In ancient times, a city with broken walls revealed a defeated people, exposed to danger and shame. That is why the Jews rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem. How? By working side by side, an expression that can well describe Nehemiah 3.
At first glance, chapter 3 might appear to be a boring account of who did what in the reconstruction. However, a closer look highlights how people worked together. Priests were working alongside rulers. Perfume-makers were helping as well as goldsmiths. There were some who lived in nearby towns and came to give a hand. Others made repairs opposite their houses. Shallum’s daughters, for example, worked alongside the men (3:12), and some people repaired two sections, like the men of Tekoa (vv. 5, 27).
Two things stand out from this chapter. First, they all worked together for a common goal. Second, all of them are commended for being part of the work, not for how much or little they did as compared to others.
Today we see damaged families and a broken society. But Jesus came to build the kingdom of God through the transformation of lives. We can help to rebuild our neighborhoods by showing others they can find hope and new life in Jesus. All of us have something to do. So let us work side by side and do our part—whether big or small—to create a community of love where people can find Jesus.
The first time I went to the gorgeous Chora Church in Istanbul, I was able to figure out some Bible stories from the Byzantine frescos and mosaics on the ceiling. But there was much I missed. The second time, however, I had a guide. He pointed to all the details I had previously missed, and suddenly everything made perfect sense! The first aisle, for instance, depicted the life of Jesus as recorded in the Gospel of Luke.
Sometimes when we read the Bible we understand the basic stories, but what about the connections—those details that weave Scripture into the one perfect story? We have Bible commentaries and study tools, yes, but we also need a guide—someone to open our eyes and help us see the wonders of God’s written revelation. Our guide is the Holy Spirit who teaches us “all things” (John 14:26). Paul wrote that He explains “spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words” (1 Corinthians 2:13).
How wonderful to have the Author of the Book to show us the wonders of it! God has not only given us His written Word and His revelation but He also helps us to understand it and learn from it. So let us pray with the psalmist, saying, “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law” (Psalm 119:18).
Almost as soon as the ferryboat started to move, my little daughter said she felt ill. Seasickness had already begun to affect her. Soon I was feeling queasy myself. “Just stare at the horizon,” I reminded myself. Sailors say this helps to regain a sense of perspective.
The Maker of the horizon (Job 26:10) knows that sometimes in life we may become fearful and restless. We can regain perspective by focusing on the distant but steady point of our destiny.
The writer of Hebrews understood this. He sensed discouragement in his readers. Persecution had driven many of them from their homes. So he reminded them that other people of faith had endured extreme trials and had been left homeless. They endured it all because they anticipated something better.
As exiles, these readers could look forward to the city whose architect is God, the heavenly country, the city God prepared for them (Hebrews 11:10, 14, 16). So in his final exhortations, the writer asked his readers to focus on God’s promises. “For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come” (13:14).
Our present troubles are temporary. We are “foreigners and strangers on earth” (11:13), but gazing at the horizon of God’s promises provides the point of reference we need.
Grace is a very special lady. One word comes to mind when I think of her: peace. The quiet and restful expression on her face has seldom changed in the six months I have known her, even though her husband was diagnosed with a rare disease and then hospitalized.
When I asked Grace the secret of her peace, she said, “It’s not a secret, it’s a person. It’s Jesus in me. There is no other way I can explain the quietness I feel in the midst of this storm.”
The secret of peace is our relationship to Jesus Christ. He is our peace. When Jesus is our Savior and Lord, and as we become more like Him, peace becomes real. Things like sickness, financial difficulties, or danger may be present, but peace reassures us that God holds our lives in His hands (Daniel 5:23), and we can trust that things will work together for good.
Have we experienced this peace that goes beyond logic and understanding? Do we have the inner confidence that God is in control? My wish for all of us today echoes the words of the apostle Paul: “May the Lord of peace himself give you peace.” And may we feel this peace “at all times and in every way” (2 Thessalonians 3:16).
Some people like bitter chocolate and some prefer sweet. Ancient Mayans in Central America enjoyed chocolate as a beverage and seasoned it with chili peppers. They liked this “bitter water,” as they called it. Many years later it was introduced in Spain, but the Spaniards preferred chocolate sweet, so they added sugar and honey to counteract its natural bitterness.
Like chocolate, days can be bitter or sweet too. A seventeenth-century French monk named Brother Lawrence wrote, “If we knew how much [God] loves us, we would always be ready to receive equally . . . from His hand the sweet and the bitter.” Accept the sweet and the bitter equally? This is difficult! What is Brother Lawrence talking about? The key lies in God’s character. The psalmist said of God, “You are good, and what you do is good” (Psalm 119:68).
Mayans also valued bitter chocolate for its healing and medicinal properties. Bitter days have value too. They make us aware of our weaknesses and they help us depend more on God. The psalmist wrote, “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees” (v. 71). Let us embrace life today, with its different flavors—reassured of God’s goodness. Let us say, “You have done many good things for me,
In the song “Look at Him,” Mexican composer Rubén Sotelo describes Jesus at the cross. He invites us to look at Jesus and be quiet, because there is really nothing to say before the type of love Jesus demonstrated at the cross. By faith we can imagine the scene described in the Gospels. We can imagine the cross and the blood, the nails, and the pain.
When Jesus breathed His last, those who “had gathered to witness this sight . . . beat their breasts and went away” (Luke 23:48). Others “stood at a distance, watching these things” (v. 49). They looked and were quiet. Only one spoke, a centurion, who said, “Surely this was a righteous man” (v. 47).
Songs and poems have been written to describe this great love. Many years before, Jeremiah wrote about Jerusalem’s pain after its devastation. “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?” (Lamentations 1:12). He was asking people to look and see; he thought there was no greater suffering than Jerusalem’s. However, has there been any suffering like Jesus’s suffering?
All of us are passing by the road of the cross. Will we look and see His love? This Easter, when words and poems are not enough to express our gratitude and describe God’s love, let us take a moment to ponder Jesus’s death; and in the quietness of our hearts, may we whisper to Him our deepest devotion.
Fear is Hadassah’s constant companion. Hadassah, a young Jewish girl living in the first-century, is a fictional character in Francine Rivers’ book A Voice in the Wind. After Hadassah becomes a slave in a Roman household, she fears persecution for her faith in Christ. She knows that Christians are despised, and many are sent to their execution or thrown to the lions in the arena. Will she have the courage to stand for the truth when she is tested?
When her worst fear becomes reality, her mistress and other Roman officials who hate Christianity confront her. She has two choices: recant her faith in Christ or be taken to the arena. Then, as she proclaims Jesus as the Christ, her fear falls away and she becomes bold even in the face of death.
The Bible reminds us that sometimes we will suffer for doing what is right—whether for sharing the gospel or for living godly lives that are against today’s values. We are told not to be frightened (1 Peter 3:14), but to “revere Christ as Lord” in our hearts (v. 15). Hadassah’s main battle took place in her heart. When she finally made up her mind to choose Jesus, she found the courage to be faithful.
When we make the decision to honor Christ, He will help us to be bold and to overcome our fears in the midst of opposition.
Last December, my family and I went to the mountains. We had lived in a tropical climate all our lives, so it was the first time we could see snow in all its magnificence. As we contemplated the white mantle covering the fields, my husband quoted Isaiah, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18).
After asking about the meaning of scarlet, our three-year-old daughter asked, “Is the color red bad?” She knows sins are things God dislikes, but this verse is not talking about colors. The prophet was describing the bright red dye obtained from the eggs of a small insect. Clothes would be double-dyed in this bright red so the color became fixed. Neither rain nor washing would remove it. Sin is like that. No human effort can take it away. It’s rooted in the heart.
Only God can cleanse a heart from sin. And as we looked at the mountains, we admired the pure whiteness that scrubbing and bleaching a piece of cloth dyed in scarlet red can’t get. When we follow Peter’s advice, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out” (Acts 3:19), God forgives us and gives us a new life. Only through Jesus’s sacrifice can we receive what no one else can give—a pure heart. What a wonderful gift!
The hummingbird gets its English name from the hum made by its rapidly beating wings. In other languages, it is known as the “flower-kisser” (Portuguese) or “flying jewels” (Spanish). One of my favorite names for this bird is biulu, “what remains in the eye” (Mexican Zapotec). In other words, once you see a hummingbird, you’ll never forget it.
G. K. Chesterton wrote, “The world will never starve for want of wonders, but only for want of wonder.” The hummingbird is one of those wonders. What is so fascinating about these tiny creatures? Maybe it is their small size (averaging two to three inches) or the speed of their wings that can flap from 50 to 200 times per second.
We aren’t sure who wrote Psalm 104, but the psalmist was certainly captivated by nature’s beauty. After describing many of creation’s wonders, like the cedars of Lebanon and the wild donkeys, he sings, “May the
Nature has plenty of things that can remain in the eye because of their beauty and perfection. How can we meditate on them and please God? We can observe, rejoice, and thank God as we contemplate His works and recapture the wonder.