My father was a good father, and, in most respects, I was a dutiful son. But I allowed my father to starve for the one thing I could have given him: myself.
He was a quiet man; I was equally silent. We often worked for hours side-by-side with scarcely a word passing between us. He never asked; I never told him my deepest desires and dreams, my hopes and fears.
In time I woke up to my reticence. Perhaps the perception came when my first son was born, or when, one by one, my sons went out into the world. Now I wish I had been more of a son to my father.
I think of all the things I could have told him. And all the things he could have told me. At his funeral I stood beside his casket, struggling to understand my emotions. “It’s too late, isn’t it?” my wife said quietly. Exactly.
My comfort lies in the fact that we’ll be able to set things right in heaven, for is that not where every tear will be wiped away? (Revelation 21:4).
For believers in Jesus, death is not the end of affection but the beginning of timeless existence in which there will be no more misunderstandings; relationships will be healed and love will grow forever. There, the hearts of sons will turn to their fathers and the hearts of fathers to their sons (Malachi 4:6
In 2005, Collins falsified a report that resulted in McGee being thrown in prison for four years; and McGee vowed to find Collins when he got out and “hurt him.” McGee was eventually exonerated, but not before he lost everything. Meanwhile, Collins’s many falsified reports were uncovered, he lost his job, and he too spent time behind bars. But both men came to faith in Christ while in prison.
In 2015, the two discovered they were working together in the same faith-based company. Collins recalls, “I [told McGee], ‘Honestly, I have no explanation, all I can do is say I’m sorry.’” It was “pretty much what I needed to hear,” said McGee, who graciously forgave him. The men were able to reconcile because both had experienced the incomparable love and forgiveness of God, who empowers us to “forgive as the Lord forgave [us]” (Colossians 3:13).
Now the two are great friends. “We have this joint mission . . . of letting the world know that if you owe an apology to somebody, put your pride down and go apologize,” said Collins. “And if you’re holding something against somebody, let go of the bitterness because it’s like drinking poison and hoping it’s hurting them.”
God calls believers to live in peace and unity. If we “have a grievance against someone,” we can bring it to Him. He will help us to reconcile (vv. 13–15; Philippians 4:6–7).
I remember hearing my dad talk about how difficult it was to walk away from unending arguments over differing interpretations of the Bible. By contrast he recalled how good it was when both sides agreed to disagree.
But is it really possible to set aside irreconcilable differences when so much seems to be at stake? That’s one of the questions the apostle Paul answers in his New Testament letter to the Romans. Writing to readers caught in social, political, and religious conflict, he suggests ways of finding common ground even under the most polarized conditions (14:5–6).
According to Paul the way to agree to disagree is to recall that each of us will answer to the Lord not only for our opinions but also for how we treat one another in our differences (v. 10).
Conditions of conflict can actually become occasions to remember that there are some things more important than our own ideas—even our interpretations of the Bible. All of us will answer for whether we have loved one another, and even our enemies, as Christ loved us.
Now that I think of it, I remember that my dad used to talk about how good it is not just to agree to disagree but to do so with mutual love and respect.
“You need to listen to me, I’m your brother!” The plea came from a concerned older brother in my neighborhood and was directed to a younger sibling who was moving farther away and faster than the older child was comfortable with. Clearly the older child was better able to judge what was best in the situation.
How many of us have resisted the wise counsel of a brother or sister? If you have had to face the consequences of resisting the good advice of someone more mature, you are not alone.
One of the greatest resources we can have as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ is a family—those who are spiritually related because of a common faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior. This family includes mature men and women who love the Lord and each other. Like the little brother in my neighborhood, we sometimes need a word of caution or correction to get us back on track. This is particularly true when we offend someone or someone offends us. Doing what’s right can be difficult. Yet Jesus’s words in Matthew 18:15–20 show us what to do when offenses happen within our spiritual family.
Thankfully, our gracious heavenly Father places in our lives people who are prepared to help us honor the Lord and others. And when we listen, things go better in the family (vv. 15–16).
The 2010 movie, The King’s Speech, tells the story of England’s King George VI, who unexpectedly became monarch when his brother abandoned the throne. With the country on the brink of World War II, government officials wanted a well-spoken leader because of the increasingly influential role of the radio. King George VI, however, struggled with a stuttering problem.
I was especially drawn to the film’s portrayal of George’s wife Elizabeth. Throughout George’s painful struggle to overcome his speech difficulty, she was his constant source of encouragement. Her steadfast devotion helped provide the support he needed to overcome his stutter and rule well during the war.
The Bible highlights the stories of encouragers who gave powerful assistance during challenging circumstances. Moses had Aaron and Hur’s support during Israel’s battles (Exodus 17:8–16). Elizabeth encouraged her pregnant relative Mary (Luke 1:42–45).
After his conversion, Paul needed the support of Barnabas, whose name literally means “son of encouragement.” When the disciples were fearful of Paul, Barnabas, at the risk of his own reputation, vouched for him (Acts 9:27). His endorsement was essential to Paul being welcomed by the Christian community. Barnabas later served as Paul’s traveling and preaching companion (Acts 14). Despite the dangers, they worked together to proclaim the gospel.
Christians are still called to “encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). May we be eager to offer encouragement to help support others, especially as they face difficult circumstances.
What the apostle John did for his friend Gaius in the first century is a dying art in the twenty-first century. John wrote him a letter.
One writer for the New York Times, Catherine Field, said, “Letter-writing is among our most ancient of arts. Think of letters and the mind falls on Paul of Tarsus,” for example. And we can add the apostle John.
In his letter to Gaius, John included hopes for good health of body and soul, an encouraging word about Gaius’s faithfulness, and a note about his love for the church. John also spoke of a problem in the church, which John promised to address individually later. And he wrote of the value of doing good things for God’s glory. All in all, it was an encouraging and challenging letter to his friend.
The advent of social media may mean letter-writing on paper is fading away, but this shouldn’t stop us from encouraging others. Paul wrote letters of encouragement on parchment; we can encourage others in a variety of ways. The key is not the way we encourage others, but that we take a moment to let others know we care for them in Jesus’s name!
Think of the encouragement Gaius experienced when he opened John’s letter. Could we similarly shine God’s love on our friends with a thoughtful note or an uplifting call?
I read about a mom who was surprised to see her daughter muddy from the waist down when she walked in the door after school. Her daughter explained that a friend had slipped and fallen into a mud puddle. While another classmate ran to get help, the little girl felt sorry for her friend sitting by herself and holding her hurt leg. So, the daughter went over and sat in the mud puddle with her friend until a teacher arrived.
When Job experienced the devastating loss of his children and became afflicted with painful sores on his entire body, his suffering was overwhelming. The Bible tells us that three of his friends wanted to comfort him. When they found Job, “they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was” (Job 2:12–13)
Job’s friends initially showed remarkable understanding. They sensed that Job simply needed someone to sit and mourn with him. The three men will begin to speak in the next few chapters. The irony is that when the friends do begin to speak, they end up giving Job poor advice (16:1–4).
Often the best thing we can do when comforting a hurting friend is being willing to sit with them in their suffering.
I’ve been quick to judge anyone I saw walking in the street while staring at a phone. How could they be so oblivious to the cars about to hit them? I’ve told myself. Don’t they care about their own safety? But one day, while crossing the entrance to an alleyway, I was so engrossed in a text message, that I missed seeing a car at my left. Thankfully, the driver saw me and came to an abrupt stop. But I felt ashamed. All of my self-righteous finger-pointing came back to haunt me. I had judged others, only to do the same thing myself.
My hypocrisy is the kind of thinking that Jesus addressed in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus suggested, “First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5). I had a huge “plank”—a blind spot through which I judged others with impaired judgment.
“For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged,” Jesus also said (7:2). Recalling the disgusted look on the driver’s face that day, after having to make an abrupt stop when I walked in front of the car, I’m reminded of the disgusted looks I gave others engrossed in their phones.
None of us is perfect. But sometimes I forget that in my haste to judge others. We’re all in need of God’s grace.
I work with a team to put on an annual community event. We spend eleven months plotting many details to ensure the event’s success. We choose the date and venue. We set ticket prices. We select everything from food vendors to sound technicians. As the event approaches, we answer public questions and provide directions. Afterward we collect feedback. Some good. Some that is hard to hearand more details are available to the public, our team hears excitement from attendees and also fields complaints. The negative feedback complaints can be is discouraging and sometimes tempts us to give up.
Nehemiah had critics too as he led a team to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. They actually mocked Nehemiah and those working alongside him saying, “Even a fox climbing up on it would break down [your] wall of stones” (Nehemiah 4:3). His response to the critics helps me handle my own: Instead of feeling dejected or trying to refute their comments, he turned to God for help. Instead of responding directly, he asked God to hear the way His people were being treated and to defend them (v. 4). After entrusting those concerns to God, he and his co-laborers continued to work steadily on the wall “with all their heart” (v. 6).
We can learn from Nehemiah not to be distracted by criticism of our work. When we’re criticized or mocked, instead of responding to our critics out of hurt or anger, we can prayerfully ask God to defend us from discouragement so we can continue with a whole heart.