Category  |  Love

Bear Hug

“Bear” was a gift for my grandchild—a heaping helping of love contained in a giant stuffed animal frame. Baby D’s response? First, wonder. Next, an amazed awe. Then, a curiosity that nudged a daring exploration. He poked his pudgy finger at Bear’s nose, and when the Bear tumbled forward into his arms he responded with joy joy JOY! Baby D laid his toddler head down on Bear’s fluffy chest and hugged him tightly. A dimpled smile spread across his cheeks as he burrowed deeply into Bear’s cushiony softness. The child had no idea of Bear’s inability to truly love him. Innocently and naturally, he felt love from Bear and returned it with all his heart.

In his first of three letters to early Christians, the apostle John boldly states that God Himself is love. “We know and rely on the love God has for us,” he writes. “God is love” (1 John 4:16).

God loves. Not in the pillow of a pretend animal but rather, with the outstretched arms of a real human body encasing a beating but breaking heart (John 3:16). Through Jesus, God communicated His extravagant and sacrificial love for us.

John goes on in verse 4:19, “We love because he first loved us.” When we believe we are loved, we love back. God’s real love makes it possible for us to love God and others. With all our hearts.

Beyond the Neighborhood

In the summer of 2017, Hurricane Harvey brought devastating losses of life and property to the Gulf Coast of the US. Many people provided food, water, clothing, and shelter for those in immediate need.

A few months later, the owner of a piano store in Maryland felt prompted to do something more. He considered how music could bring a special kind of healing and sense of normalcy to people who had lost everything. So he and his staff began to refurbish pre-owned pianos and to make inquiries to see where the need was the greatest. That spring, Dean Kramer and his wife Lois began the long trek to Houston, Texas, driving a truck filled with free pianos to give to grateful families, churches, and schools in the ravaged area.

We sometimes assume the word neighbor means someone who lives nearby or at least is someone we know. But in Luke 10, Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan to teach that our love for our neighbors shouldn’t have barriers. The man from Samaria freely gave to a wounded stranger, even though the man was a Jew, part of a people group at odds with the Samaritans (vv. 25–37).

When Dean Kramer was asked why he gave away all those pianos, he explained simply: “We’re told to love our neighbors.” And it was Jesus who said, “There is no commandment greater” (Mark 12:31) than to love God and our neighbor.

Hand Made for You

My grandmother was a talented seamstress who won contests in her native Texas. Throughout my life, she celebrated hallmark occasions with a hand-sewn gift. A burgundy mohair sweater for my high-school graduation. A turquoise quilt for my marriage. I’d fold over a corner of each custom-crafted item to discover her signature tag reading, “Handmade for you by Munna.” With every embroidered word, I sensed my grandmother’s love for me and received a powerful statement of her faith in my future.

Paul wrote to the Ephesians of their purpose in this world, describing them as “God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works” (2:10). Here “handiwork” denotes a work of art or a masterpiece. Paul goes on to describe that God’s handiwork in creating us would result in our handiwork of creating good works—or expressions of our restored relationship with Jesus—for His glory in our world. We can never be saved by our own good works, but when God handmakes us for His purposes, He can use us to bring others toward His great love.

With her head bowed over her needle, my Munna handmade items to communicate her love for me and her passion that I discover my purpose on this planet. And with His fingers shaping the details of our days, God stitches His love and purposes in our hearts that we might experience Him for ourselves and demonstrate His handiwork to others.

 

More than a Symbol

On the verge of making team history, University of Iowa basketball star Jordan Bohannon intentionally missed the free throw that would have broken a twenty-five-year-old school record. Why? In 1993, days after Iowa’s Chris Street had made thirty-four free throws in a row, he lost his life in a car crash. Bohannon chose to honor Street’s memory by not breaking his record.

Bohannon showed a keen awareness of things more important than his own advancement. We see similar values in the life of the young warrior David. Hiding in a cave with his ragtag army, David longed for a drink from the well in his hometown of Bethlehem, but the dreaded Philistines occupied the area (2 Samuel 23:14–15).

In a stunning act of valor, three of David’s warriors “broke through the Philistine lines,” got the water, and brought it to David. But David couldn’t bring himself to drink it. Instead, he “poured it out before the Lord,” saying, “Is it not the blood of men who went at the risk of their lives?” (vv. 16–17).

In a world that often rewards those who seize whatever they can grasp, how powerful acts of love and sacrifice can be! Such deeds are much more than mere symbols.

Welcoming Strangers

When my friends lived in Moldova, one of the poorest countries in Europe, they were overwhelmed by the welcome they received there, especially from other Christians. Once they took some clothes and provisions to a couple from their church who were very poor, yet who were fostering several children. The couple treated my friends like honored guests, giving them sweet tea and, despite their protests, something to eat. As my friends left with gifts of watermelons and other fruits and vegetables, they marveled at the hospitality they experienced.

These Christians embody the welcome that God commanded His people, the Israelites, to exhibit. He instructed them “to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 10:12). How could the Israelites live out this command? The answer comes a few verses later: “You are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt” (v. 19). By welcoming strangers, they would be serving and honoring God; and in showing them love and care, they would demonstrate their trust in Him.

Our circumstances might differ from the Moldovans or the Israelites, but we too can live out our love for God through our welcome to others. Whether through opening our homes or smiling a greeting to those we meet, we can extend God’s care and hospitality in a lonely, hurting world.

Living in God’s Story

Ernest Hemingway was asked if he could write a compelling story in six words. His response: “For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.” Hemingway’s story is powerful because it inspires us to fill in the details. Were the shoes simply not needed by a healthy child? Or was there a tragic loss—something requiring God’s deep love and comfort?

The best stories pique our imagination, so it’s no surprise that the greatest story ever told stokes the fires of our creativity. God’s story has a central plot: He created all things, we (the human race) fell into sin, Jesus came to earth and died and rose again to save us from our sins, and we now await His return and the restoration of all things.

Knowing what has come before and what lies ahead, how should we now live? If Jesus is restoring His entire creation from the clutches of evil, we must “put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light” (v. 12). This includes turning from sin by God’s power and choosing to love Him and others well (vv. 8–10).

The specific ways we fight with Jesus against evil will depend on what gifts we have and what needs we see. Let’s use our imagination and look around. Let’s seek out the wounded and weeping, and extend God’s justice, love, and comfort as He guides us.

Acts of Kindness

“Estera, you got a present from our friend Helen!” my mom told me when she got home from work. Growing up we didn’t have much, so receiving a present in the mail was like a second Christmas. I felt loved, remembered, and valued by God through this wonderful woman.

The poor widows Tabitha (Dorcas) made clothes for must have felt the same way. She was a disciple of Jesus living in Joppa who was well known in the community for her acts of kindness. She was “always doing good and helping the poor” (Acts 9:36). Then she got sick and passed away. At the time Peter was visiting a nearby city, so two believers went after him and begged him to come to Joppa.

When Peter arrived, the widows Tabitha had helped showed him the evidence of her kindness—“the robes and other clothing that [she] had made” (v. 39). We don’t know if they asked him to intervene, but led by the Holy Spirit Peter prayed and God brought her back to life! The result of God’s kindness was that “this became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord” (v. 42).

As we are kind to those around us, may they think of God and feel valued by Him.

All I Can See

Krista stood in the freezing cold on a winter day, looking at the beautiful snow-encased lighthouse along the lake. As she pulled out her phone to take pictures, her glasses fogged over. She couldn’t see a thing so she decided to point her camera toward the lighthouse and snapped three pictures at different angles. Looking at them later, she realized the camera had been set to take “selfies.” She laughed as she said, “My focus was me, me, and me. All I saw was me.” Krista’s photos got me thinking of a similar mistake: We can become so self-focused we lose sight of the bigger picture of God’s plan.

Jesus’s cousin John (a.k.a. John the Baptist) clearly knew his focus wasn’t himself. Right from the start he recognized that his position or calling was to point others to Jesus, the Son of God. “Look, the Lamb of God!” he said when he saw Jesus coming toward him and his followers (John 1:29). He continued, “The reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed” (v. 31). When John’s disciples later reported that Jesus was gaining followers, John said, “You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ . . . He must become greater; I must become less” (3:28–30).

May the central focus of our lives be Jesus and loving Him with our whole heart. 

Our Welcoming God

Our church meets in an old elementary school, one that closed in 1958 rather than obey a court order to integrate (the act of having African-American students attend schools previously attended by only Caucasian students). The following year, the school reopened and Elva, now a member of our church, was one of those black students who were thrust into a white world. “I was taken out of my safe community, with teachers who were part of our life,” Elva recalls, “and placed in a scary environment in a class with only one other black student.” Elva suffered because she was different, but she became a woman of courage, faith, and forgiveness.

Her witness is profound because of how much evil she endured at the hands of some members of a society that denied the truth that every human being, regardless of race or heritage, is loved by God. Some members of the early church struggled with this same truth, believing that certain people were, by birth, loved by God while others were rejected. After receiving a divine vision, however, Peter stunned everyone who would listen with this astounding revelation: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right” (Acts 10:34–35).

God opens His arms wide to extend love to everyone. May we do the same in His power.

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