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.
My children have enjoyed the thrill of a backyard ice-skating rink during our cold Idaho winters. When they were young, learning to skate was challenging: persuading them to deliberately set foot on the hard, icy surface proved difficult because they knew the pain of falling. Each time their feet slid out from under them, my husband or I would reach out to pull them again to their feet, setting them upright and steadying their frames.
Having someone there to help us up when we fall is the gift of a helping hand depicted in Ecclesiastes. Working with another makes our work sweeter and more effective (v. 9), and a friend brings warmth to our lives. When we encounter challenges, it helps to have someone come alongside with practical and emotional support. These relationships can give us strength, purpose, and comfort.
When we find ourselves flattened on the cold ice of life’s hardships, is there a helping hand nearby? If so, it might be from God. Or when someone else needs a friend, could we be God’s answer to lift them up? In being a companion we often find one. If it appears that no one is nearby to lift us to our feet again, will we find comfort in knowing that God is our ever-present help? (Psalm 46:1). As we reach out to Him, He is ready to steady us with His firm grip.
Artist Sigismund Goetze shocked Victorian-era England with a painting entitled “Despised And Rejected Of Men.” In it, he portrayed the suffering, condemned Jesus surrounded by people of Goetze’s own generation. They were so consumed by their own interests—business, romance, politics—that they were shockingly oblivious to the Savior’s sacrifice. Indifferent to Christ, the surrounding crowd, like the mob at the foot of Jesus’s cross, had no idea what—or who—they had missed.
In our day as well, believers and unbelievers alike can easily become distracted from the eternal. How can followers of Jesus cut through this fog of distraction with the truth of God’s great love? We can begin by loving one another as fellow children of God. Jesus said, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:35
But real love doesn’t stop there. We extend that love by sharing the gospel in hopes of drawing people to the Savior. As Paul wrote, “We are Christ’s ambassadors” (2 Corinthians 5:20).
In this way, the body of Christ can both reflect and project God’s love, the love we so desperately need, to both each other and to our world. May both efforts, empowered by His Spirit, be a part of cutting through the distractions that hinder us from seeing the wonder of God’s love in Jesus.
“See our city the way we do.” A Detroit, Michigan, urban development group used that slogan to launch its vision for the city’s future. But the project came to a sudden stop when members of the community noticed something missing in the campaign. African-Americans make up a large majority of the city’s population and workforce. Yet people of color were absent from the crowd of white faces that showed up on signs, banners, and billboards urging all to “See our city the way we do.”
The countrymen of Jesus also had a blind spot in their vision for the future. As children of Abraham, they were primarily concerned about the future of Jewish people. They couldn’t understand Jesus’s concern for Samaritans, Roman soldiers, or anyone else who didn’t share their family roots, rabbis, or temple worship.
I relate to the blind spots of Detroit and Jerusalem. I too tend to see only people whose life experience I understand. Yet God has a way of bringing about His unity amid our diversity. We are more alike than we realize.
Our God chose a desert nomad by the name of Abram to bring blessing to all the people of the world (Genesis 12:1–3). Jesus knows and loves everyone we don’t yet know or love. Together we live by the grace and mercy of One who can help us see one another, our cities, and His kingdom—as He does.
Anne Frank is well known for her diary describing her family’s years of hiding during World War II. When she was later imprisoned in a Nazi death camp, those with her said “her tears [for them] never ran dry,” making her “a blessed presence for all who knew her.” Because of this, scholar Kenneth Bailey concluded that Anne never displayed “compassion fatigue.”
Compassion fatigue can be one of the results of living in a badly broken world. The sheer volume of human suffering can numb even the best intentioned among us. Compassion fatigue, however, was not in Jesus’s makeup. Matthew 9:35–36 says, “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
Our world suffers not only from physical needs but also from spiritual brokenness. Jesus came to meet that need and challenged His followers to join Him in this work (vv. 37–38). He prayed that the Father would raise up workers to respond to the needs all around us—people who struggle with loneliness, sin, and illness. May the Father give us a heart for others that mirrors His heart. In the strength of His Spirit, we can express His compassionate concern to those who are suffering.
My friend was waiting to pay for her groceries when the man in front of her turned around and handed her a voucher for £10 ($14) off her bill. Short on sleep, she burst into tears because of his kind act; then she started laughing at herself for crying. This unexpected kindness touched her heart and gave her hope during a period of exhaustion. She gave thanks to the Lord for His goodness extended to her through another person.
The theme of giving was one the apostle Paul wrote about in his letter to Gentile Christians in Ephesus. He called them to leave their old lives behind and embrace the new, saying that they were saved by grace. Out of this saving grace, he explained, flows our desire to “do good works,” for we have been created in God’s image and are His “handiwork” (2:10). We, like the man at the supermarket, can spread God’s love through our everyday actions.
Of course, we don’t have to give material things to share God’s grace; we can show His love through many other actions. We can take the time to listen to someone when they speak to us. We can ask someone who is serving us how they are. We can stop to help someone in need. As we give to others, we’ll receive joy in return (Acts 20:35).
During a recent vacation, my wife and I visited a famous athletic complex. The gates were wide open, and it appeared that we were welcome to visit. We enjoyed touring the grounds and admiring the well-manicured sports fields. As we were about to leave, someone stopped us and coldly told us we were not supposed to be there. Suddenly, we were reminded that we were outsiders—and it felt uncomfortable.
On that vacation we also visited a church. Again, the doors were open, so we walked in. What a difference! Many people greeted us warmly and made us feel right at home. We walked out of that church service knowing we were welcomed and accepted.
Sadly, it isn’t uncommon for outsiders to receive the unspoken message “you’re not supposed to be here” when they visit a church. But Scripture calls us to be hospitable to all. Jesus said we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, which surely means welcoming them into our lives and our churches (Matthew 22:39). In Hebrews, we are reminded to “show hospitality to strangers” (13:2). Both Luke and Paul instruct us to show active love to people with social and physical needs (Luke 14:13–14; Romans 12:13). And among the body of believers, we have a special responsibility to show love (Galatians 6:10).
When we welcome all people openly and with Christlike love, we reflect our Savior’s love and compassion.
In Emily Bronte’s novel Wuthering Heights, a cantankerous man who often quotes the Bible to criticize others is memorably described as “the wearisomest self-righteous Pharisee that ever ransacked a Bible to rake [apply] the promises to himself and fling the curses to his neighbours.”
It’s a funny line; and it may even bring particular people to mind. But aren’t we all a bit like this—prone to condemn others’ failures while excusing our own?
In Scripture some people amazingly did the exact opposite—willing to give up God’s promises for them and even be cursed if it would save others. Consider Moses, who said he’d rather be blotted out of God’s book than see the Israelites unforgiven (Exodus 32:32). Or Paul, who said he’d choose to be “cut off from Christ” if it meant his people would find Him (Romans 9:3).
As self-righteous as we naturally are, Scripture highlights those who love others more than themselves.
Because ultimately such love points to Jesus. “Greater love has no one than this,” Jesus taught, than “to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). Even before we knew Him, Jesus loved us “to the end” (13:1)—choosing death to give us life.
Now we are invited into the family of God, to love and be loved like this (15:9–12). And as we pour into others Christ’s unimaginable love, the world will catch a glimpse of Him.
Just before her death, artist and missionary Lilias Trotter looked out of the window and saw a vision of a heavenly chariot. According to her biographer, a friend asked, “Are you seeing many beautiful things?” She answered, “Yes, many, many beautiful things.”
Trotter’s final words reflect God’s work in her life. Not only in death, but throughout her life, God revealed much beauty to her and through her. Although she was a talented artist, she chose to serve Jesus as a missionary in Algeria. Ruskin, a famous painter who tutored her, is said to have commented, “What a waste,” when she chose the mission field over a career in art.
Similarly, in the New Testament, when a woman came to Simon the Leper’s house with an alabaster jar and poured perfume on Jesus’s feet, those with them saw it as a waste. This expensive perfume was worth a year’s common wages, so some of the people present thought it could have been used to help the poor. However, commending this woman’s deep devotion to Him, Jesus said, “She has done a beautiful thing to me” (Mark 14:6).
Every day we can choose to let Christ’s life shine in our lives and display His beauty to the world. To some, it may seem a waste, but let us have willing hearts to serve Him. May Jesus say we have done many beautiful things for Him.