Never Too Far
Raj had trusted Jesus as Savior in his youth, but soon afterward, he drifted from the faith and led a life apart from God. Then one day, he made the decision to renew his faith in Jesus and go back to church—only to be scolded by a woman who berated him for being absent for all these years. The scolding added to Raj’s sense of shame and guilt for his years of drifting. Am I beyond hope? he wondered. Then he recalled how Jesus had restored Simon Peter even though he had denied Him (Luke 22:34, 60–61).
Whatever scolding Peter might have expected, all he received was forgiveness and restoration. Jesus didn’t even mention Peter’s denial but instead gave him a chance to reaffirm his love and take care of His followers (John 21:15–17). Jesus’ words before Peter disowned Him were being fulfilled: “When you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32).
Raj asked God for that same forgiveness and restoration, and today he is not only walking closely with Jesus but serving in a church and supporting other believers as well. No matter how far we’ve strayed from God, He’s always ready not only to forgive us and welcome us back but also to restore us so we can love, serve, and glorify Him. We’re never too far from God: His loving arms are wide open.
Is It a Sign?
The offer looked good, and was exactly what Peter needed. After being laid off, this sole breadwinner of a young family had prayed desperately for a job. “Surely this is God’s answer to your prayers,” his friends suggested.
Reading about the prospective employer, however, Peter felt uneasy. The company invested in suspicious businesses and had been flagged for corruption. In the end, Peter rejected the offer, though it was painful to do so. “I believe God wants me to do the right thing,” he shared with me. “I just have to trust He will provide for me.”
Peter was reminded of the account of David meeting Saul in a cave. It seemed like he was being given the perfect opportunity to kill the man hunting him down, but David resisted. “The
Instead of always trying to look for “signs” in certain situations, let’s look to God and His truth for wisdom and guidance to discern what lies before us. He will help us do what is right in His eyes.
Your Part, God’s Part
When my friend Janice was asked to manage her department at work after just a few years, she felt overwhelmed. Praying over it, she felt God was prompting her to accept the appointment—but still, she feared she couldn’t cope with the responsibility. “How could I lead with so little experience?” she asked God. “Why put me here if I’m going to be a failure?”
Later, Janice was reading God’s call of Abraham in Genesis 12 and noted Abraham’s part: “Go . . . to the land I will show you. . . . So Abram went” (vv. 1, 4). This was a radical move, because nobody uprooted like this in the ancient world. But God was saying trust me by leaving everything you know, and I’ll do the rest. Identity? You’ll be a great nation. Provision? I’ll bless you. Reputation? A great name. Purpose? You’ll be a blessing to all peoples on earth. He made some big mistakes along the way, but “by faith Abraham . . . obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8).
This realization took a big burden off Janice’s heart. “I don’t have to worry about ‘succeeding’ at my job,” she told me later. “I just have to focus on trusting God to enable me to do the work.” As God provides the faith we need, may we trust Him with all our lives.
The introductory lesson on aikido, a traditional Japanese form of martial arts, was an eye-opener. The sensei, or teacher, told us that when faced with an attacker, our first response should be to “run away.” “Only if you can’t run away, then you fight,” he said seriously.
Run away? I was taken aback. Why was this highly-skilled self-defense instructor telling us to run away from a fight? It seemed counterintuitive—until he explained that the best form of self-defense is to avoid fighting in the first place. Of course!
When several men came to arrest Jesus, Peter responded as some of us might have by drawing his sword to attack one of them (John 18:10). But Jesus told him to put it away, saying, “How then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” (Matthew 26:54).
While a sense of justice is important, so is understanding God’s purpose and kingdom—an “upside-down” kingdom that calls us to love our enemies and return evil with kindness (Matthew 5:44). It’s a stark contrast to how the world might react, yet it’s a response that God seeks to nurture in us.
Luke 22:51 even describes Jesus healing the ear of the man Peter had struck. May we learn to respond to difficult situations as He did, always seeking peace and restoration as God provides what we need.
Parking Lot Quarrel
The scene in the parking lot might have been funny if it wasn’t so tragic. Two drivers were arguing loudly over one of their cars that was blocking the passage of the other, and harsh words were being exchanged.
What made it especially painful to watch was that this quarrel was taking place in the parking lot of a church. The two men had possibly just heard a sermon about love, patience, or forgiveness, but it was all forgotten in the heat of the moment.
Passing by, I shook my head—then quickly realized I was no better. How many times had I read the Bible, only to fall into sin moments later with an uncharitable thought? How many times had I behaved like the person who “looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like”? (James 1:23–24).
James was calling on his readers not only to read and reflect on God’s Word, but also to do what it says (v. 22). A complete faith, he noted, means both knowing Scripture and putting it into action.
Life’s circumstances can make it hard to apply what Scripture reveals. But if we ask the Father, He will surely help us obey His words and please Him with our actions.
A Fresh Start
The Chinese New Year, celebrated by Chinese families everywhere, is tied to the lunar calendar. Usually falling somewhere in late January to mid–February, this time for family reunions comes with many traditions—some of great significance. Buying and donning new clothes, giving our homes a good cleaning, and paying off outstanding debts remind us that we are putting the past behind and starting the year with a clean slate.
These traditions also remind me of our new life in Christ. No matter who we used to be or what we’ve done, we can put it all behind us. We can stop beating ourselves up over our past and let go of the guilt, knowing we are completely forgiven because of Jesus’ death on the cross. And we can start afresh, knowing we can rely on the Holy Spirit to daily transform us so we will be more like Jesus.
That’s why Paul reminds believers that “the old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). We too can say this because of the simple but powerful truth: God has reconciled us to Himself through Christ and no longer counts our sins against us (v. 19).
Others around us may not be willing to forget our past wrongdoing, but we can take heart that in God’s eyes, we are no longer condemned (Romans 8:1). As Paul points out: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (v. 31). Let’s enjoy the fresh start God has given us through Jesus.
A Worthwhile Wait
Stuck in a stressful job with long hours and an unreasonable boss, James wished he could quit. But he had a mortgage, a wife, and a young child to take care of. He was tempted to resign anyway, but his wife reminded him: “Let’s hang on and see what God will give us.”
Many months later, their prayers were answered. James found a new job that he enjoyed and gave him more time with the family. “Those months were long,” he told me, “but I’m glad I waited for God’s plan to unfold in His time.”
Waiting for God’s help in the midst of trouble is hard; it can be tempting to try to find our own solution first. The Israelites did just that: under threat from their enemies, they sought help from Egypt instead of turning to God (Isaiah 30:2). But God told them: if only they would repent and put their trust in Him, they would find strength and salvation (v. 15). In fact, He added, He “longs” to be gracious to them (v. 18).
Waiting for God takes faith and patience. But when we see His answer at the end of it all, we’ll realize that it was worth it: “Blessed are all who wait for him!” (v. 18). And what’s even more amazing, God is waiting for us to come to Him!
Accepted and Approved
As a child, Tenny felt insecure. He sought approval from his father, but he never received it. It seemed that whatever he did, whether in school or at home, it was never good enough. Even when he entered adulthood, the insecurity remained. He continually wondered, Am I good enough?
Only when Tenny received Jesus as his Savior did he find the security and approval he’d long yearned for. He learned that God—having created him—loved and cherished him as His son. Tenny finally could live with the confidence that he was truly valued and appreciated.
In Isaiah 43:1–4, God told His chosen people that, having formed them, He would use His power and love to redeem them. “You are precious and honored in my sight,” He proclaimed. He would act on their behalf because He loved them (v. 4).
The value God places on those He loves doesn’t come from anything we do, but from the simple and powerful truth that He has chosen us to be His own.
These words in Isaiah 43 not only gave Tenny great security, but also empowered him with the confidence to do his best for God in whatever task he was called to do. Today he is a pastor who does all he can to encourage others with this life-giving truth: we are accepted and approved in Jesus. May we confidently live out this truth today.
For Others’ Sake
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many Singaporeans stayed home to avoid being infected. But I blissfully continued swimming, believing it was safe.
My wife, however, feared that I might pick up an infection at the public pool and pass it on to her aged mother—who, like other seniors, were more vulnerable to the virus. “Can you just avoid swimming for some time, for my sake?” she asked.
At first, I wanted to argue that there was little risk. Then I realized that this mattered less than her feelings. Why would I insist on swimming—hardly an essential thing—when it made her worry unnecessarily?
In Romans 14, Paul addressed issues like whether believers in Christ should eat certain foods or celebrate certain festivals. He was concerned that some people were imposing their views on others.
Paul reminded the church in Rome, and us, that believers in Jesus may view situations differently. We also have diverse backgrounds that color our attitudes and practices. He wrote, “Let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister” (v. 13).
God’s grace gives us great freedom even as it helps us express His love to fellow believers. We can use that freedom to put the spiritual needs of others above our own convictions about rules and practices that don’t contradict the essential truths found in the gospel (v. 20).