Thursday, May 11, 2017

Dressed for Battle

Ephesians 6:10-18

The Armor of God

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.  NIV  Bible Gateway.com

    When you wake up in the morning and get ready for the day, you're probably not thinking about stepping onto a battlefield. But the enemy is all around us, constantly assaulting our heart and mind with temptations, adversities, emotional attacks, and more. And some days, it feels as though we are standing on the front lines of combat with no protection whatsoever.
   Therein likes our misunderstanding. You see, we do have protection. The Lord made provision for our nakedness in battle. He hasn't sent us to war unprotected. Instead, He's given us a suit of armor that the enemy can't penetrate—the armor of God.
   In today's passage, the apostle Paul tells us step by step how to prepare for our daily warfare, and yet most Christians don't pay much attention to the instruction. We may say, "Well, that's a nice metaphor, but we shouldn't take it literally. After all, the armor isn't real." Yes, it is. It is as real as the clothes on your back.
   I challenge you to intentionally put on your spiritual armor every day for the next seven days. Put on one piece at a time—the helmet of salvation, the breastplate of righteousness, the belt of truth, the sandals of peace, the shield of faith, and the sword of the Spirit. Just try it as you meditate daily on Ephesians 6:10-18, and watch what God will do.
Stanley, Charles F. "Dressed for Battle." In Touch: Daily Readings For Devoted Living October 2016. Atlanta: In Touch Ministries. page 22.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Understanding Your Call

Mark 8:34-35

The Way of the Cross

34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.  
NIV Bible Gateway.com

  I [Dr. Stanley] like to use the word believer when talking about God's children, as it specifically refers to those who have trusted Jesus Christ as Savior. That is a much smaller population than those who label themselves "Christian." But did you know that even fewer people could rightly be called "followers"? These are the people who passionately pursue the Lord's will in all things.
   Are you a believer or follower? Trusting in Jesus Christ is fundamental, but doing so is the first step, not the culmination, of a person's faith. Our primary purpose is to take a life-long journey following in the Lord's foot-steps, honoring Him with our actions and speech, and always increasing in biblical wisdom.
   A follower's life is summed up in the phrase complete obedience. In fact, Jesus defined true Christians as those who prove their love for Him by keeping His word (John 14:23). When it comes to obeying God, there are really only two responses—"I will " or "I won't." It's tempting to say, "I will, but..." as some of Jesus' would-be disciples did, but that's a roundabout way of saying no. Followers remain faithful to the Lord's plan whether doing so is easy or hard. Not only that, but they proclaim Him in both blessing and calamity, and go even when they don't like where He leads.
   Followers pursue the Lord because they know that the reward is a deeper, more passionate relationship with Him. They are not just waiting to spend eternity with God in heaven. They realize that eternity begins now, as they accompany Him on the righteous path He has set before them. 
Stanley, Charles F."Understanding Your Call." In Touch: Daily Readings For Devoted Living October 2016. Atlanta: In Touch Ministries. page 19. 

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Heart of Our Testimony

1 Corinthians 1:22-24

22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.     NIV Bible Gateway.com   

Testimonies that fail to mention the crucifixion lack power. However, in an attempt to be "seeker-friendly," some believers soften the gospel so it seems more inviting. But the hard truth is, Jesus Christ died for our sins.

   To witness effectively, we must confront unbelievers with their sin debt and explain that Jesus gave His life to pay it in full. But presenting platitudes is easier than creating a well-planned gospel presentation. For example the following statement is truthful and pleasing to the ear: "You are saved when you receive Jesus as Savior." The problem is, it falls short of making known the actual path to salation. An instructive testimony should contain three follow-up points: a description of who Jesus is, an explanation of God's only plan of salvation, and what a person must believe and do in order to receive Christ.
   Certainly, one can be saved without fully grasping the role of the cross. However, new believers begin their spiritual journey much wiser if they know the source of their salvation. Ironically, we're truly seeker-friendly when we offer a full picture of Christianity rather than a few expressions that are truthful but trite.
   Think about the words you use to spread the gospel. Our society is increasingly illiterate in terms of Scripture. Those with whom you have opportunity to share may know little about Jesus - you might be the only person in their life with any real biblical knowledge. Pray and then prepare an instructive message focused on the cross. Then go out and make disciples for Christ! 
Stanley, Charles F. "The Heart of Our Testimony." In Touch: Daily Readings For Devoted Living September 2016. Atlanta: In Touch Ministries. page 13.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Message of the Cross

John 19:1-27

Jesus Sentenced to Be Crucified

19 Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they slapped him in the face.
Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews gathered there, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”
As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!”
But Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.”
The Jewish leaders insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.”
When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10 “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”
11 Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”
12 From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.”
13 When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). 14 It was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about noon.
“Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.
15 But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”
“Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.
“We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.
16 Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.

The Crucifixion of Jesus

So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. 17 Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.
19 Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: jesus of nazareth, the king of the jews. 20 Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. 21 The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.”
22 Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”
23 When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.
24 “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.”
This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said,
“They divided my clothes among them
    and cast lots for my garment.”
So this is what the soldiers did.
25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.  NIV  Bible Gateway.com

   Rome used the cross as a brutal method for executing criminals. Through Jesus' sacrificial act, its message became one of hope and life for those who believe in Him.
   The cross meant various things to different people in the gospel account. To Pilate, Judea's governor, it was the place where an innocent man had died. The Pharisees and Sadducees, on the other hand, saw the cross as the way to eliminate a problem—it meant that the radical rabbi was finished, and their position and authority were no longer threatened.
   When Judas Iscariot heard that Jesus was condemned to die, he became greatly distressed. I believe the betrayer had thought his actions would force Jesus to declare His kingdom, with Judas taking a high position in the new government. Instead, his error in judgment crushed any personal ambition.
   In that culture, the cross represented shameful crime. Knowing the perfection of her son's life and His identity as the Son of God, Mary must have been certain it was undeserved. She also no doubt saw it as fulfillment of prophecy: When Jesus was just days old, Simon had prophesied that a sword would one day pierce Mary soul. (See Luke 2:34-35.) The cross brought that about.
   To Jesus' disciples, the crucifixion was the time when their beloved friend and Messiah died. Their close relationship with Jesus seemed to end, as did their dream of being freed from Roman jurisdiction.
   What response would you give to the question, "What does the cross mean to you?" Is it the place where a good man lost his life, a troublemaker was eliminated, or the Son of God died to save you? 
Stanley, Charles F. "The Message of the Cross." In Touch: Daily Reading For Devoted Living October 2016. Atlanta: In Touch Ministries. page 17. 

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Meaning of the Cross

Matthew 27:11-26

Jesus Before Pilate

11 Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
“You have said so,” Jesus replied.
12 When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. 13 Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?” 14 But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor.
15 Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. 16 At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Barabbas. 17 So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” 18 For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him.
19 While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.”
20 But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.
21 “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor.
“Barabbas,” they answered.
22 “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked.
They all answered, “Crucify him!”
23 “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.
But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”
24 When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”
25 All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!”
26 Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.
NIV   Bible Gateway.com 

   The cross—the symbol of Christianity—has great meaning to God. First of all, through Jesus' death, the Father proclaimed the value of every single human being: He offers forgiveness and eternal life to anyone who places faith in Jesus (Rom. 6:23). Second, it meant a great cost. Holy God separated Himself from His beloved Son while Jesus bore the weight of mankind's sin. (See Matt. 27:46.) Third, the redemption of man was accomplished. Jesus' shed blood purchased us from slavery to sin and reconciled us to God (1 Pet. 1:18-19).
   What's more, divine justice was carried out on the cross. Scripture tells us that death is the debt owed for sin (Ezek. 18:20). However, God requires an unblemished sacrifice (Duet. 17:1). We could not adequately pay our own penalty because we would only die in our sin. For holy God to forgive us, a sufficient substitute had to be found—one who qualified to pay for our disobedience. Jesus, the only one who was without sin, willingly took our place and assumed responsibility for our debt. All our iniquity—past, present, and future—was placed on Christ, and God's judgment upon us was carried out against Him.
   The meaning of the cross was experienced firsthand by Barabbas, the notorious prisoner who was condemned to die. God's innocent Son was substituted for him, giving the criminal freedom. Like Barabbas, we've had our death sentence commuted, and, though unworthy, we have been set free in Jesus. Today, the cross continues to offer life and freedom to the undeserving.
Stanley, Charles F."The Meaning of the Cross." In Touch: Daily Readings For Devoted Living October 2016. Atlanta: In Touch Ministries. page 16.

Monday, April 3, 2017

The Heart of Our Faith

Galatians 2:15-16

15 “We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles 16 know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.          NIV Bible Gateway.com
 Paul believed nothing merited his boasting more than the cross (Gal. 6:14). He had good reason to think so: God's entire plan of salvation hangs upon two beams of rough-hewn wood. It is through Jesus' sacrificial death that we are reconciled to the Father. And we are justified by Christ's blood - freed from the guilt and penalty of sin.
   Galatians 2:16 says, "By the works of the Law no flesh will be justified." That is, clean living cannot earn God's acceptance. Even so, many people choose to put confidence in some sort of cosmic "scale" - they believe their good deeds will outweigh their bad deeds, and as a result, the gate of heaven will be open to them.
   However, if this scale philosophy were true, Jesus' death would be senseless. A Father who accepted multiple paths to salvation but still sacrificed His Son couln't be called good or loving. Yet so many overlook the obvious logic of such reasoning and cling to their vision of a God who ignores personal sin.
   The problem is pride. Since it is natural to desire acceptance, people want to believe something within them is worth loving. But the cross requires kneeling before God empty-handed. When we humbly admit we're powerless to settle our own sin debt, we must accept the payment Jesus made for us.
    We have nothing to offer God, but the fact is, He expects nothing. Instead, the Father created a salvation plan that cleansed the stain of our sin and reconciled us to Him. The cross is a symbol of His love - a love that deserves our boasting.
Stanley, Charles F. "The Heart of Our Faith." In Touch: Daily Readings For Devoted Living September 2016. Atlanta: In Touch Ministries. page 12. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

How God Works

Genesis 45:3-8

Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.
Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.
“So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt.   NIV  Bible Gateway.com

   God has been at work since verse one of the Bible, and He is still orchestrating events involving nations, families, and individuals. While He uniquely tailors His plan for individual lives, our Father wants all people to come to saving faith. And He works to conform every Christian to His Son's image.
   Transforming believers into reflections of Jesus is a long process of small changes, which means God's work may at times seem slow to us. The Lord assured Abraham he'd be the father of nations, but he had to wait decades for the promised son (Gen. 15:1-5). Even though God was at work the entire time, Abraham must have wondered if the pledge had been forgotten. God's patient timing lets Him coordinate every detail perfectly.
   Believers like to share stories about the Lord's dramatic intervention in their lives. Knowing that He provides, rescues, or heals is exciting and reassuring. But He also works in ways that may seem inconsequential. For example, upon arriving in Egypt, Joseph was just a menial servant in Potiphar's household—yet this was his first step toward becoming the country's second-in-command (Gen. 39:1-4; 41:41). God has a purpose for everything that comes into our life—including friendships, jobs, situations, and conversations. Nothing is trivial.
    If you want to experience God in action, you don't have to wait for Him to do something big in your life. Be attentive, because every day is an opportunity to see Him at work. Get into His Word so you can understand how He has acted in the lives of others. Then watch for His involvement in your own.
Stanley, Charles F. "How God Works." In Touch: Daily Readings For Devoted Living October 2016. Atlanta: In Touch Ministries. page 35.