What would it be like to walk in the shoes of royalty? Angela Kelly, the daughter of a dockworker and nurse, knows. She was also the official dresser for the late Queen Elizabeth for the last two decades of the monarch’s life. One of her responsibilities was to break in the aging queen’s new shoes by walking in them around the palace grounds. There was a reason for it: compassion for an elderly woman who sometimes was required to stand for extended periods at ceremonies. Because they wore the same shoe size, Kelly was able to save her some discomfort.
Kelly’s personal touch in her care for Queen Elizabeth makes me think of Paul’s warm encouragement to the church in Colossae (an area in modern Turkey): “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:12). When our lives are “built on” Jesus (2:7 nlt), we become “God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved” (3:12). He helps us take off our “old self” and “put on the new self”—living out the identity of those who love and forgive others because God has loved and forgiven us (vv. 9–10).
All around us are those who need us to “walk in their shoes” and have compassion for them in the day-to-day challenges of life. When we do, we walk in the shoes (or the sandals) of a king—Jesus—who always has compassion for us.
“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” Those words from Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese are among the best-known poetry in the English language. She wrote them to Robert Browning before they were married, and he was so moved he encouraged her to publish her entire collection of poems. But because the language of the sonnets was very tender, out of a desire for personal privacy Barrett published them as if they were translations from a Portuguese writer.
Sometimes we can feel awkward when we openly express affection for others. But the Bible, by contrast, doesn’t hold back on its presentation of God’s love. Jeremiah recounted God’s affection for His people with these tender words: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness” (Jeremiah 31:3). Even though His people had turned from Him, God promised to restore them and personally draw them near. “I will come to give rest to Israel,” He told them (v. 2).
Jesus is the ultimate expression of God’s restorative love, giving peace and rest to any who turn to Him. From the manger to the cross to the empty tomb, He’s the personification of God’s desire to call a wayward world to Himself. Read the Bible cover to cover and you’ll “count the ways” of God’s love over and over; but eternal as they are, you’ll never come to their end.
“I’m not who I once was. I’m a new person.” Those simple words from my son, spoken to students at a school assembly, describe the change God made in his life. Once addicted to heroin, Geoffrey previously saw himself through his sins and mistakes. But now he sees himself as a child of God.
The Bible encourages us with this promise: “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). No matter who we’ve been or what we’ve done in our past, when we trust Jesus for our salvation and receive the forgiveness offered through His cross, we become someone new. Since the Garden of Eden, the guilt of our sins separated us from God, but He has now “reconciled us to Himself through Christ,” “not counting” our sins against us (vv. 18–19). We are His dearly loved children (1 John 3:1–2), washed clean and made new in the likeness of His Son.
Jesus is innocence found. He liberates us from sin and its dominating power and restores us to a new relationship with God—where we’re free to no longer live for ourselves but “for him who died for [us] and was raised again” (2 Corinthians 5:15). On this New Year’s Day, let’s remember that His transforming love compels us to live with new identity and purpose. It helps us point others to our Savior, the One who can make them new people too!
“If you find that star, you can always find your way home.” Those were my father’s words when he taught me how to locate the North Star as a child. Dad had served in the armed forces during wartime, and there were moments when his life depended on being able to navigate by the night sky. So he made sure I knew the names and locations of several constellations, but it was being able to find Polaris that mattered most of all. Knowing that star’s location meant I could gain a sense of direction wherever I was and find where I was supposed to be.
Scripture tells of another star of vital importance. “Magi from the east,” learned men (from an area encompassed by Iran and Iraq today) had been watching for signs in the sky of the birth of the One who was to be God’s king for His people. They came to Jerusalem asking “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and came to worship him” (Matthew 2:1–2).
Astronomers don’t know what caused the star of Bethlehem to appear, but the Bible reveals that God created it to point the world to Jesus—“the bright Morning Star” (Revelation 22:16). Christ came to save us from our sins and guide us back to God. Follow Him, and you’ll find your way home.
“You’re not what I expected. I thought I’d hate you, but I don’t.” The young man’s words seemed harsh, but they were actually an effort to be kind. I was studying abroad in his country, a land that decades earlier had been at war with my own. We were participating in a group discussion in class together, and I noticed he seemed distant. When I asked if I had offended him somehow, he responded “Not at all . . . . And that’s the thing. My grandfather was killed in that war, and I hated your people and your country for it. But now I see how much we have in common, and that surprises me. I don’t see why we can’t be friends.”
Prejudice is as old as the human race. Two millennia ago, when Nathaniel first heard about Jesus living in Nazareth, his bias was evident: “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” he asked (John 1:46). Nathaniel lived in the region of Galilee, like Jesus. He probably thought God’s Messiah would come from another place; even other Galileans looked down on Nazareth because it seemed to be an unremarkable little village.
This much is clear. Nathaniel’s response didn’t stop Jesus from loving him, and he was transformed as he became His disciple. “You are the Son of God!” Nathaniel later declared (John 1:49). There is no bias that can stand against God’s transforming love.
“The baby birds will fly tomorrow!” My wife, Cari, was elated about the progress a family of wrens was making in a hanging basket on our front porch. She’d watched them daily, taking pictures as the mother brought food to the nest.
Cari got up early the next morning to look in on them. She moved some of the greenery aside covering the nest but instead of seeing baby birds, the narrow eyes of a serpent met hers. The snake had scaled a vertical wall, slithered into the nest, and devoured them all.
Cari was heartbroken and angry. I was out of town, so she called a friend to remove the snake. But the damage was done.
Scripture tells of another serpent who left destruction in his path. The serpent in the garden of Eden deceived Eve about the tree God had warned her against eating from: “You will not certainly die,” he lied, “for God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4–5).
Sin and death entered the world as a result of Eve and Adam’s disobedience to God, and the deception wrought by “that ancient serpent, who is the devil” continues (Revelation 20:2). But Jesus came “to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8), and through Him we’re restored to relationship with God. One day, He’ll make “everything new” (Revelation 21:5).
The pastor squinted over his sermon, holding the pages close to his face in order to make the words out. He was extremely near-sighted, and read each carefully chosen phrase with an unimposing monotone voice. But God’s Spirit moved through Jonathan Edwards’s preaching to fan the revival fires of the First Great Awakening and bring thousands to faith in Christ.
God often uses unexpected things to accomplish His perfect purposes. Writing about God’s plan to draw wayward humanity near through Jesus’ loving death for us on a cross, Paul concludes, “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians 1:27). The world expected divine wisdom to look like our own and to come with irresistible force. Instead, Jesus came humbly and gently to save us from our sins and so became for us “wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30).
The eternal and all-wise God became a human baby who would grow to adulthood and suffer and die and be raised to life in order to lovingly show us the way home to Him. He loves to use humble means and people to accomplish great things we could never achieve in our own strength. If we are willing, He may even use us.
“This morning I thought I was worth a great deal of money, now I don’t know that I have a dollar.” Former US president Ulysses S. Grant said those words the day he was swindled out of his life’s savings by a business partner. Months later Grant was diagnosed with incurable cancer. Concerned about providing for his family, he accepted an offer from author Mark Twain to publish his memoirs, which he completed a week before he died.
The Bible tells us of another person who faced grave hardships. Jacob believed his son Joseph had been “torn to pieces” by a “ferocious animal” (Genesis 37:33). Then his son Simeon was held captive in a foreign country, and Jacob feared his son Benjamin would be taken from him as well. Overcome, he cried out, “Everything is against me!” (42:36).
But it wasn’t. Little did Jacob know that his son Joseph was very much alive, and that God was at work “behind the scenes” to restore his family. Their story illustrates how God can be trusted even when we can’t see His hand in our circumstances.
Grant’s memoirs proved to be a great success and his family was well cared for. Though he didn’t live to see it, his believing wife did. Our vision is limited, but God’s isn’t. And with Jesus as our hope, “if God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). May we place our trust in Him today.
Your bees are swarming!” My wife stuck her head inside the door and gave me news no beekeeper wants to hear. I ran outside to see thousands of bees flying up from the hive to the top of a tall pine, never to return.
I was a little behind in reading the clues that the hive was about to swarm; more than a week of storms had hampered my inspections. The morning the storms ended, the bees left. The colony was new and healthy, and the bees were actually dividing the colony to start a new one. “Don’t be hard on yourself,” an experienced beekeeper told me cheerfully after seeing my disappointment. “This can happen to anyone!”
Encouragement is a winsome gift. When David was disheartened because Saul was pursuing him to take his life, Saul’s son Jonathan encouraged David. “Don’t be afraid,” Jonathan said. “My father Saul will not lay a hand on you. You will be king over Israel, and I will be second to you. Even my father Saul knows this” (1 Samuel 23:17).
Those are surprisingly selfless words from someone next in line to the throne. It’s likely Jonathan recognized that God was with David, so he spoke out of a humble heart of faith.
All around us are people who need encouragement. God will help us help them as we humble ourselves before Him and ask Him to love them through us.