Headlines are typically marked by depressing, shocking and salacious news. In an article with the tongue-in-cheek title of “Pastor Exposed as Faithful to Wife of 17 Years”, Megan Hill points out that, while lament is appropriate when faith leaders behave immorally, we must also remember to find encouragement in the many examples of faithful Christian leaders with healthy marriages. Such daily faithfulness is simply not seen as newsworthy.
It was a bad day—and it culminated with me turning too sharply into our driveway and subsequently hitting our neighbour’s parked car in an effort to avoid another one. It was my fault. Great, I thought. There goes more money I don’t have. I’d scraped our bumper and cracked the driver’s side mirror. Although our van took the brunt of it, I’d also dented and scraped one of our neighbour’s passenger-side doors. Immediately, I knocked on the door of my neighbour’s home and confessed what I had done. “Oh don’t worry about it,” he said. “My car is old anyway.”
A missionary pilot from an African nation visited our church to talk about how God was using the aeroplane our congregation had helped purchase for his ministry. He’d studied aviation in our city and, upon graduation, returned to Africa to use the plane as an air ambulance. The roads in his country are in bad condition, and there’s a distressing lack of medical care in the rural villages from which he transports patients. Without air transport, people would die because they have no access to basic medical care or medicine.
More than a dozen families had committed to share life together in a local community. They were so devoted to one another that they bought houses in the same neighborhood. Eventually, one of the men in this group received an excellent job offer in a large city hundreds of miles away. He didn’t, however, immediately take the new position. Instead, he went to his community to seek their wisdom, advice, and prayer about the move. Within a matter of days, all of them sensed he should take the job. But, to his delight, the consensus was that if he moved, five to six of the families would also move with him.
In a previous ministry position, I was responsible for directing pastoral care at a church. My job was to remind people of God’s presence through my presence and prayers as well as to oversee those offering care to others. When someone was sick or dying, a family was going through a crisis, or a newborn baby was brought home, I was there to offer care, as well as discover if and how our church family could help further.
Every Sunday morning in the foyer, our eyes meet. Her eyes are full of joy, twinkling. Immediately she breaks into song, loudly singing my name, “Mar-le-na!” She ambles over, we hug, and I say, “It is so good to see you.” She always responds with, “It is good to be seen.” And then I remind her, “You know I love you.” And she trustingly offers, “I know you do.” My dear friend, who is seventy-five and dealing with progressing dementia, remains full of the joy of the Lord. She’s childlike in her trust of Jesus and those who love Him.
Years ago, a family member who suffers from bipolar disorder had an extreme psychotic break. The manic episode led to job loss, jail time, and homelessness. For two months, I was on the phone with social workers, law enforcement officers, friends, and family members, trying to figure out how to help him. I even contacted my family member’s church. But no one there could direct me to helpful resources.
When my family and I moved to a new town, I was hired as the Director of Discipleship at our new church. For me, that means that Sundays and Wednesdays are full and that on these days I have to come up with a quick dinner or leave my husband and young daughters to fend for themselves. That’s why I’m grateful we have a microwave. When I’m pressed for time, I sometimes prepare a simple meal of baked potatoes. Instead of the hour it would take to bake them in a traditional oven, we have them ready in seven to eight minutes. That’s fast—near instant gratification!
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.”