Lee is a diligent and reliable bank employee. Yet he often finds himself sticking out like a sore thumb for living out his faith. This reveals itself in practical ways, such as when he leaves the break room as a dirty joke is being told. At a Bible study, he shared with his friends, “I fear that I’m losing promotion opportunities for not fitting in.”
Believers during the prophet Malachi’s time faced a similar challenge. They had returned from exile and the temple had been rebuilt, but there was skepticism about God’s plan for their future. Some of the Israelites were saying, “It is futile to serve God. What do we gain by carrying out his requirements . . . ? But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly evildoers prosper, and even when they put God to the test, they get away with it” (Malachi 3:14–15).
How can we stand firm for God in a culture that tells us we will lose out if we don’t blend in? The faithful in Malachi’s time responded to that challenge by meeting with like-minded believers to encourage each other. Malachi shares this important detail with us: “The
God notices and cares for all who fear and honor Him. He doesn’t call us to “fit in” but to draw closer to Him each day as we encourage each other. Let’s stay faithful!
When I was a new believer in Jesus, a spiritual mentor encouraged me to keep a thanksgiving journal. It was a little booklet I carried with me everywhere I went. Sometimes I would record a thanksgiving right away. Other times, I would pen it at the end of the week during a time of reflection.
Taking note of praise items is a good habit—one I’m considering re-establishing in my life. It would help me to be mindful of God’s presence and grateful for His provision and care.
In the shortest of all the psalms, Psalm 117, the writer encourages everyone to praise the Lord because “great is his love toward us” (v. 2).
Think about it: How has the Lord shown His love toward you today, this week, month, and year? Don’t just look for the spectacular. His love is seen in the ordinary, everyday circumstances of life. Next, consider how He has shown His love toward your family, your church, and to others. Let your mind soak up the extent of His love for all of us.
The psalmist added that “the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever” (v. 2, emphasis added). In other words, He will continue to love us! So we will continue to have many things to praise God for in the coming days. As His dearly loved children, may praising and thanking God characterize our lives!
About 230 families and individuals live at Macpherson Gardens, Block 72 in my neighborhood. Each person has his or her own life story. On the tenth floor resides an elderly woman whose children have grown up, gotten married, and moved out. She lives by herself now. Just a few doors away from her is a young couple with two kids—a boy and a girl. And a few floors below lives a young man serving in the army. He has been to church before; maybe he will visit again on Christmas Day. I met these people last Christmas when our church went caroling in the neighborhood to spread Christmas cheer.
Every Christmas—as on the first Christmas—many people do not know that God has entered into our world as a baby whose name is Jesus (Luke 1:68; 2:11). Or they do not know the significance of that event—that it is “good news that will cause great joy for all the people” (2:10). Yes, all people! Regardless of our nationality, race, gender, or status, Jesus came to die for us and offer us complete forgiveness so that we can be reconciled with Him and enjoy His love, joy, peace, and hope. Indeed, all people, from the woman next door to the colleagues we have lunch with, need to hear this wonderful news!
On the first Christmas, the angels were the bearers of this joyous news. Today, God desires to work through us to take the story to others.
Cheung was upset with his wife for failing to check the directions to the famous restaurant where they hoped to dine. The family had planned to round out their holiday in Japan with a scrumptious meal before catching the flight home. Now they were running late and would have to miss that meal. Frustrated, Cheung criticized his wife for her poor planning.
Later Cheung regretted his words. He had been too harsh, plus he realized that he had failed to thank his wife for the other seven days of great planning.
Many of us may identify with Cheung. We are tempted to blow up when angry and to let words fly without control. Oh, how we need to pray as the psalmist did: “Set a guard over my mouth,
But how can we do that? Here’s a helpful tip: Think before you speak. Are your words good and helpful, gracious and kind? (See Eph. 4:29–32.)
Setting a guard over our mouth requires that we keep our mouth shut when we’re irritated and that we seek the Lord’s help to say the right words with the right tone or, perhaps, not speak at all. When it comes to controlling our speech, it’s a lifelong work. Thankfully, God is working in us, giving us “the desire and the power to do what pleases him” (Phil. 2:13
For five years, an ancient clay seal remained in a closet in Jerusalem’s Institute of Archaeology. After the seal was dug up at the foot of the southern part of Jerusalem’s old city wall, initial examination failed to establish the significance of the nearly 3,000-year-old object. But then a researcher carefully scrutinized the letters on the seal, resulting in a major discovery. The inscription, written in ancient Hebrew, reads: “Belonging to Hezekiah [son of] Ahaz king of Judah.”
At the center of the seal is a two-winged sun surrounded by two icons symbolizing life. The archaeologists who discovered the seal believe that King Hezekiah began using this seal as a symbol of God’s protection after the Lord healed him from a life-threatening illness (Isaiah 38:1-8). Hezekiah had been pleading with the Lord to heal him. And God heard his prayer. He also gave Hezekiah a sign that He would indeed do what He had promised, saying, “I will cause the sun’s shadow to move ten steps backward” (v.8 nlt).
The facts related to this archeological artifact give us an encouraging reminder that the people in the Bible were learning, as we are, to call on the Lord who hears us when we cry out to Him for help. And even when His answers are not what we want or expect, we can rest assured that He is compassionate, and He is powerful. The One who orders the movement of the sun can certainly move in our hearts.
A man named Refuge Rabindranath has been a youth worker in Sri Lanka for more than ten years. He often interacts with the youth late into the night—playing with them, listening to them, counseling and teaching them. He enjoys working with the young people, but it can be disheartening when promising students sometimes walk away from the faith. Some days he feels a bit like Simon Peter in Luke 5.
Simon had been working hard all night but caught no fish (Luke 5:5). He felt discouraged and tired. Yet when Jesus told him to “put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch” (v. 4), Simon replied, “Because you say so, I will let down the nets” (v. 5).
Simon’s obedience is remarkable. As a seasoned fisherman, he knew that fish move to the bottom of the lake when the sun is up, and the dragnets they used could not go deep enough to catch those fish.
His willingness to trust Jesus was rewarded. Not only did Simon catch a large number of fish, he gained a deeper understanding of who Jesus is. He moved from calling Jesus “Master” (v. 5) to calling Him “Lord” (v. 8). Indeed, “listening” often allows us to see the works of God firsthand and draw closer to Him.
Perhaps God is calling you to “let down your nets again.” May we reply as Simon did: “Because You say so, Lord, I will.”
In the 2016 Rio Olympics, two athletes in the 5,000 meters race caught the world’s attention. About 3,200 meters into the race, New Zealander Nikki Hamblin and American Abbey D’Agostino collided and fell. Abbey was quickly up on her feet, but stopped to help Nikki. Moments after the two athletes had started running again, Abbey began faltering, her right leg injured as a result of the fall. It was now Nikki’s turn to stop and encourage her fellow athlete to finish the race. When Abbey eventually stumbled across the finish line, Nikki was waiting to embrace her. What a beautiful picture of mutual encouragement!
It reminds me of a passage in the Bible: “Two are better than one . . . If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up” (Eccl. 4:9–10). As runners in a spiritual race, we need one another—perhaps even more so, for we are not racing in competition with each other but as members of the same team. There’ll be moments where we falter and need someone to pick us up; at other times, someone may need our encouragement through our prayers or presence.
The spiritual race is not to be run alone. Is God leading you to be a Nikki or Abby in someone’s life? Respond to His prompting today, and let’s finish the race!
Tham Dashu sensed something was missing in his life. So he started going to church—the same church his daughter attended. But they never went together. In earlier days, he had offended her, which drove a wedge between them. So, Tham would slip in when the singing started and leave promptly after the service ended.
Church members shared the gospel story with him, but Tham always politely rejected their invitation to put his faith in Jesus. Still, he kept coming to church.
One day Tham fell gravely ill. His daughter plucked up the courage and wrote him a letter. She shared how Christ had changed her life, and she sought reconciliation with her dad. That night, Tham put his faith in Jesus and the family was reconciled. A few days later, Tham died and entered into the presence of Jesus—at peace with God and his loved ones.
The apostle Paul wrote that we are to “try to persuade others” about the truth of God’s love and forgiveness (2 Cor. 5:11). He said that it is “Christ’s love [that] compels us” to carry out His work of reconciliation (v. 14).
Our willingness to forgive may help others realize that God desires to reconcile us to Himself (v. 19). Would you lean on God’s strength to show them His love today?
It has been many years since I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior. One of the most significant changes since then is the quality of the new life Christ has given me. While I still face life’s challenges, I am able to handle them with God’s help. He gives my life a richness that nothing else could ever provide.…