Loving the Stranger
After a member of my family converted to a different religion, Christian friends urged me to “convince” her to return to Christ. I found myself first seeking to love my family member as Christ would—including in public places where some people frowned at her “foreign-looking” clothes. Others even made rude comments. “Go home!” one man yelled at her from his truck, not knowing or apparently caring that she already is “home.”
Moses taught a much kinder way to act toward people whose dress or beliefs feel different. Teaching laws of justice and mercy, Moses instructed the children of Israel, “Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt” (Exodus 23:9). The edict expresses God’s concern for all strangers, people vulnerable to bias and abuse, and it is reiterated in Exodus 22:21 and Leviticus 19:33.
Therefore, when I spend time with my family member—at a restaurant, in a park, taking a walk together or sitting and talking with her on my front porch—I seek first to show her kindness and respect—in the way I would want to be treated. It’s one of the best ways to remind her of the sweet love of Christ, not by upbraiding her for rejecting Him, but by loving her as He loves all of us—with amazing grace.
Soldiers fighting in a sweltering jungle many years ago encountered a frustrating problem. Without warning and mimicking the strength of a thick rope, a pervasive prickly vine would attach itself to the soldiers’ bodies and gear, causing them to be trapped. As they struggled to get free, even more of the plant’s tentacles seemed to entangle them. The soldiers dubbed the weed the “wait-a-minute” vine because, once entwined and unable to move forward, they were forced to shout out to other members of their team, “Hey, wait a minute, I’m stuck!”
In a similar way, it’s hard for followers of Jesus to move forward when our hearts and minds are ensnared by sin. Hebrews 12:1 tells us to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles” and “run with perseverance.” But how do we run with the heaviness of sin weighing us down and keeping us from moving ahead?
Jesus is the only one who can free us from pervasive sin in our lives. We must learn to fix our eyes on Him, our Savior (12:2). Because the Son of God became “fully human in every way,” He knows what it is like to be tempted—yet not sin (2:17–18; 4:15). Alone, we may be desperately entwined by our own sin, but God wants us to overcome temptation. It’s not through our own strength, but His, that we can “throw off” entangling sin and pursue His righteousness (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Dad, Where Are You?
“Dad! Where are you?”
I was pulling into our driveway when my daughter, panicking, called me on my cell. I’d needed to be home by 6:00 to get her to play practice; I was on time. My daughter's voice, however, betrayed her lack of trust. Reflexively, I responded: “I'm here. Why don’t you trust me?”
But as I spoke those words, I wondered, How often could my heavenly Father ask that of me? In stressful moments, I too am impatient. I too struggle to trust, to believe God will keep His promises. So I cry out: “Father, where are you?”
Amid stress and uncertainty, I sometimes doubt God's presence, or even His goodness and purposes for me. The Israelites did too. In Deuteronomy 31, they were preparing to enter the Promised Land, knowing their leader, Moses, would stay behind. Moses sought to reassure God’s people by reminding them, “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (v. 8).
That promise—that God is always with us—remains a cornerstone of our faith today (see Matthew 1:23, Hebrews 13:5). Indeed, Revelation 21:3 culminates with these words: “God's dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.”
Where is God? He is right here, right now, right with us—always ready to hear our prayers.
Aiming for the Prize
In the 1994 fictional movie Forrest Gump, Forrest becomes famous for running. What began as a jog “to the end of the road” continued for three years, two months, fourteen days, and sixteen hours. Each time he arrived at his destination, he set another one and continued to run, zig-zagging across the United States, until one day when he no longer felt like it. “Feeling like it” was the way his running began. Forrest says, “That day, for no particular reason, I decided to go for a little run.”
In contrast to Forrest’s seemingly whimsical running, the apostle Paul asks his readers to follow his example and “run in such a way as to get the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24). Like disciplined athletes, our running—the way we live our lives—might mean saying no to some of our pleasures. Being willing to forgo our rights might help us reach others with the good news of our rescue from sin and death.
With our hearts and minds trained on the goal of inviting others to run the race alongside us, we are also assured of the ultimate prize—eternal fellowship with God. The victor’s crown God bestows will last forever; we win it by running our lives with the aim of making Him known while relying on His strength to do so. What a reason to run!
African gazelles instinctively form “alert circles” while resting on the savannah. They gather in groups with each animal facing outward in a slightly different direction. This enables them to scan the horizon a full 360 degrees and to communicate about approaching dangers or opportunities.
Instead of looking out only for themselves, the members of the group take care of one another. This is also God’s wisdom for followers of Jesus. The Bible encourages us, “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together” (Hebrews 10:24–25).
Christians were never intended to go it alone, explains the writer of Hebrews. Together we are stronger. We are able to “[encourage] one another” (v. 25), to “comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Corinthians 1:4), and to help each other stay alert to the efforts of our enemy the devil, who “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
The goal of our care for each other is so much more than survival. It is to make us like Jesus: loving and effective servants of God in this world—people who together look forward confidently to the hope of His coming kingdom. All of us need encouragement, and God will help us help each other as together we draw near to Him in love.