Category  |  Love

Strangers Welcome Strangers

When my husband and I moved to Seattle to be near his sister, we didn’t know where we would live or work. A local church helped us find a place: a rental house with many bedrooms. We could live in one bedroom, and rent the others to international students. For the next three years, we were strangers welcoming strangers: sharing our home and meals with people from all over the world. We and our housemates welcomed dozens of international students in our home every Friday night for Bible study, too.

God’s people know what it means to be far from home. For several hundred years, the Israelites were literal foreigners—and slaves—in Egypt. In Leviticus 19, alongside familiar instructions like “Respect your father and mother” and “Do not steal” (vv. 3, 11), God reminded His people to empathetically care for foreigners, because they knew what it was like to be a foreigner and afraid (vv. 33–34).

While not all of us as followers of God today have experienced literal exile, we all know how it feels to be “foreigners” on earth (1 Peter 2:11)—people who feel like outsiders because our ultimate allegiance is to a heavenly kingdom. We are called to create a community of hospitality—strangers welcoming strangers into God’s family. The hospitable welcome my husband and I experienced in Seattle taught us to extend welcome to others—and this is at the heart of being the family of God (Romans 12:13).

Hidden Beauty

Our children needed a little coaxing to believe that it was worth putting on snorkeling gear to peer beneath the surface of the Caribbean Sea off the shore of the island of Tobago. But after they dove in, they resurfaced ecstatic, “There are thousands of fish of all different kinds! It’s so beautiful! I’ve never seen such colorful fish!”

Because the surface of the water looked similar to freshwater lakes near our home, our children could have missed the beauty hidden just below the surface.

When the prophet Samuel went to Bethlehem to anoint one of Jesse’s sons to be the next king, Samuel saw the oldest son, Eliab, and was impressed by his appearance. The prophet thought he had found the right man, but the Lord rejected Eliab. God reminded Samuel that He “does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

So, Samuel asked if there were more sons. The youngest boy wasn’t present but caring for the family’s sheep. This son, David, was summoned and the Lord directed Samuel to anoint him.

Often, we look at people only on a surface level and don’t always take the time to see their inner, sometimes hidden, beauty. We don’t always value what God values. But, if we take the time to peer beneath the surface, we may find great treasure.

Pictures of Love

My children and I have started a new daily practice. Every night at bedtime, we gather colored pencils and light a candle. Asking God to light our way, we get out our journals and draw or write answers to two questions: When did I show love today? and When did I withhold love today?

Loving our neighbors has been an important part of the Christian life “from the beginning” (2 John 1:5). That’s what John writes in his second letter to his congregation, asking them to love one another in obedience to God (2 John 1:5–6). Love is one of John’s favorite topics throughout his letters. He says that practicing real love is one way to know that we “belong to the truth,” that we’re living in God’s presence (1 John 3:18–19). When my kids and I reflect, we find that in our lives love takes shape in simple actions: sharing an umbrella, encouraging someone who is sad, or cooking a favorite meal. The moments when we’re withholding love are equally practical: we gossip, refuse to share, or satisfy our own desires without thinking of others’ needs.

Paying attention each night helps us be more aware each day, more tuned in to what the Spirit might be showing us as we walk through our lives. With the Spirit’s help, we’re learning to walk in love (2 John 1:6).

A Warm Welcome

“Who will hug everybody?”

That was one of the questions our friend Steve asked after he got the news that he had cancer and realized he would be away from our church for a while. Steve is the kind of man who makes everyone feel welcome—with a friendly greeting, a warm handshake, and even a “holy hug” for some—to adapt an application from Romans 16:16, which says, “greet one another with a holy kiss.”

And now, as we pray for Steve that God will heal him, he is concerned that as he goes through surgery and treatment—and is away from our church for a time—we will miss out on those welcoming greetings. 

Perhaps not all of us are cut out to greet one another as openly as Steve does, but his example of caring for people is a good reminder to us. Notice that Peter says to “offer hospitality to one another without grumbling,” or in a way that centers on love (1 Peter 4:9, see Philippians 2:14). While first-century hospitality included offering accommodations to travelers—even that always starts with a welcoming greeting.

As we interact with others in love, whether with a hug or just a friendly smile, we do so “that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:11).

God with Skin On

My husband left for a month-long trip, and almost immediately I was overwhelmed by the needs of my job, our house, and our children. A writing deadline loomed. The lawn mower broke. My children were on school break and bored. How would I take care of all of these things on my own? 

I soon realized I wasn’t on my own. Friends from church showed up to help. Josh came over to fix my lawn mower. John brought me lunch. Cassidy helped with the laundry. Abi invited my kids over to play with hers so I could get my work done. God worked through each of these friends to provide for me. They were a living picture of the kind of community Paul describes in Romans 12. They loved sincerely (v. 9), considered the needs of others rather than just their own (v. 10), shared with me when I was in need, and showed hospitality (v. 13).

Because of the love my friends showed to me, I remained “joyful in hope” and “patient in affliction” (v. 12), even the mild affliction of solo parenting for a month. My brothers and sisters in Christ became what one friend calls “God with skin on” for me. They showed me the kind of sincere love we ought to show to everyone, especially those in our community of faith (Galatians 6:10). I hope to be more like them.

A Prayer of Forgiveness

In 1960, six-year-old Ruby Bridges was the first African-American child to integrate an all-white public elementary school in the American South. Every day for months, federal marshals escorted Ruby past a mob of angry parents shouting curses, threats and insults at her. Safely inside, she sat in a classroom alone with Barbara Henry, the only teacher willing to instruct her while parents kept their children from attending school with Ruby.

Noted child psychologist Robert Coles met with Ruby for several months to help her cope with the fear and stress she experienced. He was amazed by the prayer Ruby said every day as she walked to school and back home. “Please, God, forgive them because they don’t know what they’re doing”  (Luke 23:34).

The words of Jesus spoken from the cross were stronger than the hatred and insults hurled at Him. In the most agonizing hours of His life, our Lord demonstrated the radical response He taught His followers: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you . . . . Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:27–28,

This remarkable approach is possible only as we consider the powerful love Jesus has given us – love stronger than even the deepest hatred.

Ruby Bridges helped show us the way.

Anywhere

As I flipped through a box of my old wedding photographs, my fingers stopped at a picture of my husband and me, newly christened "Mr. and Mrs." My dedication to him was obvious in my expression. I would go anywhere with him.

Nearly four decades later, our marriage is tightly threaded with love and a commitment that has carried us through both hard and good times. Year after year, I’ve recommitted my dedication to go anywhere with him.

In Jeremiah 2:2, God yearns for His beloved but wayward Israel, “I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me.” The Hebrew word for devotion conveys the highest loyalty and commitment possible. At first, Israel expressed this unwavering devotion to God but gradually she turned away.

Despite the undeniably powerful feelings in the early stages of commitment, complacency can dull the sharp edge of love and a lack of zeal can lead to unfaithfulness. We know the importance of fighting against such a lag in our marriages. What about the fervor of our love relationship with God? Are we as devoted to Him now as we were when we first came to faith?

God faithfully allows His people to return (3:14–15). Today we can renew our vows to follow Him—anywhere.

Leaving a Legacy

Some years ago our sons and I spent a week on an abandoned backcountry ranch on the Salmon River, Idaho’s “River of No Return.”

One day, exploring the ranch, I came across an ancient grave with a wooden marker. Whatever inscription the marker may have borne had long since been weathered away. Someone lived and died—now was forgotten. The gravesite seemed tragic to me. After we got home I spent several hours reading about the history of the old ranch and that area, but could find no information about the person buried there.  

They say that the best among us is remembered for 100 years or so. The rest of us are soon forgotten. The memory of past generations, like our markers, soon fades away. Yet our legacy has been passed on through the family of God. How we’ve loved God and others in our lifetime lives on. Malachi 3:16–17 tells us, “a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who esteem His name. ‘They will be Mine,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘on the day that I prepare My own possession’ ” (nasb).

Paul said of David that he “served God’s purpose in his own generation” and departed (Acts 13:36). Like him, may we love the Lord and serve Him in our generation and leave the remembering to Him. “They will be Mine,” says the Lord.

Precious to God

His name was David, but most just called him “the street fiddler.” David was a disheveled, older man who was a regular fixture in popular places in our city, serenading passers-by with unusual skill at his violin. In exchange for his music, listeners would sometimes place a dollar in the open instrument case before them on the sidewalk. David would smile and nod his head in thanks as he continued to play.

When David died recently and his obituary appeared in a local paper, it was revealed that he spoke several languages, was the graduate of a prestigious university, and had even run for the state senate years ago. Some expressed surprise at the extent of his accomplishments, having assessed him on the basis of appearance alone.

Scripture tells us that “God created mankind in his own image” (Genesis 1:27). This reveals an inherent worth within each of us, regardless of how we look, what we have achieved, or what others may think of us. Even when we chose to turn from God in our sinfulness, God valued us so much that He would send His only Son to show us the way to salvation and eternity with Him.

We are loved by God, and all around us are those who are precious to Him. May we express our love for Him in return, by sharing His love with others.

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