again repeated some of the details as if telling her for the first time, while wondering what might possibly make my words more memorable. My mom has Alzheimer’s, a disease that progressively destroys the memory, can adversely affect behavior, and eventually leads to the loss of speech—and more.
I grieve because of my mom’s disease but am thankful she is still here and we can spend time together—and even converse. It thrills me that whenever I go to see her she lights up with joy and exclaims, “Alyson, what a pleasant surprise!” We enjoy each other’s company; and even in the silences when words escape her, we commune together.
This perhaps is a small picture of our relationship with God. Scripture tells us, “The
Waldo is the cartoonish star of “Where’s Waldo,” a now-classic best-selling children’s book series. Waldo hides himself in the crowded painted scenes on each page, inviting children to find where he’s hiding. Parents around the world love the moments of sweet discovery when their children’s faces signal they’ve found Waldo. They also enjoy the occasions when they’re invited to help find Waldo.
Shortly after Stephen, a deacon in the early church, was stoned to death for proclaiming Christ (see Acts 7), a widespread persecution broke out against Christians, causing many to flee Jerusalem. Another deacon, Philip, followed these fleeing Christians into Samaria, where he proclaimed Christ and it was well received (8:6) While there, the Holy Spirit sent Philip on a special mission to “the desert road.” It must have seemed a strange request given the fruit his preaching was producing in Samaria itself. Imagine Philip’s joy, then, when he met and helped the Ethiopian court official find Jesus in the pages of Isaiah (vv. 26–40).
We, too, are often given the chance to help others “find Jesus” throughout the Scriptures so they may know Him more fully. Like a parent witnessing the joy of discovery in their child’s eyes and like Philip helping the Ethiopian find Jesus, it can be exhilarating for us to witness the moment of discovery in those around us. As we go through our days, may we prepared to share Christ as the Spirit leads us, whether they be people we know well or those we meet even just once.
Kiley leaped at the chance to go to a remote area of East Africa to assist a medical mission, yet she felt uneasy. She didn’t have any medical experience. Still, she could provide basic care.
While there, she met a woman with a horrible but treatable disease. The woman’s distorted leg repulsed her, but Kiley knew she had to do something. As she cleaned and bandaged the leg, her patient began crying. Concerned, Kiley asked if she was hurting her. “No,” she replied. “It’s the first time anyone has touched me in nine years.”
Leprosy is another disease that can render its victims repulsive to others, and ancient Jewish culture had strict guidelines to prevent its spread. “They must live alone,” the law declared; “they must live outside the camp” (Lev. 13:46).
That’s why it’s so remarkable that a leper approached Jesus to say, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean” (Matt. 8:2). Jesus “reached out his hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!’ ” (v. 3).
In touching a lonely woman’s diseased leg, Kiley began to show the fearless, bridge-building love of Jesus. A single touch made a difference.
Commuters on a Canadian Metro train witnessed a heart-moving conclusion to a tense moment. They watched as a 70-year old woman gently reached out and offered her hand to a young man whose loud voice and disturbing words were scaring other passengers. The lady’s kindness calmed the man who sank to the floor of the train with tears in his eyes. He said, “Thanks, Grandma,” stood up, and walked away. The woman later admitted to being afraid. But she said, “I’m a mother and he needed someone to touch.” While better judgment might have given her reason to keep her distance, she took a risk of love.
Jesus understands such compassion. He didn’t side with the fears of unnerved onlookers when a desperate man, full of leprosy, showed up begging to be healed. Neither was He helpless as other religious leaders were—men who could only have condemned the man for bringing his leprosy into the village (Lev. 13:45-46). Instead, Jesus reached out to someone who probably hadn’t been touched by anyone for years, and healed him.
Thankfully, for that man—and for us, Jesus came to offer the touch of His hand and heart to those who needed from Him—then and now—what no law could ever do.
The day my husband, Dan, and I began our caregiving journey with our aging parents, we linked arms and felt as if we were plunging off a cliff. We didn’t know that in the process of caregiving the hardest task we would face would be to allow our hearts to be searched and molded and to allow God to use this special time to make us like Him in new ways.
On days when I felt I was plunging toward earth in an out-of-control free-fall, God showed me my agendas, my reservations, my fears, my pride, and my selfishness. He used my broken places to show me His love and forgiveness.
My pastor has said, “The best day is the day you see yourself for who you are—desperate without Christ. Then see yourself as He sees you—complete in Him.” This was the blessing of caregiving in my life. As I saw who God had created me to be, I turned and ran weeping into His arms. I cried out with the psalmist: “Search me, God, and know my heart” (Ps. 139:23).
This is my prayer for you—that as you see yourself in the midst of your own circumstances, you will turn and run into the open, loving, and forgiving arms of God.
The dinner where we hosted families from five nations remains a wonderful memory. Somehow the conversation didn’t splinter into twos, but we all contributed to a discussion of life in London from the viewpoints of different parts of the world. At the end of the evening, my husband and I reflected that we had received more than we gave, including the warm feelings we experienced in fostering new friendships and learning about different cultures.
The writer of the book of Hebrews concluded his thoughts with some exhortations for community life, including that his readers should continue to welcome strangers. For in doing so, “some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it” (13:2). He may have been referring to Abraham and Sarah, who as we see in Genesis 18:1–12 welcomed three strangers, reaching out to them with generosity and treating them to a feast, as was the custom in biblical times. They didn’t know that they were entertaining angels who brought them a message of blessing.
We don’t ask people into our homes in the hope of gaining from them, but often we receive more than we give. May the Lord spread His love through us as we reach out with His welcome.
“I see you,” a friend said in an online writers’ group where we support and encourage each other. Having felt stressed and anxious, I experienced a sense of peace and well-being with her words. She “saw” me—my hopes, fears, struggles, and dreams—and loved me.
When I heard my friend’s simple but powerful encouragement, I thought of Hagar, a slave in Abram’s household. After many years of Sarai and Abram still longing for an heir, Sarai followed the custom of the culture and told her husband to conceive through Hagar. But when Hagar became pregnant, she treated Sarai with contempt. When Sarai mistreated her in return, Hagar fled far away to the desert.
The Lord saw Hagar in her pain and confusion, and He blessed her with the promise that she would be the mother of many descendants. After the encounter, Hagar called the Lord “El Roi,” which means “the God who sees me” (Gen. 16:13), for she knew she wasn’t alone or abandoned.
As Hagar was seen—and loved—so are we. We might feel ignored or rejected by friends or family, yet we know that our Father sees not only the face we present to the world, but all of our secret feelings and fears. He speaks the words that bring us life.
It was a dark morning. Low, steel-colored clouds filled the sky, and the atmosphere was so dim that I needed to turn on the lights in order to read a book. I had just settled in when the room suddenly filled with light. I looked up and saw that the wind was pushing the clouds to the east, clearing the sky and revealing the sun.
As I went to the window to get a better look at the drama, a thought came to mind: “The darkness is passing and the true light is already shining” (1 John 2:8). The apostle John wrote these words to believers as a message of encouragement. He went on to say, “Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing to make them stumble” (v. 10). By contrast, he equated hating people with roaming around in darkness. Hatred is disorienting; it takes away our sense of moral direction.
Loving people is not always easy. Yet as I was reminded at the window, frustration, forgiveness, and faithfulness are all part of maintaining a deep connection with the love and light of God. When we choose love instead of hate, we are showing our relationship with Him and reflecting His radiance to the world around us. “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).
Seeing three large predatory animals cuddle and play together is extremely unusual. Yet this is precisely what happens daily in an animal sanctuary in Georgia. In 2001, after months of neglect and abuse, a lion, a Bengal tiger, and a black bear were rescued by Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary. “We could have separated them,” said the assistant director. “But since they came as a kind of family, we decided to keep them together.” The trio had found comfort in each other during their time of mistreatment, and, despite their differences, they live peacefully together.
Unity is a beautiful thing. But the unity Paul wrote about in his letter to the believers in Ephesus is unique. Paul encouraged the Ephesians to live up to their calling as members of one body in Christ (Ephesians 4:4-5). By the power of the Holy Spirit they would be able to live in unity as they developed humility, gentleness, and patience. These attitudes also allow us to lovingly bear “with one another in love” through the common ground we have in Christ Jesus (4:2).
Despite our differences, as members of the family of God we have been reconciled to Him through the death of our Savior and reconciled to each other through the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.