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.
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.
Picture two teenage girls. The first girl is strong and healthy. The other girl has never known the freedom of getting around on her own. From her wheelchair she faces not only the emotional challenges common to life, but also a stream of physical pains and struggles.
But both girls are smiling cheerfully as they enjoy each other’s company. Two beautiful teenagers—each seeing in the other the treasure of friendship.
Jesus devoted much of His time and attention to people like the girl in the wheelchair. People with lifelong disabilities or physical deformities as well as those who were looked down upon by others for various reasons. In fact, Jesus let one of “those people” anoint Him with oil, to the disdain of the religious leaders (Luke 7:39). On another occasion, when a woman demonstrated her love with a similar act, Jesus told her critics, “Leave her alone … She has done a beautiful thing to me” (Mark 14:6).
While our culture values physical “perfection,” there are no such distinctions in God’s eyes. In reality, we are all in desperate need of Christ’s love and forgiveness. His love compelled Him to die on the cross for us.
May we see each person as Jesus did: made in God’s image and worthy of His love. Let’s treat everyone we meet with Christlike equality and learn to see beauty as He does.
I live in a small Mexican city where every morning and evening you can hear a distinctive cry: “Bread!” A man with a huge basket on his bike offers a great variety of fresh sweet and salty breads for sale. I used to live in a bigger city, where I had to go to the bakery to buy bread. So I enjoy having fresh bread brought to my door.
Moving from the thought of feeding physical hunger to spiritual hunger, I think of Jesus’s words: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever” (John 6:51).
Someone has said that evangelism is really one beggar telling another beggar where he found bread. Many of us can say, “Once I was spiritually hungry, spiritually starving because of my sins. Then I heard the good news. Someone told me where to find bread: in Jesus. And my life changed!”
Now we have the privilege and the responsibility of pointing others to this Bread of Life. We can share Jesus in our neighborhood, in our workplace, in our school, in our places of recreation. We can talk about Jesus in the waiting room, on the bus, or on the train. We can take the good news to others through doors of friendship.
Jesus is the Bread of Life. Let’s tell everybody the great news.
Volunteers from a local church spent a frigid evening distributing food to people in a low-income apartment complex. One woman who received the food was overjoyed. She showed them her bare cupboard and told them they were an answer to her prayers.
As the volunteers returned to the church, one woman began to cry. “When I was a little girl,” she said, “that lady was my Sunday school teacher. She’s in church every Sunday. We had no idea she was almost starving!”
Clearly, these were caring people who were seeking ways to carry the burdens of others, as Paul suggests in Galatians 6:2. Yet somehow they hadn’t noticed the needs of this woman—someone they saw every Sunday—and she hadn’t shared her needs. This can be a gentle reminder for all of us to be more aware of those around us and, as Paul said, to “do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (6:10).
People who worship together have the privilege of assisting one another so no one in the body of Christ goes without help. As we get to know each other and care for each other, perhaps we won’t ever have to say, “We had no idea.”
“Do you have a few items you’d like me to wash?” I asked a visitor to our home in London. His face lit up, and as his daughter walked by, he said, “Get your dirty clothes—Amy’s doing our laundry!” I smiled, realizing that my offer had been extended from a few items to a few loads.
Later as I hung clothes outside on the line, a phrase from my morning’s Bible reading floated through my mind: “In humility value others above yourselves” (Phil. 2:3). I had been reading Paul’s letter to the people of Philippi, in which he exhorts them to live worthy of Christ’s calling through serving and being united with others. They were facing persecution, but Paul wanted them to be of one mind. He knew that their unity, birthed through their union with Christ and expressed through serving each other, would enable them to keep strong in their faith.
We might claim to love others without selfish ambition or vain conceit, but the true state of our hearts isn’t revealed until we put our love into action. Though I felt tempted to grumble, I knew that as a follower of Christ, my call was to put my love for my friends into practice—with a clean heart.
May we find ways to serve our family, friends, and neighbors for God’s glory.
In his book Spiritual Leadership, J. Oswald Sanders explores the qualities and the importance of tact and diplomacy. “Combining these two words,” Sanders says, “the idea emerges of skill in reconciling opposing viewpoints without giving offense and without compromising principle.”
During Paul’s imprisonment in Rome, he became the spiritual mentor and close friend of a runaway slave named Onesimus, whose owner was Philemon. When Paul wrote to Philemon, a leader of the church in Colossae, asking him to receive Onesimus as a brother in Christ, he exemplified tact and diplomacy. “Although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. … [Onesimus] is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord” (Phile. 8-9, 16).
Paul, a respected leader of the early church, often gave clear commands to the followers of Jesus. In this case, though, he appealed to Philemon on the basis of equality, friendship, and love. “I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary” (v. 14).
In all our relationships, may we seek to preserve harmony and principle in the spirit of love.
The obituary for Alan Nanninga, a man in my city, identified him as “foremost, a dedicated witness for Christ.” After a description of his family life and career, the article mentioned nearly a decade of declining health. It concluded by saying, “His hospital stays . . . earned him the honorary title of ‘The Praying Patient’” because of his ministry to other patients. Here was a man who, in his times of distress, reached out to pray for and with the people in need around him.
Hours before Judas betrayed Him, Jesus prayed for His disciples. “I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one” (John 17:11). Knowing what was about to happen, Jesus looked beyond Himself to focus on His followers and friends.
During our times of illness and distress, we long for and need the prayers of others. How those prayers help and encourage us! But may we also, like our Lord, lift our eyes to pray for those around us who are in great need.
Not long ago I went to a seamstress to have some clothing altered. As I entered her shop I was encouraged by what I saw on the walls. One sign read, “We can mend your clothes but only God can mend your heart.” Near it was a painting of Mary Magdalene weeping in anguish as the risen Christ was about to reveal Himself to her. Another sign asked, “Need prayer? Let us pray with you.”
The owner told me that she had run this small business for 15 years. “We’ve been surprised how the Lord has worked here through the statements of faith we have posted in different places. A while back someone trusted Christ as their Savior right here. It is amazing to watch God work.” I told her I too was a Christian and commended her for telling others about Christ in her workplace.
Not all of us are able to be so bold in our workplace, but we can find many creative and practical ways of showing others unexpected love, patience, and kindness wherever we are. Since leaving that shop, I’ve been thinking about how many ways there are to live out our Lord’s statement: “You are the light of the world” (Matt. 5:14).
Several years ago when the Southern California economy took a downturn, Pastor Bob Johnson saw not only difficulty but also opportunity. So he scheduled a meeting with the mayor of his city and asked, “What can our church do to help you?” The mayor was astonished. People usually came to him for help. Here was a minister offering him the services of an entire congregation.
Together the mayor and pastor came up with a plan to address several pressing needs. In their county alone, more than 20,000 seniors had gone the previous year without a single visitor. Hundreds of foster children needed families. And many other kids needed tutoring to help them succeed in school.
Some of those needs could be addressed without much financial investment, but they all required time and interest. And that’s what the church had to give.
Jesus told His disciples about a future day in which He would say to His faithful followers, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance” (Matt. 25:34). He also said they would express surprise at their reward. Then He would tell them, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (v. 40).
God’s kingdom work gets done when we give generously of the time, love, and resources He has provided us.
In the remote region of Ghana where I lived as a boy, “Chop time, no friend” was a common proverb. Locals considered it impolite to visit at “chop time” (mealtime) because food was often scarce. The maxim applied to neighbors and outsiders alike.
But in the Philippines, where I also lived for a time, even if you visit unannounced at mealtime, your hosts will insist on sharing with you regardless of whether they have enough for themselves. Cultures differ for their own good reasons.
As the Israelites left Egypt, God provided specific instructions to govern their culture. But rules—even God’s rules—can never change hearts. So Moses said, “Change your hearts and stop being stubborn” (Deut. 10:16
Israel served the “God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome” (v. 17). One powerful way they were to show their identification with God was by loving foreigners—those from outside their culture.
What might this small picture of God’s character mean for us today? How can we show His love to the marginalized and the needy in our world?
At the memorial service for my friend’s dad, someone said to her, “Until I met your father, I didn’t know a person could have fun while helping others.” Her dad contributed his part in helping to build the kingdom of God through serving people, laughing and loving, and meeting strangers who became friends. When he died, he left a legacy of love. In contrast, my friend’s aunt—her father’s older sister—viewed her possessions as her legacy, spending her latter years fretting about who would protect her heirlooms and rare books.
In His teaching and by His example, Jesus warned His followers to avoid hoarding possessions, to give to the poor, and to value what will not rust or decay. “For where your treasure is,” Jesus said, “there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:34).
We might think our things give meaning to our life. But when the latest gadget breaks or we misplace or lose something valuable, we begin to realize that it is our relationship with the Lord that satisfies and endures. It is our love and care for others that does not wither and fade away.
Let’s ask the Lord to help us see clearly what we value, to show us where our heart is, and to help us seek His kingdom above all (12:31).
When her friends say thoughtless or outrageous things on social media, Charlotte chimes in with gentle but firm dissent. She respects the dignity of everyone, and her words are unfailingly positive.
A few years ago she became Facebook friends with a man who harbored anger toward Christians. He appreciated Charlotte’s rare honesty and grace. Over time his hostility melted. Then Charlotte suffered a bad fall. Now housebound, she fretted over what she could do. About that time her Facebook friend died and then this message arrived from his sister: “[Because of your witness] I know he’s now experiencing God’s complete and abiding love for him.”
During the week in which Christ would be killed, Mary of Bethany anointed Him with expensive perfume (John 12:3; Mark 14:3). Some of those present were appalled, but Jesus applauded her. “She has done a beautiful thing to me,” He said. “She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial” (Mark 14:6-8).
“She did what she could.” Christ’s words take the pressure off. Our world is full of broken, hurting people. But we don’t have to worry about what we can’t do. Charlotte did what she could. So can we. The rest is in His capable hands.
In the summer of 2015, Hunter (aged 15) carried his brother Braden (8) for a fifty-seven-mile walk to raise awareness of the needs of people with cerebral palsy. Braden weighs sixty pounds, so Hunter needed frequent rest stops where others helped him stretch his muscles, and he wore special harnesses to disperse Braden’s weight. Hunter says that while the harnesses helped with the physical discomfort, what helped him most were the people along the way. “If it weren’t for everyone cheering and walking with us, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. . . . My legs were sore but my friends picked me up and I made it through . . . .” His mom named the arduous trek “The Cerebral Palsy Swagger.”
The apostle Paul, who we think of as strong and courageous, also needed to be “picked up.” In Romans 16 he lists a number of people who did just that for him. They served alongside him, encouraged him, met his needs, and prayed for him. He mentions Phoebe; Priscilla and Aquila who were co-workers; Rufus’s mother who had been like a mother to him as well; Gaius who showed him hospitality; and many more.
We all need friends who pick us up, and we all know of others who need our encouragement. As Jesus helps and carries us, let us help one another.
When Kathleen’s teacher called her to the front of the grammar class to analyze a sentence, she panicked. As a recent transfer student, she hadn’t learned that aspect of grammar. The class laughed derisively.
Instantly the teacher sprang to her defense. “She can out-write any of you any day of the week!” he explained. Many years later, Kathleen gratefully recalled the moment: “I started that day to try to write as well as he said I could.” Eventually, Kathleen Parker would win a Pulitzer Prize for her writing.
As did Kathleen’s teacher, Jesus identified with the defenseless and vulnerable. When His disciples kept children away from Him, He grew angry. “Let the little children come to me,” He said, “and do not hinder them” (Mark 10:14). He reached out to a despised ethnic group, making the Good Samaritan the hero of His parable (Luke 10:25-37) and offering genuine hope to a searching Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well (John 4:1-26). He protected and forgave a woman trapped in adultery (John 8:1-11). And though we were utterly helpless, Christ gave His life for all of us (Rom. 5:6).
When we defend the vulnerable and the marginalized, we give them a chance to realize their potential. We show them real love, and in a small but significant way we reflect the very heart of Jesus.