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Present Your Bodies a Living and Holy Sacrifice

In recent years, we have seen a growing interest in developing healthy and trim bodies, diets and lifestyles. To be frank, some of this is faddish, obsessive and self-centered, a futile attempt to frustrate the aging process and enjoy life before death claims us.

But a healthy lifestyle is essential if we do it for the right reasons. Indeed, seeking a healthy lifestyle is essential to living a godly life, preaching the gospel and winning the lost.

In simple words, the Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 12:1-2 the essential ingredients of a healthy lifestyle:

June Blog - healhty living photo copy“Therefore I urge you, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Pure and simple, a healthy lifestyle is treating our bodies as temples where God dwells and learning to think God’s thoughts after Him, so that our deeds proclaim God’s glory to others and that we might do what God planned for each of us before He created the world.

To be sure, none of us has mastered this very well. Too often, we are troubled with stress, high blood pressure, weight problems, overwork, poor diet, little sleep and exercise, obsessive and compulsive thoughts, addictive behaviors and distracted devotion times. Many heart attacks, strokes and other physical problems come simply because we don’t take care of ourselves. All of this keeps us from the full and creative life God intended.

Too often, we get into unhealthy patterns of living because we act as if our body is ours when it is really the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Many times, we live our lives with broken spirits and not with merry hearts. Too often, we live our lives for our own purposes rather than the Lord’s (Romans 14).

To live healthier lifestyles, we may first need to better learn how to trust the Lord with all our hearts (Proverbs 3:5-6). We may have to learn to better listen to God and focus upon His will rather than our own. (Psalm 16:11). We may have to learn how to become teachable like little children throughout our lives (Psalm 32:8).

We may still have to better understand how interested God is in the smallest details of our lives (Matthew 10:30). We may still need to discover God’s promises and trust them 100% (Psalm 1:1-3). We may yet have to learn how to live eternal life as a present reality (2 Corinthians 5:17). We may yet have to learn how to love His appearing (2 Timothy 4:8).

Even if we have been born with a “thorn in the flesh,” like the Apostle Paul, we can still learn these things and say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.”

That is truly healthy living. God help us all to learn these things well and live our lives to His glory and the advancement of His kingdom.

Only Increased Preaching of the Gospel

How should Christians deal with human trafficking in ways that glorify God, advance His kingdom and help victims?

Human trafficking is growing in India and America. It is a form of human bondage and slavery.

In the Apostle Paul’s time, the Roman Empire was a slave society. In the city of Rome alone, hundreds of thousands of men, women and children were trafficked as slaves.

In 61 AD, a Roman slave killed his master, Lucius Pedanius Secundus, Prefect of Rome, in protest of his condition. He was immediately arrested. The law of the day required that for this crime of one person, all the master’s slaves be put to death. In this case, it meant death for 400 innocent people.

The population of Rome rioted in the streets over this injustice. The Senate debated the issue and decided that the only way to control slaves was by fear. The law was enforced, but a large military guard lined Rome’s streets to stop the chaos as 400 innocents were led to their deaths.

The Apostle Paul, in a Roman jail about that time, surely knew all this when he wrote his letter to Philemon, a Christian brother. Philemon’s slave, Onesimus, had stolen goods from him and run away. Philemon had every legal right to have Onesimus executed like those 400 slaves.

But the escaped slave, Onesimus, wound up with Paul and became a Christian. He was a new man in Christ. Now, he wanted to make restitution. Paul intervened on his behalf.

Paul knew that his words would set a precedent for future Christians. If he just condemned slavery, Roman masters without Christ would ignore him. Strong words may have incited powerless slaves to rebel and be killed for it as were the slaves of Lucius Pedanius Secundus.

Under inspiration by the Holy Spirit, he urged Philemon to regard Onesimus, no longer as a slave but as a fellow brother. He appealed to the transforming power of the gospel in both their lives. We can be sure that when Onesimus returned to Philemon, he did not return to bondage but as an equal in ministry with his former master. What an example of gospel transformation!

Paul knew that the most effective way to social change was through Christian example and changed hearts. Only increased preaching of the gospel would bring these to pass in the society
at large.

Paul knew and taught that in Christ, there is no slave or free. We are all one in Him. Christ is no respecter of class or caste. He does not regard one person as intrinsically better than anyone else. All castes and classes come within equal reach and power of the gospel.

Paul’s approach toward slavery in the Roman Empire models for us how we should handle human trafficking issues today. However well-meaning, legislation, admonitions and force will not change hearts of those who exploit others. Calls to rebel mean nothing to victims too powerless to succeed.

Rather, we must keep preaching the gospel to all. We must become better aware of the human trafficking in our midst. We must serve as examples, offering help to those who have suffered from trafficking or are in danger of suffering.

Already, thousands of Christians in India are helping the helpless in this way. This Christian witness touches more people than we know, gradually—and peacefully—laying the foundation for permanent social change.

Soldiers of the Commander in Chief

In the past month, we have seen graduations at five of our training institutions in India. Our graduates will go out as evangelists and church planters to new and challenging places w

here the gospel has never gone before.

Mizoram Bible College GraduationAt India Bible College and Seminary, the graduates were enjoined to live their lives and conduct their ministries as “faithful men” who entrust the truths of the gospel “to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).

The Apostle Paul’s picture of a faithful man is the good Christian soldier. A good soldier sacrifices himself for the cause. He takes risks and even lays down his life. He serves others. He opens himself to suffering and even death. He seeks the good of others at risk to himself. He experiences temptations to indulge in creature comforts, but puts these things aside to serve the long-term good of all.

A good Christian soldier follows the orders of his commander in chief. He has a team spirit. He has a deep passion for victory. He hurls himself into battle and conquers his fear. His heart does not fail him when the battle becomes fierce. The word “surrender” is not in his vocabulary. He does not compromise with a deadly enemy.

An effective soldier depends upon a wise and brilliant commander. When a soldier first enters the military, he is unfit and undisciplined for the task before him. A good commander understands this and will make sure he develops qualities needed for intense battle. A good commander plans the most effective strategy for decisive victory and will insure that those under his command will have all the resources they need to win.

A good commander knows how to win the loyalty of his soldiers. He gives his troops reason to risk their lives under his orders. He demonstrates that he understands their mission and the severe demands placed upon them. He knows how to communicate concern, encouragement and vision for the cause. He instills confidence in the final victory, though the war may seem long and even endless.

There is no better Commander than Jesus Christ. When He calls us, we can be sure we are on the winning side. Though we may not find ourselves qualified to be His soldiers, He patiently qualifies us for the task He has given us.

A human army may use up thousands of nameless lives, but as Charles Spurgeon has said, “Our glorious Leader never squanders the lives of His soldiers.” Our Commander notes every sacrifice made, every pain endured for the sake of the gospel.

The life of a soldier is hard, but the qualities of a soldier are necessary for all of us who profess commitment to our Commander-in-Chief, Jesus Christ.

Pray for the graduates from our training institutions who have just entered into the spiritual warfare for India. May God grant each of us, our families and churches the qualities of faithful Christian soldiers as we take the gospel into the world where He has placed us.

The Finger of God

All of us need a special healing touch of God upon our lives that renews as well as purges out what is unnecessary or harmful.

The ancient Egyptians of Moses’ day referred to this as “the finger of God.” This is a colorful term that refers to God’s direct and miraculous intervention in human affairs. The Egyptians were referring to how God miraculously freed the Israelites through the judgment of plagues upon Egypt. At the same time, the finger of God brought freedom to His chosen people.

We also see “the finger of God” in judgment upon the corrupt Babylonian monarch, Belshazzar, as a large hand appeared and spelled out his imminent doom.

But “the finger of God” appears also in God’s acts of grace and mercy as He writes the Ten Commandments for His chosen people, Israel. Later, Jesus frees people from the power of demons by “the finger of God” (Luke 11:20).

Today, we experience “the finger of God” most notably through the work of the Holy Spirit. Before He departed His earthly ministry, Jesus promised His disciples—and us—the privilege and blessing of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The Holy Spirit—God’s very presence—is our guarantee all that He intends to miraculously work in us.

The Holy Spirit is more than a force or power. The Holy Spirit is God Himself dwelling in and through us. The Holy Spirit is the same One who created the heavens and the earth, the galaxies and stars, and all the millions of species of plants and animals. None of us has fully grasped or experienced the full power of the Holy Spirit that is our awesome privilege.

The Holy Spirit guarantees our inheritance in God’s kingdom. The Holy Spirit is our constant companion. The Holy Spirit does battle for us and gives us protection and victory. The Holy Spirit sets up divine appointments for us, guides us into truth, and gives us heavenly power. The Holy Spirit enables us to display the life of God to a world who does not believe in God.

“The finger of God” is still at work today:Image
• The finger invites us and others to become a part of His kingdom and join Him in His work.
• The finger writes His law on our hearts.
• The finger grips us for all eternity.
• The finger points us to the truth. We can depend upon the Holy Spirit to give us wisdom in life’s most challenging circumstances.
• The finger works. The Holy Spirit works in us, and when we give Him permission, He enables us to live and work in ways that display the glory and character of God to the world around us.

Through the Holy Spirit, we may become agents of the Holy Spirit, inviting others into His kingdom. We may write things that move others to respond to Christ. We may faithfully seek out those whom God wants to seal for His kingdom. We may point the way for others to receive Christ. We may do the work that God has given to us, empowered by His might.

Let each of us seek to become better acquainted with the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives that we may better minister to others who await Him.

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Identifying a True Prophet of God

The gospel finds its place in men, women and children to the extent that the Holy Spirit enlivens and plants His written Word in their hearts. He does this in a number of ways. One of those ways is the prophetic word.

True prophecy is the Word of God coming through a human messenger. This is both its potential strength and weakness. Some people say that we should dispense with prophecy because of the potential for false prophecy. But this is like saying we should stop eating because of so many foods that prevent good health.
Even as we learn to distinguish nourishing foods from less nourishing foods, we can learn to discern true prophecy from false, so that prophecy will become an enormous blessing for all.

Wolf in sheeps clothingThe truth is, we all need prophetic words. True prophecy sustains and nurtures us. True prophecy gives life, encouragement, warns us of danger, puts us on the right path, and dispels the lies of Satan. True prophecy takes us beyond our own thoughts, renews our minds and transforms our lives.

The prophetic word is prompted by the Spirit of God and is rooted in true revelation (1 Corinthians 14:30). It becomes fallible if the prophet has faulty perceptions and interpretations. But prophecy is one of those gifts that can improve with time and practice as the prophet grows in his walk with God Therefore, we should not despise prophecy, otherwise we stifle the Holy Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19-20).

What are the marks of a true prophetic word from God? How can we distinguish true prophecy from false?

First of all, true prophecy glorifies God and Jesus Christ as the Way, Truth and the Life. True prophecy never contradicts scripture. It draws us into closer relationship with the God of the Bible. It never rationalizes with sin. It encourages greater trust in God and His ways. It promotes unity and love in the body of Christ. It humbles us before God and before one another. It edifies, encourages and brings hope. All these things are present with true prophecy.

God wants to communicate with His children. What a miracle that He chooses to do so through flawed people! I have personally benefited from prophetic words, and I know from experience the blessing that true prophecy can be.

At the same time, I know of those who masquerade as prophets for the sake of personal gain. Such people can do great harm as they spread lies in the name of God for the sake of recognition and attention. Beware the so-called “prophet of God” who is popular with the masses!

The truth is, a true prophet will not often be loved by others because he loves God more than life itself. A true prophet does not seek popularity. His word will oppose the world, so the world will hate him. The only people who love the true prophet are those who hunger after God and His truth. When they hear the truth coming through God’s human messenger, they are set free.

We must fulfill the Great Commission by every means the Holy Spirit gives to us. True prophecy expands the body of Christ as it applies the written Word to life and ministry. The completion of the Great Commission depends upon its wise use among the people of God and those whose hearts He is preparing to receive His truth. May we seek this gift and use it wisely for His glory.

God With Us

This Advent season, we thank God for becoming “God with us.” Think of Simeon, the old man to whom the Holy Spirit revealed the infant Jesus as the promised Messiah. Apparently many years earlier, the Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would not see death until he first saw God’s Anointed One.

Baby holding father's hand DEC 13

Image courtesy of Royce Bair http://www.tssphoto.com/

What trials and temptations did Simeon endure in the meantime? All we know is that he lived at a painful time in Jewish history. But he loved God, patiently waited upon Him through life’s tribulations, and experienced God’s faithfulness. All of Simeon’s troubles seemed to fade away when God rewarded his faithful perseverance with the privilege of holding the King of Kings in his own arms.

“Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial,” James tells us, “for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12).

Like Simeon, we all face trials and temptations. Often, these hardships tempt us to demand the things of God in our own way and time. It is human nature to want things now. But if we do not trust Him, we can do and say reckless things that we will later regret.

Blessed is the person who perseveres in spite of these trials and temptations. Blessed is the person who, like Simeon, makes God’s promise the rule of his life.

To be blessed is not only to be happy, but to enjoy a taste of eternal life now, even as Simeon did. This blessed person is not an ideal person, but a person of flesh and blood. James is talking about you and me.

If we hold out for the promises of God, we shall have them. Perseverance proves that we have real faith. “Hope deferred,” we are told, “makes the heart sick; but when the desire comes, it is a tree of life.” “Those who wait upon the Lord will never be ashamed.”

Whatever trial or temptation we face, our chief test is to trust God through it all. To trust God permits us to become trusted by God, to possess His matchless gifts in this life and the next. When we have passed the test—we receive the “crown of life.”

What is this “crown of life”? It is eternal living, fullness and fulfillment, order and peace, plentitude and joy. It is to know something of the Garden of Eden in a fallen world of disappointment and death.

It is made possible only by the God who came to live among us and die among us that we might have life. We can love such a God as this, who saves and rewards us through His grace.

Perseverance under trial or temptation brings increased wisdom that comes only with time. It begins with our crying out to God in our distress. Perseverance begins by admitting our weakness, admitting our trials are impossible without dependence upon Him. It is a broken and contrite spirit that brings God’s work in us.

This Christmas season, millions of people know nothing of the One who persevered on their behalf, experiencing the cross and the shame, but also experiencing resurrection and victory that they might know it as well. Pray and work that they may know Him and experience His faithful presence and power even as Simeon did long ago.

Pilgrim Fathers

This month, as we thank God for His many blessings, let us thank Him for the
Pilgrim Fathers.

Many people argue whether or not America is an exceptional nation. I believe America is an exceptional nation especially because of the prayers and Great Commission spirit of the Pilgrim Fathers. Indeed, their prayers may yet make the difference for the future of this nation.

When the Pilgrims landed in the winter of 1620, they wrote the Mayflower Compact, binding themselves to a society of laws “for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith.”

In this age of low commitment to anything, many (including Christians) find it hard to believe that the Pilgrims meant it, but they did. Their decision to come here was based upon many years of prayer and sacrifice to make a way for continued spread of the gospel. I can’t think of any other nation with beginnings so specifically centered upon the work of Jesus Christ and His Great Commission.

William Bradford, Mayflower passenger and governor of Plymouth Plantation, writes of this more fully in his detailed account of those early days. Yes, they meant it—totally.

Obviously, over the past 400 years, things have changed. No dedicated believer can claim that today’s America comes close to glorifying God or advancing the Christian faith. Often, it appears that godless forces hold America helplessly under their thumbs.

But God does not forget the prayers and sacrifices of His people to accomplish His purposes. Half of those Pilgrims died that first winter, giving their lives “for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith.” They were aware of that possibility long before they left goods and kindred behind to make that dangerous voyage.

As survivors of that bitter winter mourned deaths of loved ones in a forbidding wilderness, they never dreamed that their feeble beginnings would lead to a nation stretching “from sea to shining sea.” That is no accident, but the work of God.

As America has risen, Satan has worked overtime to confuse the purpose so firmly established at the beginning by these warriors of the faith. In our dismay over the present madness, let us take heart that God has not yet had the last word.

“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints,” the Psalmist tells us (Psalm 116:15). As God’s children, we are not just cannon fodder in the spiritual battle. He never forgets the prayers and sacrifices of His people. In His eyes, those tearful and agonizing prayers of the Pilgrims are just as present now as they were 400 years ago.

Neither does He forget your prayers and mine. In the end, God always defends and advances His holy name and purposes. Let us remember those words of Martin Luther:
“And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us.”

Through us! In spite of all our weaknesses and sins! But only a mustard seed of faith is enough to move mountains!

This Thanksgiving, let us pray for America and also for India “for the glory of God and for the advancement of the Christian faith.” Already, many people from India and beyond have given their all for this great purpose. God’s timing and ways may not be ours–but He never forgets.

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He Did It Anyway

The grace of God is greater than the universe.

Planet Earth is not just a tiny dot in the universe. Increasingly, astronomers are concluding that the entire universe appears “designed” for the sake of human life on Earth.

As of 2006, scientists observed 824 fine-tuned features of the universe that make life possible for humans here on earth. If only one were missing, human life on earth would be impossible. That number of observed fine-tuned features is increasing every year.

At one point, scientists calculated that the odds of any single planet in the universe possessing all these necessary conditions to support human life is less than one in 1,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (10+173 zeroes).
Growing numbers of researchers—most of them not Christians—are mystified and amazed that the entire universe almost seems to have “known” that human beings were coming.

In short, 21st century scientists are discovering what the Bible told us more than three thousand years ago—God takes thought of us, He creates us a little lower than Himself and crowns us with glory and majesty to rule over the works of His hands (see Psalm 8). The whole universe cries out the obvious—that God has a special place for this tiny blue dot called “Planet Earth.”

The Universe - Blog pic Oct 2013God did not do this because he felt “lonely”. Before He created the universe, He was doing just fine without us. He did it completely out of His unfathomable love.

How have we humans responded to this display of His love? At best, we have treated Him in the same way that red ants treat us. We note Him only when He seems to “invade our space,” and then we lash out at Him as if He were our worst enemy. Or we try to pacify Him with the bare minimum in religious rituals. Even most church people do not have a true day-by-day relationship with God.

Yet this continuing indifference and hostility to God, millennium after millennium, has not deterred God from loving us, lavishing abundance upon us of every kind. He has even seen fit to enter this loveless world and give His life for the sake of loveless people who slander, underestimate and degrade Him at every turn. He knew that we would treat Him like this, but He created us and entered into our humanity to save us just the same.

God was under no obligation to create the universe or human beings in His image. We have failed so miserably to represent His image, that He has every right to wipe us all out with no comment or explanation.

But the Bible tells us that God still loves us. He still plans to prepare us deluded beings for a New Creation beyond earthly description. That plan began even before Jesus Christ stepped into this world to rescue us from our indifference and sin to make us a new and chosen generation.

God didn’t have to do any of this, but He did it anyway. This is what the Bible calls “grace”—grace greater than our sin, grace greater than the universe. We should be thankful beyond words that He has given us this chance we never earned or deserved—thankful enough to tell others about it.

8 Ways Christ Found Victory in Suffering

In some way, the heart of each person is heavy or broken because of tragedy, injustice and/or violence to oneself or family members or friends. We are all subject to decay and death whether we are righteous or unrighteous.

No person on earth has suffered more—and deserved suffering less—than Jesus Christ. As we consider why bad things happen to good people, we must consider the suffering of Jesus Christ.

jesus-praying-in-the-garden Sept 2013The night before His crucifixion, He told His disciples in the Upper Room, “In this world, you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Except for John (and Judas the betrayer), each disciple died a martyr’s death.

In this world of sin, decay and death, no one is immune from suffering, not even the Lord of the universe who stepped into this world to overcome it. Overcoming suffering involved submitting Himself to suffering and gaining victory over it so that we might do the same.

How did Jesus “overcome the world” of sin, decay and death? Briefly, I offer the following for your further consideration:
1. He remembered Who He was. Jesus never abandoned His eternal relationship with His Father in Heaven. If we place our trust in Jesus Christ, we also have a relationship with the Father God who has known us throughout eternity and made us joint heirs with Christ, a chosen generation and royal priesthood.
2. He recognized His vulnerability to suffering. None of us is immune to suffering. Becoming a Christian does not change our vulnerability to suffering.
3. He recognized that His Father God controlled His suffering and would use it for a higher purpose. If we place our trust in Jesus Christ, we can know that our suffering is also under God’s control and will accomplish redemptive ends for ourselves
and others.
4. He saw ultimate victory through His suffering. Satan thought he had the upper hand at the cross, but his plan backfired. God aims to do the same for us in our
own suffering.
5. He prayed for Himself. Jesus didn’t want to suffer any more than we do. He was honest before His heavenly Father and prayed for a way out, yet always submitted Himself to God the Father. Unlike Jesus, God may deliver us from our suffering, but if He doesn’t, we can know that He has a higher purpose.
6. He prayed for others affected through His suffering. Before His crucifixion, He prayed for His disciples and all of us. Later, he prayed for those who crucified Him. We should also pray for those we love, who love us and also those who hate us.
7. He expected and received vindication through His suffering. Jesus never saw Himself as victim but as victor. Even suffering can bring victory for us (see Romans 8:28).
8. His suffering enables Him to feel our pain and to redeem us. In a similar way, our suffering bonds us with other suffering people to give them saving hope.

In these ways, Jesus overcame the world. In our suffering, may we trust the One who suffers with us. May all who suffer come to know Him and His victory in suffering. May each of us become a testimony to others through what He does in our own tribulations.

The Little Things Do Count

We all know people who do well in their studies and go on to succeed in life while others do not. Are some people born to success while others are not? Is this their fate in life? Not necessarily.

Often, the person who faces more obstacles achieves the most success while the privileged accomplish little. This is because of attitudes borne out in small, daily decisions that lead them closer to, or farther from, the successful life.

The individual decision seems small and inconsequential, but their cumulative effects are life-changing.

20050928-huge-burger

Little decisions ultimately determine who we are and where we spend time and eternity. It is important what we decide in our attitudes toward money, relationships, clothing, sports, art, entertainment, internet use, social networking and even use of cell phones.

Some people may object and say, “But we live under grace, not the law. What I do about these things is no ‘big deal’ as far as my salvation is concerned.”

That is only half-true. We may be saved, but we will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ and be judged according to what we did with the grace He has showered upon us. Do we use God’s grace as an excuse to pursue our own pleasures? Or do we use God’s grace to bring glory to Him and accomplish His purposes in our lives and in the lives of others, receiving personal blessing God’s way?

The Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament—Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes—reminds us that we accomplish God’s will on this earth as we decide the issues of life. From the Wisdom Literature, we glean specific principles and practices that guide our everyday decision making and are pleasing to God.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with eating a big steak dinner with a large piece of apple pie. But these indulgences can defeat the purposes of a runner. A runner who intends to win his race will not succeed if he gives himself to eating heavy meals and big desserts.

Do we intend to win the race of life? If I am truly committed to the kingdom of God and to the Lord Jesus Christ, certain decisions of life will bring me closer to fulfilling God’s will in my life. Other things will take me further away.

I must decide to do those beneficial things on a daily basis that reinforce my commitment, even if that means giving up those things that are not necessarily wrong in themselves.

I have known people called of God to fulfill certain roles for His kingdom. But they have postponed making those daily decisions that would enable them to fulfill that call because they have been more interested in doing other things—good things, but not necessarily the best. Time has passed, and now it is too late for them to give their best to Jesus Christ who gave His best for them. Now they live with incredible regret.

I highly recommend the writings of Job, Psalms, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. You will not only receive blessing yourself, but you will bless others and spread His Good News to those who do not yet know it.