Nicholas, who was born in the third century, had no idea that centuries after his death he would be known as Santa Claus. He was just a man who loved God and genuinely cared for people. One time he learned of a family who was in great financial distress. Nicholas decided to help. He came to their home at night and threw a bag of gold through an open window, which landed in a sock or shoe. Nicholas gave cheerfully of his own possessions and did many kind deeds.
The apostle Paul urged the believers in Corinth to be cheerful givers. He wrote to them about the great financial needs of their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem and encouraged them to give generously. Paul explained to them the benefits and blessings that come to those who give of their possessions. He reminded them that “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously” (2 Corinthians 9:6). As a result of their cheerful generosity, they would be “enriched in every way” (v. 11), and God would be glorified.
Father, would you help us to be cheerful givers not only in this Christmas season but all year long? Thank You for Your incredible generosity in giving us Your “indescribable gift,” Your Son Jesus (v. 15).
John Harper had no idea what was about to unfold as he and his six-year-old daughter embarked on the Titanic. But one thing he knew: he loved Jesus and he was passionate that others know Him too. As soon as the ship hit an iceberg and water started pouring in, Harper, a widower, put his little girl on a lifeboat and headed into the chaos to save as many people as possible. As he distributed life jackets he reportedly shouted, “Let the women, children, and the unsaved into the lifeboats.” Until his last breath, Harper shared about Jesus with anyone who was around him. John willingly gave his life away so others could live.
There was One who laid down His life freely two thousand years ago so you and I can live not only in this life but for all eternity. Jesus didn’t just wake up one day and decide He would pay the penalty of death for humanity’s sin. This was His life mission. At one point when He was talking with the Jewish religious leaders He repeatedly acknowledged “I lay down my life” (John 10:11, 15, 17, 18). He didn’t just say these words but lived them by actually dying a horrific death on the cross. He came so that the Pharisees, John Harper, and we “may have life, and have it to the full” (v. 10).
First responders show dedication and courage daily by being on the front lines when disasters occur. In the attack on the World Trade Center in New York City in 2001 when thousands of people were killed or injured, more than 400 emergency workers also lost their lives. In honor of first responders, the US Senate designated September 12 as the National Day of Encouragement.
While it may seem unique that a government would declare a national day of encouragement, the apostle Paul certainly thought this was needed for the growth of a church. He commended the young church in Thessalonica, a city in Macedonia, to “encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone” (1 Thessalonians 5:14). Although they were going through persecution, Paul encouraged the believers to “always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else” (v. 15). He knew that as humans, they would be prone to despair, selfishness, and conflict. But he also knew that they would not be able to encourage one another without God’s help and strength.
Things are no different today. We all need to be uplifted and we need to do the same for those around us. Yet we cannot do it in our own strength. That’s why Paul’s encouragement that “the one who calls you [Jesus] is faithful, and he will do it” is so reassuring (v. 24). With His help, we can encourage one another every day.
It wasn’t surprising when Mother Teresa received the Nobel Peace Prize. True to form, she received the award “in the name of the hungry, of the naked, of the homeless, of the blind, of the lepers, of all those who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society.” Those were the people she ministered to for most of her life.
Jesus modeled how to care for and love the marginalized, regardless of circumstances. Unlike the synagogue leaders who respected the Sabbath law more than the sick (Luke 13:14), when Jesus saw an ill woman at the Temple, He was moved with compassion. He looked beyond the physical impairment and saw God’s beautiful creation in bondage. He called her and pronounced freedom and healing. Then He “put his hands on her and immediately she straightened up and praised God” (v. 13). By touching her, He upset the leader of the synagogue because it was the Sabbath. Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath (Luke 6:5), compassionately chose to heal the woman—a person who had faced discomfort and humiliation for nearly two decades.
I wonder how often we see someone as underserving of our compassion. Or maybe we’ve experienced rejection because we didn’t meet somebody else’s standard. May we not be like the religious elite who care more about rules than fellow humans. Instead, let’s follow Jesus’s example and treat others with compassion, love, and dignity.
Eternal eyes, that’s what my friend Madeline prays her children and grandchildren would have. Her family has gone through a tumultuous season that ended with the death of her daughter. As the family grieves from this horrific loss, Madeline longs for them to be less and less nearsighted—consumed by the pain of this world. And to be more and more farsighted—filled with hope in our loving God.
The apostle Paul and his co-workers experienced great suffering at the hands of persecutors and even from believers who tried to discredit them. Yet, they had their eyes fixed on eternity. Paul boldly acknowledged that “we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18).
Although they were doing God’s work, they lived with the reality of being “hard pressed on every side,” “perplexed,” “persecuted,” and “struck down” (vv. 8–9). Shouldn’t God have delivered them from these troubles? But instead of being disappointed, Paul built his hope on the “eternal glory” that supersedes momentary troubles (v. 17). He knew God’s power was at work in him and had complete assurance that “the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus” (v. 14).
When the reality around us feels shaky, may we turn our eyes to God—the eternal Rock that will never be destroyed.
“I believe in Jesus and He is my Savior, and I have no fear of death,” said Barbara Bush, the wife of former US President George H. W. Bush, to her son before she died. This incredible and confident statement suggests a strong and deep-rooted faith. She experienced God’s gift of peace that comes from knowing Jesus, even when faced…
Dandy loves encouraging people by singing to them. One day we were having lunch at his favorite restaurant, and he noticed the waitress was having a hard day. He asked her a few questions and then started quietly singing a catchy, upbeat song to cheer her up. “Well, kind sir, you just made my day. Thank you so much,” she said with a big smile, as she wrote down our food order.
When we open the book of Zephaniah, we find that God loves to sing. The prophet Zephaniah masterfully drew a picture with his words in which he described God as a musician who loves to sing for and with His children. He wrote that God “will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing” (3:17). God promised to be present forever with those who have been transformed by His mercy. But it doesn’t stop there! He invites and joins in with His people to “be glad and rejoice with all your heart” (3:14).
We can only imagine the day when we will be together with our Lord and with all those who have put their trust in Jesus as their Savior. How amazing it will be to hear our heavenly Father sing songs for and with us and experience His love, approval, and acceptance.
After Jim Elliot and four other missionaries were killed by Huaorani tribesmen in 1956, no one expected what happened next. Jim’s wife, Elisabeth, their young daughter, and another missionary’s sister willingly chose to make their home among the very people who killed their loved ones. They spent several years living in the Huaorani community, learning their language, and translating the Bible for them. These women’s testimony of forgiveness and kindness convinced the Huaorani of God’s love for them and many began to follow Jesus.
What Elisabeth and her friend did is an incredible example of not repaying evil with evil but with good (Romans 12:17). The apostle Paul encouraged the church in Rome to show through their actions the transformation that God had brought into their own lives. What did Paul have in mind? They were to go beyond the natural desire to take revenge; instead, they were to show love to their enemies by meeting their needs, such as providing food or water.
Why do this? Recalling a proverb from the Old Testament (Proverbs 25:21–22), Paul said that the kindness shown by believers to their enemies could win them over and light the fire of repentance in their hearts.
Abba, Father, it is difficult, even impossible, for us to love others in our own strength. Help us through Your Spirit to truly love our enemies, and use us to bring them to You.
Edward Payson (1783–1827) led an extremely difficult life. The death of his younger brother shook him to the core. He struggled with bipolar disorder, and he was affected by extreme migraine headaches for days. If this wasn't enough, a fall from a horse lead to paralysis of his arm, and he almost died from tuberculosis! Surprisingly, his response wasn’t one of despair and hopelessness. His friends said that before Edward passed away, his joy was intense. How could that be?
In his letter to the believers in Rome, the apostle Paul expressed his complete confidence in the reality of God’s love regardless of circumstances. He asked with boldness, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). If God gave His very own Son, Jesus, to save us, then He will provide everything we need to finish this life well. Paul listed seven situations which he went through himself that seemed unbearable: “trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword” (v. 35). He didn’t imply that Jesus’s love would stop bad things from happening. But Paul said that “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (v. 37).
Through the uncertainty of this world, God can be trusted completely, knowing that nothing, absolutely nothing, “will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v. 39).