love of our neighbor in all its fullness simply means being able to say to him,"What
are you going through?" Simone Weil.
Rescue two National Park rangers? Thats backwards. Rangers rescue us!
Yet I once did exactly that - and almost missed the chance.
Past midnight one 1970s summer night, I was driving homeward through the desolate
lava beds west of Idahos Craters of the Moon. Ahead, a set of headlights came into
view, stopped on the opposite shoulder. Beside them stood a man holding a flashlight. As I
approached, he began gesturing with the light. I took his motions to mean I should pass
slowly, giving him extra room. But then, in my rear-view mirror, I saw the flashlight
waving frantically! So I stopped.
It was a National Park Service car, with two rangers on patrol. Theyd tried to
make a U-turn on the narrow highway above a deep spot in the lavas. Their car hung up on
the steep shoulders outer edge, and they couldnt get it loose! Cell phones
didnt exist yet, so they had to wait for help. That late, on that lonely stretch of
US 20-26-93, cars might only pass every half hour or so.
Ours was the next one that came along or at least the first that stopped.
I drove one of the rangers to Park headquarters to get a tow truck.
Just as I nearly passed those rangers without realizing they needed help, its
very easy to miss the love and help many people need. Its often simple:
encouragement, visits, phone calls, or help with errands.
Those needs can go deeper. One young, distraught woman told me she couldnt
believe God existed. Would he have allowed the things shed lived through to happen?
Her stepfather had habitually beaten her with a 2x4 and sexually abused her. She felt
worthless, and began using alcohol and drugs. She married a man who beat her just as her
stepfather had. She divorced him, but repeated the same process three more times. Finally
she became suicidal.
I shared real-life experiences that I hoped would encourage her that her future could
be much brighter. .But it was clear that her healing would be a long, slow process.
Were not always sure a caring God exists. But remember Elishas servant. In
his (and Elishas) time of trouble, only the enemy was visible. But Gods army
was there too! (2 Kings 6:14-17.)
Does God care about "neighbors?" in difficulty?
Scripture shows he is tenderhearted and full of love.
"The Lord lifts the fallen and those bent beneath their loads" (Ps.
"He releases prisoners from jail, singing with joy" (Ps. 68:6).
More Verses: Job 5:11; Ps. 34:2; 34:18; 35:10; 68:6; 68:19; 72:13-14; 81:6; 107:14-16;
146:7-8; 147:3; Isa. 29:18; 33:23-24; 35:3-6; 40:29-31; 42:7; 49:13; 49:24-25; 61:1-3;
Jer. 31:8; 31:23-25; Mic. 4:6-7; Zeph. 3:18-19; Zech. 9:12; Luke 4:18-19.
How does God want us to treat these people?
The same way wed treat Jesus if we saw him in their situation. Care. Watch for
needs. Meet them.
"When they were discouraged, I smiled and that encouraged them and lightened their
spirits" (Job 29:24).
"A wonderful God ... comforts and strengthens us in our hardships and trials ...
So that when others are troubled, needing our sympathy and encouragement, we can pass on
to them this same help and comfort God has given us" (2 Cor. 1:3-4).
Also read: Lev. 19:32; Job 4:3-4; Isa. 50:4.
It was the first painfully lonely Christmas after my first wife and four older children
had left. My church announced a Christmas Eve candlelight service. Still hurting deeply, I
hesitated, but finally went.
The service was moving and beautiful. Afterwards, a young couple greeted me and asked,
"What are you doing tonight?"
I told them, "Going to the laundromat. My clothes are already in the car."
"We hate to see you alone," they said. "Why dont you stay
overnight with us? You can even wash your clothes there."
So, instead of a lonely laundromat Christmas Eve, I savored the warmth of that young
Four years later, when Yvonne was pregnant with Yvette, I couldnt get off work to
take her to doctors appointments. But two young women from our church drove her to
those checkups, and took her shopping. After Yvette was born, they offered rides for
follow-up doctors visits. God bless them!
Watch for opportunities.
One day, while playing back-yard baseball with my kids, I tore my right leg muscles
badly enough to be confined to bed for a month.
At work, Id been attending a large Bible study with several dozen fellow
employees. Many knew I was hurt, that I was our familys only driver, and that
without me the family couldnt shop, go to church, or run errands.
Would you like to guess how many members phoned to say "How are you? Can I help?
Not one! Not once!
I knew they cared. They just assumed someone else would do it.
How often have I, too, missed a chance to cheer someone? To lift a burden and help a
neighbor through a hard spot? Im sure the answer is "too often." When I
get engrossed in my own schedule, its easy to forget others.
In one five-year period when either my wife or I were sick continuously, unable to
attend church, we received one "how are you" phone call from our church
secretary. Plus one visit which wed requested. No follow-up at all.
Later, a young woman from the congregation told us shed heard we were sick and
wanted to call us. She went to the pastors wife and asked for our phone number.
The response? "What do you want THAT for?"
It left us feeling "that church doesnt care!" And that behavior caused
both us and that young lady to stop attending.
"Make the most of today. Translate your good intentions into actual
One of those illnesses began in 2003, when Yvonne got sick from toxic mold in our
apartment. She was too weak to be up more than 10 or 20 minutes at a time, and had several
I became the "househusband." Then I broke my ankle, and for two months the
kids did all the extra work. But all of us pitched in to fix her meals, shop, bake, do the
laundry, and take care of the pets. Why? We loved her!
Later, when I suffered a lung infection from a "Dagwood sandwich" of causes,
including bronchitis, lung inflammation, bacteria in a sleep apnea machine, toxic mold,
and allergy to dust, my wife and kids pitched in unreservedly. I learned how much they
loved me too. I was proud of them!
Gods love shines out when we help people.
Give others a chance.
A lady from a drug rehab program asked us to take her to church. She was trying hard to
turn her life around after more than ten years on alcohol, cocaine, methamphetamine, and
But many churches wanted nothing to do with her. The pastors wife at the first
church we took her to pointedly avoided her. We found another church that would accept
her, and there she made great strides in her Christian life.
Six months later, she returned to her home town and tried to find a church where she
could continue that growth.
Not one church in that city of 7,000 would accept her!
It didnt matter that she had recommitted her life to Christ, was living
drug-free, or had been divinely healed of "incurable" Hepatitis C. She was
We tried to support her with tapes, letters, and phone calls. But going on was very
difficult, and made more so by those who should have loved and encouraged her.
How will our nation recover from todays plague of drugs if thats how we
treat those who want to reform? Arent we telling them not to try?
What do you think God will tell those churches at the Judgment?
Dont analyze why.
We criticize Jobs friends for failing to understand. Yet those three men began
well. They visited Job and sat with him for a full week.
"When three of Jobs friends heard of all the tragedy that had befallen
him, they ... traveled from their homes to comfort and console him ... Job was so changed
that they could scarcely recognize him. Wailing loudly in despair, they tore their robes
and threw dust into the air and put earth on their heads to demonstrate their sorrow. Then
they sat upon the ground with him silently for seven days and nights, no one speaking a
word; for they saw that his suffering was too great for words" (Job 2:11-13).
Jobs friends only fell short when they stopped loving, started analyzing
and were wrong!
When Jobs trials ended, his friends were there again. "All of his
brothers, sisters, and former friends arrived and feasted with him in his home, consoling
him for all his sorrow and comforting him because of all the trials the Lord had brought
upon him." (Job 42:11)
More Scriptures: Job 29:12-17; John 11:19; 11:31-33; Rom. 12:8; Philemon v.13-14.
God answers in many ways.
Sometimes God acts clearlyand positively. But sometimes he says "no." Then
our faith is tested. We ask "Why not? Is God even there? Why doesnt he do
I asked that when I visited a friend whod had two surgeries in three weeks.
Id prayed for her healing for a year, and had unmistakably felt Gods presence
in those prayers. Yet her condition had steadily worsened.
As we talked, Jona told me that when she woke from her first operation, a
black-haired man with a mustache was sitting in her chair, legs crossed, arms clasped
around his knees. She assumed he was one of the doctors. When she regained consciousness
after her second surgery, the same man was sitting on her bed.
One of her friends had been in her room the entire time. Curious, Jona asked her who
the man was. The reply? "Jona, no ones been here!"
Yet Jona had seen him. Not once, but twice! Who had he been? An angel? Jesus? I
didnt know, but left assured that God had heard our prayers. Hed chosen his
own way to show her he was with her and loved her as his child.
That experience made me curious to view a pictorial Israeli web site. Almost all the
Israelis it showed had jet-black hair like the "doctors." Not brown or
blond as we often see in paintings of Jesus;
Also read: Matt. 25:34-36, Luke 14:12-21, 1 Tim. 5:9-10.
God gives unexpected answers!
My family loves to explore. Weve visited several very remote, essentially
uninhabited, almost roadless parts of the West, where the lightest rain literally made the
few dirt roads slipperier than ice. Even at a crawl, all four wheels on our car
would simply slide sideways until they decided to stop! We quickly realized that,
if it rained after we entered that country, we might not get out again for days, until
after the roads had dried.
But when my wife Yvonne became a Christian, shed received one marvelous gift:
simple faith. She trusted God. And, in that remote back country, she applied her faith in
ways that amazed me.
Whenever a storm threatened to strand us, she prayed. She believed that if faith could
move a heavy mountain (Matt. 17:20; Mark 11:23), it could certainly move a much
lighter rainstorm! Id think "Yes - but you cant just do
that!" She had no such qualms. The first storm she prayed over simply faded out.
Others disappeared, changed direction, or slowed up long enough for us to reach the safety
of paved highways.
Yet our most unforgettable lesson in answered prayer came the day God didnt
stop the rain!
Wed driven 50 miles from town and turned onto one of those infamous dirt roads,
heading for an area where wed found nice petrified wood. After a rain, the first
three miles off the paved highway became the slipperiest road wed ever seen. Then,
surprisingly, came a short stretch of blacktop, after which the road changed back to
That day we parked along the inner bit of blacktop, put on our packs, and began hiking
up the mountain.
We were almost a mile from the road when a dark raincloud came over the peak and bore
down on us. This time, we all prayed earnestly. But the storm didnt listen.
It came relentlessly on. We huddled under a stout juniper while torrents of heavy rain
cascaded down. Finally it passed, and we began trooping back toward the car.
After so much rain, our exit road was surely impassable! How would we get out? But we
had to try. There was nowhere to go for help; no cell-phone service. We stowed our gear in
the car trunk and drove back along the rain-washed blacktop toward the dirt stretch. Mist
rose from the puddles as we splashed through.
Then, less than a hundred yards from the where the dirt road began, the blacktop
suddenly began to dry. By the time we reached the dirt itself, there was no sign a
rainstorm had ever passed that way. We drove out over three miles of bone-dry dirt without
the slightest problem!
We reached the paved highway and turned toward town. And, in less than another
hundred yards, the blacktop was again puddled with fresh rainwater!
God hadnt stopped the storm from raining on us. But he had prevented it
from closing our only way out. Hed split the rain around those three miles of dirt
with incredible, mathematically exact precision!
The earlier storms impressed me with how well my wife could pray. That day vividly
taught me how well God could answer!
"Figuring it out" isnt important.
Can we always understand why things dont go the way wed like?
One year our home-town beauty-contest queen went on to win the state title, and with it
a trip to the Miss America pageant.
No one from our lightly-populated state had ever placed in the top ten at Atlantic
City. But, that year, when the ten finalists appeared, there was Karen!
The field narrowed to five, four, three, then two! Karen was still there! By now our
whole town was glued to the TV. We were one step away from being home to Miss
Then the winner was announced. It was Miss Ohio, not Karen! Our spirits plunged!
But then reason asserted itself. Karen was the first person from our entire state, let
alone our home town, whod ever done nearly so well. We should definitely show her we
were proud of her! And Karen was a nice person, one everyone liked.
Karen told us later shed experienced the same roller-coaster emotions we had.
When she placed second, she thought shed failed. But when she arrived home, the
mayor and city council were waiting at the airport to welcome her and tell her how proud
they were of her. A special motorcade drove her home through streets lined with
celebratory banners. More banners and balloons decorated her neighborhood. Neighbors
waited at her home with congratulations and warm praise.
By the time Karen finally sat down to dinner, alone with her family, she was feeling
very good about herself again. She might "only" be the first runner-up. But the
whole town had told her how proud she should be. And, finally, she was.
Then the front door banged open. A little neighbor girl rushed in, bounced across the
carpet, punched Karen in the arm with all her five-year-old might, and shouted:
"You dummy! You lost!"
When things dont go perfectly, is God still guiding? Or is Satan opposing? Are we
winners? Or dummies? Is God sending storms "as punishment, or, in his
loving-kindness, to encourage (Job 37:13)?" How do we know?
Often, we cant. And "since the Lord is directing our steps, why try to
understand everything that happens along the way?" (Prov. 20:24.)
So what do we do?
lf the events involve us, we trust.
If they affect our "neighbors," like Job, Jona, or Karen, we love.
Put loving ahead of logic.
When bad things do happen, can we still believe that "My Father constantly does
good?" (John 5:17)
My wife lost an unborn baby at three months while we lived in Santa Maria, California.
Its death affected her profoundly. For the next six months she was continually angry at
God. She wouldnt attend church. No amount of counseling, talking, or prayer helped.
Then, at Easter, she felt a quiet, clear impression that we should attend one specific
church service. We went. Near the beginning, while the choir sang, she suddenly turned to
me. "I feel as if God just gave me a message for the pastor, and that Im
supposed to tell him now," she said. "Should I? I dont know what to
do! Please pray and ask God."
Was the impression real? Or just her own feelings? If she told him, would she just look
foolish? I prayed quickly, then suggested a test. "Why dont we ask that, if
this is of God, hell lead the pastor to come down where were sitting?"
Sure enough, minutes later the gentle, reserved pastor stepped down into the main aisle
and walked toward us! Yvonne got up and quietly gave him her "message."
The pastor returned to the pulpit, smiling. "Friends," he said, "You
know that Mrs. Ahlstrom has been very upset about losing her baby. Shes been out of
church, and hasnt known whats been happening here.
"But the church has been growing, and Ive been talking about building a
larger sanctuary. Some of us are for it, and some against. The church board wants to pay
off the old mortgage first. Were at an impasse."
"Without knowing any of that, Mrs. Ahlstrom just told me that God impressed her
that the vision Ive had for the church has been from him, and that he will help us
Simply by ministering through her, God reassured Yvonne that he loved her despite the
miscarriage. Her anger vanished. She worshipped wholeheartedly again.
And the church came together! Money flowed in to pay the outstanding debts. Just five
months later Yvonne and I watched the church burn the old mortgage. We moved to Orlando
too soon to see the new sanctuary, but a friend has told us its very beautiful!
Help and Pray!
The Bible encourages us to both visit the sick (Mat. 25:36) and pray for them. James
5:14-15 says: "Is anyone sick? He should call for the elders of the church and
they should pray over him and pour a little oil upon him, calling on the Lord to heal him.
And their prayer, if offered in faith, will heal him, for the Lord will make him
The day Yvonne lost her unborn baby, she almost died four different times from an
allergic reaction to a pre-operative shot. Her doctor later told her shed suffered
many side effects, including damaged nerve endings throughout her body. That affected her
memory. Shed start across the kitchen and forget where she was going.
Two years later, at our new church in Orlando, Florida, our daughter asked to take part
in a childrens water baptism service. We went. As the service ended, the minister
announced a time of prayer for the sick, conducted by "healing teams" made up of
the churchs lay people (not its ministers). Yvonne decided to ask prayer for her
gums, which had become infected. She went forward and disappeared into the crowd.
Minutes later she reappeared, looking so stunned I thought her chin would drag the
carpet! She slid into the pew and whispered, "Youre never going to believe what
A team member had asked Yvonne how she could pray. Yvonne began, "I have a gum
disease." The woman interrupted. "Thats not all thats wrong with
you. You have a bad back, and you have damaged nerve endings all over your body."
Now, the woman could have noticed Yvonnes curved spine. But damaged nerve
endings? No way! She couldnt have seen them; couldnt know. Yet
she did! It was an unforgettable example of the the "gifts of the Holy Spirit"
Did the prayer work? We know this: Yvonnes memory returned to normal.
Another modern-day healing happened to me during a vacation trip from Florida up into
Friends had given us a book that had an especially attention-getting chapter on
minerals. I wanted to check the locale. We planned to leave Friday evening after work.
But, for the entire week before, Id had a severe flu. And by Friday afternoon it was
Should we go? It was a hard call. Common sense clearly said "cancel." But I
wanted badly to see the area. Sick or not, I decided wed start.
As I drove, I prayed. A Scripture came to mind: "My son, endure hardness as a
good soldier of Jesus Christ" (2 Tim. 2:3, KJV). Then another: "And as
they went, he healed them" (Luke 17:14, KJV).
Then a higher Presence seemed to take over that prayer, as if it was no longer me
praying, but Someone Else praying through and for me. That special, powerful prayer
continued for perhaps twenty or thirty minutes. Well before we reached our planned
overnight stop in Gainesville, Florida, all traces of the flu were gone. I felt as rested
and refreshed as if Id never been sick!
We should pray for healings today. But the Bible makes it clear were not
to stop with that. Were to minister practical love, help, and encouragement; visit,
run errands, bring meals, pick up prescriptions; do whatevers needed. "When
you did it to these my brothers you were doing it to me!" (Matthew 25:40.)
How should we treat special neighbors?
Not the way some unthinking people do.
For years, a man whod lost a leg at age four polished 2,200 stars on the
Hollywood Walk of Fame.
He covered about a mile a day, polishing one star after another on his hands, his knee,
and the stump of his amputated leg. Many people appreciated his efforts, but not everyone.
While he worked, people deliberately stepped on his fingers. Every so often, someone stole
Is that behavior funny, or crude and cruel? Would we treat Jesus that way? How do you
imagine God reacts?
"You must not curse the deaf nor trip up a blind man as he walks. Fear your
God; I am Jehovah!" (Lev. 19:14)
More Scriptures: Deut. 27:18; Ps. 35:11-14; 109:16-17; Prov. 22:22-23; 25:20; Isa.
47:6; Ezek. 22:2; 22:9; 22:30-31; Matt. 25:42-45; Heb. 11:36-38..
Is providing good insurance "Loving the Sick?"
Our daughters friends husband developed leukemia. They had
insurance, under which they paid 20% and the insurance 80%. But when her husband died,
that 20% left June owing over $4,000,000! She had no choice but
Another friend developed rheumatoid arthritis. Her doctor told her
"you have a choice. You can let your arthritis run its course. Youll spend most
of your life in bed, in pain. But youll live longer. Or we can give you treatments
that will make your life much, much better. But theyre very expensive, and
youll die sooner."
Lorna said "I want a good quality life, even if
its shorter!" In seven years, her new treatments have cost over $2,000,000. She
has been able to afford them, but only because both she and her
husband have good insurance through work, and good jobs that let them pay what the
One company I joined had excellent health, dental, and life insurance,
retirement plans, and profit-sharing programs. But then it began reducing them "to
remain competitive." We accepted that, until they boasted their yearly profit-per-employee
was $28,000! Not income profit! That told us the company hadnt
needed to cut benefits at all. It had simply created record profits by cutting health
Those cuts meant that when all four of my family were sick, only one
could see a doctor.
At my layoff, Human Resources gave me a $300+ monthly pension, and
offered us medical insurance for "only" $1,100 a month. Several network news
specials claimed the policy would actually have cost the company about $400 at that time.
(Its far higher now.)
Will God reward executives or politicians who make decisions like that?
How will he judge national leaders who do not provide health care policies that work?
Experience shows that the lowest costs, and longest life expectancies, occur in those
countries that set up group policies for their people. It is those policies that
pass the test of "conservative" (keep what works) given by former Arizona
senator Barry Goldwater, "Mr. Conservative." Nations that depend more heavily on
individual policies experience much higher costs, more limited coverage, and lower
Lets love and help our neighbors who
get sick. All of us need that. Its loving ourselves!
Why were people imprisoned in Bible times?
Besides criminals, many prisoners couldnt pay bills or taxes, belonged to the
wrong political party, or were punished heavily for minor crimes. Some were falsely
accused. No forensic analyses or DNA tests could prove their innocence.
Joseph was a classic example. "One day ... Potiphars wife began making
eyes at Joseph, and suggested that he come and sleep with her.
"Joseph refused. Look, he told her ... How can I do such a
wicked thing as this? It would be a great sin against God.
"But she kept on with her suggestions ... Then one day ... she came and grabbed
him by the sleeve demanding, Sleep with me. He tore himself away, but as he
did, his jacket slipped off and she was left holding it ... When she saw that she had his
jacket, and that he had fled, she began screaming ... He tried to rape me, but when
I screamed, he ran, and forgot to take his jacket.
"When her husband came home that night, she told him ..."That Hebrew slave
youve had around here tried to rape me, and I was only saved by my screams.
"Her husband ... was furious. He threw Joseph ... where the kings prisoners
were kept in chains" (Gen. 39:7-20).
Judahs king Asa jailed the prophet Hanani (2 Chron 16:7-10). Israels
king Ahab did the same thing to Micaiah (1 Kings 22:1-28; 2 Chron 18:25-27).
Jeremiah was imprisoned for his preaching, and appealed to King Zedekiah: "What
have I ever done to deserve this? he asked the king. What crime have I
committed? Tell me what I have done against you ... Listen, O my lord the king: I beg you,
dont send me back to that dungeon, for Ill die there.
"Then King Zedekiah commanded that Jeremiah ... be placed in the palace prison
instead, and that he be given a small loaf of fresh bread every day as long as there was
any left in the city" (Jer 37:18-21).
Paul, too, was imprisoned for his faith:
"It is because I believe the Messiah has come that I am bound with this
chain" (Acts 28:20).
Wars imprisoned many. Psalms 79:1, 7, and 11 cry: "O God, your land has been
conquered by the heathen nations ... Listen to the sighing of the prisoners and those
condemned to die."
More Scriptures: 1 Kings 22:26-28; Rom. 16:7; Phil. 1:7; 1:12-14; 2 Tim. 1:8; 1:11-12;
How should we treat prisoners?
Jesus said, "For I was ... in prison and you visited me ... Then I will
turn to those on my left and say, Away with you, you cursed ones ... For I was ...
in prison, and you didn't visit me ... When you refused to help the least of these my
brothers, you were refusing help to me" (Matt. 25:34-46).
Paul appreciated prison visits. "May the Lord bless Onesiphorus and all his
family because he visited me and encouraged me often. His visits revived me like a breath
of fresh air, and he was never ashamed of my being in jail. In fact, when he came to Rome,
he searched everywhere trying to find me, and finally did. May the Lord give him a special
blessing at the day of Christs return" (2 Tim. 1:16-17).
What a contrast with 2 Timothy 4:16! "The first time I was brought before the
judge, no one was here to help me. Everyone had run away. I hope that they will not be
blamed for it."
Also read: Ps. 68:6; Col. 4:18; Heb. 10:34; 13:1-3.
In the Bible, prisoners sometimes conducted jail services. In Acts 16:22-31
"A mob was quickly formed against Paul and Silas, and the judges ordered them
stripped and beaten [and] thrown into prison. The jailer was threatened with death if they
escaped, so he ... put them into the inner dungeon and clamped their feet into the stocks.
"Around midnight, as Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to the Lord
and the other prisoners were listening suddenly there was a great
earthquake; the prison was shaken to its foundations, all the doors flew open and
the chains of every prisoner fell off!
"Trembling with fear, the jailer called for lights and ran to the dungeon and fell
down before Paul and Silas. He ... begged them, Sirs, what must I do to be
In Acts 28:23 Paul was a prisoner ministering to free men: "A time was
set, and ... large numbers came to his house. He told them about the Kingdom of God and
taught them about Jesus from the Scriptures. He began lecturing in the morning and went on
into the evening!"
Acts final two verses (28:30-31) tell us that Paul, still under guard, "lived
for the next two years in his rented house and welcomed all who visited him, telling them
with all boldness about the Kingdom of God and about the Lord Jesus Christ."
The Gospel has changed many prisoners lives for the better. But how can we
tolerate common prison practices like rape? Shouldnt that carry severe penalties?
Why do we turn our backs?
The Bible emphasizes practical prison ministries. One church we attended held regular
support group meetings for wives and children of prison inmates. Thats a form of
"loving our neighbors" that should surely be encouraged.
"Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can
see" Mark Twain