While dying of cancer, a seven-year-old Ugandan child named Okello Dikens became a leader. Though he wasn’t at the helm of a company, he exercised a profound influence through his example of faith, kindness, and service.
One of my favorite TV commercials of all time involves a man and a woman sitting in a conference room together. The man suddenly proclaims his attraction to her. While the woman is surprised, she responds that she feels the same way. But then the man turns his head toward her, revealing that he was actually talking to someone else on the phone via an earpiece—his passionate proclamation wasn’t meant for her. Oops!
I once heard Ken Wytsma, founder of the Justice Conference, comment on the surprising skepticism many have about whether justice is central to the gospel. He reflected ironically, “The gospel is that unjust people are reconciled to a just God to be a just people . . . but justice isn’t related to the gospel?”
The Allies suffered heavy losses at the Battle of Arnhem during World War II. Corporal Ray Sheriff of the 3rd Parachute Battalion was blinded in the battle, captured, and sent to a POW camp. After three months, his Regimental Sergeant Major J. C. Lord finally tracked him down. In a room full of men of different nationalities, he spotted the corporal sitting cross-legged on the floor, with his head slumped low. Striding up, he greeted him cheerily: “Corporal Sheriff, how are you getting on?” Sheriff instantly recognized the voice and jumped to attention: “Hello, Sir, it’s good to hear your voice.”
After an appointment, I reached for my phone to see the messages I had missed. “Do you have a minute to pray over me?” The text was simple, but knowing the season of life my friend was in, I quickly dialed her number. Our relationship had been built over many years, and though there were moments invested when I was uncertain of the outcome in her life, she was now not only walking in truth but, in turn, using her God-given gifts to reach out to others.
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 the well-loved comic strip Peanuts, Lucy sets up her makeshift office and advertises that she will dispense advice for a small charge. Then Charlie Brown approaches and tells her how he feels overlooked and unimportant. When he finishes describing his sense of isolation, the unconcerned “counselor” flippantly gives him the simplistic solution to “go make some friends,” and then tries to collect her fee. Ouch.
The song “Go Light Your World,” has long been a favorite of mine for its portrayal of the power of the gospel. The lyrics, echoing Matthew 5’s image of believers as the light of the world, provocatively invite the church to actively seek out—even run to—places of pain that are in need of the hope of the gospel.
A gospel song by Mahalia Jackson expresses that without God, we can’t do anything, and that we must depend on Jesus. We might nod at the lyrics and sing along, but perhaps we could take a moment to ponder how much we really do live out our faith in this wholehearted way. Do we depend on Jesus fully, rather than on the trappings of religion or tradition? Do we know in both our head and our heart that our sins are forgiven?
In recent years, the refugee crisis has shocked the world over. Images like that of three-year-old Kurdish boy Alan Kurdi, his lifeless body washed onto the shore after the refugees’ inflatable rubber boat capsized, horrified us. Too often, however, outrage has yielded little action. A year after his son’s death, Alan’s father told reporters: “Everyone claimed they wanted to do something because of the photo that touched them so much. But what is happening now? People are still dying and nobody is doing anything about it.”
Gaius Octavius became the first Roman emperor by working behind the scenes to consolidate his power. He changed his name to Gauis Julius Caesar Octavianus, after his adoptive father, and then promoted the idea of Caesars (Roman emperors) being divine—allowing him to be considered the son of a god. Eventually, Octavius took the title of Augustus Caesar—sole ruler of Rome—whose spirit was deemed worthy of worship by his people.
When people were engaged in a political spat on my friend’s Facebook page, my friend decided to turn the debate into something uplifting by suggesting that everyone who commented make a donation to the Uganda-based ministry I direct. What began as a contentious debate transformed into a collective act of generosity. In the process, hearts softened and—though political differences remained—those involved began speaking more kindly to one another.
For years, Denise referred warmly to her sibling Carolyn as “my little sister.” Carolyn faced significant cognitive challenges, but she loved life and brought joy to everyone who knew her. She loved Jesus too!