Talking with a colleague at a Christian school, I was reminded how easy it can be to judge others. Accustomed to the short hairstyles of most of our students, he was offended by the creative haircut of a visiting teen. Challenging his assumptions, I reminded him that our perception of others’ appearance isn’t an accurate way to gauge a mature, spiritual life in Christ.
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.
Reminiscent of an era we wish were bygone, individuals consumed with hatred and prejudice carried torches and shouted slogans from a hideous time in America’s racial history as they marched across a university lawn. Barely twenty-four hours later, the governor of the state in which the school is located declared a state of emergency due to violent clashes. Only the base depravity of sin decries the life of another as less valuable, less human—and only the power of the cross brings us deliverance.
As many have sadly experienced firsthand, an all-too-real problem is the failure of Christian communities to really embody Christ’s love. Author Mary DeMuth describes how, in an insidious way, spiritually abusive leaders can even distort the gospel into a “culture of fear and shame.” Such leaders use guilt and fear to manipulate others into compliance with their own rules.
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.
Soldiers in the US Army are expected to live by seven values: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage. And new recruits are also expected to abide by all of these values—not just the ones they agree with. A private can’t say to a commander, “I like all of these values . . . except duty. I don’t want to do that.” I imagine that would result in a whole lot of push-ups!
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!
My friend Jen and I are looking forward to meeting in Atlanta for a much-anticipated reunion. Our friendship formed over a short span of time, but the bond has remained strong despite the distance that separates us. Anne, in the novel Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery said it best: “Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.” My friendship with Jen reminds me that true kinship is powerful because relationships were designed to reflect God’s kingdom.
The 1986 film The Mission narrates the story of Father Gabriel and Rodrigo Mendoza, a former slave trader, who served together in the jungle bordering Argentina and Paraguay. The two moved into this remote country to befriend a tribe with little contact to the outside world. When powerful slavers descended on the village, Gabriel and Mendoza determined to stay. They were called to suffer with—rather than escape from—the tribe’s agonies and violence. Mendoza and Gabriel lost their lives, though their witness echoed with resounding force.
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.
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.
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?
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.
On several occasions, Facebook has allowed me to find someone to shuttle supplies from the United States to Uganda for the ministry I direct. Instagram has served as a launching pad for dozens of us to serve children in need, and Twitter has provided a glimpse into the uplifting work friends are doing around the world.