An early church leader named Tertullian wrote that unbelievers in Rome would say of Christians, “See how they love one another.” Particularly in the first three centuries AD, individuals or families who moved from rural areas to cities in search of a better life were very vulnerable if they became ill or faced hard times. In urban areas, they had no familial or communal support network to help them as they might have had in rural villages. As a result, the streets of the Roman Empire were full of weak, sick, elderly, and other vulnerable people who were left to fend for themselves.
In March 2015, the magazine Australian Popular Science reported that a company is hoping to “resurrect” people by the year 2045 through artificial intelligence and nanotechnology. Their goal is “to store data of conversational styles, behavioral patterns, thought processes, and information about how your body functions from the inside-out.” Then they’ll code this information, have it built into an artificial body, and use the brain of a “deceased human.” In many ways, what was previously science fiction is becoming reality.
My best friend from college, now a missionary in France, stopped to see me during one of her furloughs. I remember her telling me that she had to leave by 4:00 p.m. As she prepared to depart, the wind started to pick up. Menacing clouds rolled in. She ran to her car, and we quickly waved our goodbyes. About five minutes later, the winds roared to life and shortly after, it grew dark as night. Concern for my friend’s safety gripped me as I surveyed the storm. I’d never seen anything like it—nearly pitch black during the daytime. Fortunately, my friend made it home safe.
Those who were with Dallas Willard—philosopher, speaker, writer—when he died from pancreatic cancer in 2013, tell of the beauty and grace he demonstrated as he faced death. One of Dallas’ friends recalls that he said, “I taught on the Great Cloud of Witnesses and now I’m experiencing it. I am in heaven’s hallway and there is a large community coming for me. They are the most loving persons I’ve ever been around.” His last words before entering eternal life were simply, “Thank you.”
I once heard an amazing true story of how one man’s conversion affected untold numbers of people. When the man—who lived in a South American village—heard the good news of the gospel and decided to follow Jesus, his life radically changed. First, he stopped being abusive toward his wife. Then he began selflessly acting on her behalf. After a while, his wife started her own business and hired other villagers. As a result, the village prospered financially. In turn, many children could spend their days learning at school instead of toiling all day in the fields.
Many years ago, my pastor was talking with a church youth group about “masks.” He asked the students to state what God would see under their masks, should they choose to remove them. What was under their façades? Most gave superficial answers, but one, a senior in high school, had a much more profound response. She had experienced a painful life that included a suicide attempt and had found trouble nearly everywhere she went. Quietly she said, “I think God would see brokenness, but he would also see beauty.”
Charles Spurgeon, Martin Luther, poet and hymn writer William Cowper, Mother Teresa, and contemporary author Ann Voskamp—each has been recognized for their devotion to Jesus. And each has also battled depression.
The owner of the coffee shop I escape to when I have a writing deadline told me she wants it to be the “community’s living room.” And I think it is. There are heart surgeons, business people, judges, medical students, teachers, kids from local schools, college students, parents, pastors, and writers who frequent it. Although I’m new to the area, I’ve already come to recognize many of the patrons. The people who work there are friendly and welcoming. The coffee and food are good. The atmosphere is cozy and alluring. It’s a go-to place in our community.
I know of a man who passionately desires to be a pastor. He’s worked in youth ministry, camp ministry, and even alongside pastors in the church. He’s well-regarded by those with whom he interacts, having willingly volunteered his time while faithfully loving his wife and children. And yet, he’s been unable to find the right place to serve fulltime. Several churches “nearly” called on him. But he’s yet to receive a ministry role in any official capacity.
Our faces can give clues to our life experiences. They reveal our emotions, hint at our age, and indicate whether or not we’ve led difficult lives. They can also hint at whether or not we’ve been with God. I once had a co-worker at my workplace ask why I was so joyful and smiling all the time. His question caught me off guard; I wasn’t aware my face was revealing anything. I paused, and then answered, “Jesus.” He laughed off my reply and then asked, “No, really, why?” I reiterated, “Jesus.”
In his book Hitler’s Cross, Pastor Erwin Lutzer shares these heart-wrenching words from a man who lived in Germany during the Nazi Holocaust: “We heard stories of what was happening to the Jews, but we tried to distance ourselves from it, because, what could anyone do to stop it? A railroad track ran behind our small church and each Sunday morning we could hear the whistle in the distance and then the wheels coming over the tracks. . . . We knew the time the train was coming and when we heard the whistle blow we began singing hymns. By the time the train came past our church we were singing at the top of our voices. If we heard the screams, we sang more loudly and soon we heard them no more.”
I had a friend who questioned his Christian workplace’s views of a particular disputable theological matter. Not long after voicing his concerns, he was labeled by co-workers as being theologically suspect. He no longer works for that ministry. But he recently found out that his accusers and the denomination with which the workplace was affiliated ended up agreeing with his stance. Unfortunately, he never received an apology from the group.
We recently moved to my husband’s hometown, a city that features a beautiful metro park system. Every day, prior to work and after dropping off two of our three young daughters at school, we take a brief hike together. My husband straps our baby onto his back in a backpack-like contraption, and off we go!
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because his conscience tells him it is right.”