Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Easy to Say, Difficult to Do

Matthew 5:10-12

10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. NIV Bible

   God's commands sometimes defy human logic. Take, for example, the command to rejoice in persecution. It doesn't make sense until we realize the effect of praise - it keeps us focused upon the Lord and the good things that He can bring out of hardship.
   The apostle Paul faced greater abuse and suffering than most of us every will. He was beathen, put on trial, and imprisoned, yet he looked beyond those difficulties to what the Lord was accomplishing through his life. That is, though he didn't rejoice that he was a captive, he was able to celebrate the great ministry he had amond his prison guards.
   If we believe God is in control and keeps His promises, then we must trust in the principle of Romans 5:3-5. This passage assures us that our hardships have a purpose. Specifically, they develop our endurance, strengthen our character, and solidify our hope. Two immediate blessings of suffering are the deepening of our faith and the preparation for greater service to the kingdom. We're able to rejoice because we are maturing believers whom God can use for His purposes.
   The Lord will bring good from our persecution, just as He did for Paul. But if we allow doubt to cloud our faith, we won't be able to rejoice in what He is doing in and through our lives. And if we can't rejoice, we are in danger of giving up before God's good work can be completed. Rejoicing keeps us focused upon the Lord and His purpose so that we may see our trial through to the end and receive our reward. 
Stanley, Charles F. "Easy to Say, Difficult to Do." In Touch: Daily Readings For Devoted Living August 2016. Atlanta: In Touch Ministries. page 9.  

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Defeathing False Teachers

2 Peter 2:1-3

False Teachers and Their Destruction

But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping. NIV Bible

   Outside a grocery store one evening, I watched two young men confronting shoppers with an erroneous statement about scriptural teaching. Anyone who seemed vague about the Christian faith was invited to learn "what God really said" at a Bible study. I was not invited. In fact, the men abandoned me quickly when I used Scripture to defend my beliefs.
   False teachers want to create uncertainty in their listeners. In order to gain followers, these deceivers claim to possess knowledge that their audience lacks. The people who accept this misleading information as absolute truth will usually return to the false teacher for more. Having followers, in turn, strokes the misguided leader's ego and provides "proof" that he's right.
   Those who have a sound doctrine won't be led astray. That's why it is so important for our faith to rest on biblical truth - for example, the fact that Jesus Christ died for the sins of mankind, the Holy Spirit dwells in believers, and Christians will one day be resurrected bodily. Defeating false teachers takes more than "my pastor says..." When confronted, we must defend our faith with Scripture that we ourselves have studied. By regularly reading and applying God's Word, we will be better prepared to defend our beliefs when presented with untruth.
   Building a sound doctrine protects believers from misleading messages and arms them to defend the faith. Do not be caught unprepared. If you haven't already started, begin to study the Bible today. Should you need help, ask your pastor or a godly mentor for guidance.
Stanley, Charles F. "Defeating False Teachers." In Touch: Daily Readings For Devoted Living August 2016. Atlanta: In Touch Ministries. page 24. 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Good Life

Psalm 100

A psalm. For giving grateful praise.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
    Worship the Lord with gladness;
    come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
    It is he who made us, and we are his;
    we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving
    and his courts with praise;
    give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
    his faithfulness continues through all generations.
NIV Bible
   We all know of people who suffer from deteriorating health, financial reverses, and other troubles. How are we to process such situations in light of what the Scriptures teach about the Lord's goodness and the expression of His benevolence towards us?
   First, God's character is perfect, and everything He does is right. (See Deut. 32:4). He is "compassionate an gracious ... and abounding in loving-kindness" (Ps. 103:8). By His very nature, God is good. Second, our heavenly Father expresses His goodness based on His purpose of conforming us to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). From the Lord's perspective, everything that fits into His plan is beneficial for us.
   The greatest demonstration of our Father's goodness is seen in His Son's life and death. Jesus left His heavenly home, took on the form of man, suffered, and died in our place so we might be forgiven (Phil. 2:6-8). Because of what our Savior endured, we who have trusted in Him are adopted into God's family, and heaven is our eternal home.
   At the time of Christ's crucifixion, the disciples could not see anything beneficial in it. They knew only great sorow. But we understand that God gave His own Son so that He might accomplish our salvation (Rom. 8:32).
   Our definition of the good life would probably include material success, good health, and the absence of trouble-things that make us happy right now. But God has an eternal perspective, and He always works to fulfill His long-term plan for us. We can trust in His goodness, even in dark times.
Stanley, Charles F. "The Good Life." In Touch: Daily Readings For Devoted Living August 2016. Atlanta: In Touch ministries. page 8.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Requirements of Faith

Romans 6:22-23

22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. NIV Bible

  The moment we trust Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, we enter into a life of faith. In other words, we live be assurance that God is all He claims to be and will do everything He promises. Salvation is instantaneous, but it takes a lifetime to learn and understand what that entails.
   As soon as we are saved, God begins what is known as sanctification, teaching us to be like Him. This is a process, as it takes time to learn to walk by faith, trusting what we cannot see.
   Even with God's Holy Spirit living inside of us, we nonetheless battle our flesh. We desire to do what God says and to see He sees, but because we have behavior patterns left over from our old sinful nature, we will falter and do things in our own strength, according to our own rationale. We must choose daily to follow His way.
   To grow in godliness, we must learn to listen to our Father. But since this is not a natural tendency, self-discipline is needed. It is best to set a specific time each day to meditate upon God's Word. Eagerly expect Jesus to speak to you, and listen to what He is saying. Write notes in your Bible with the date and what the Lord has impressed upon you. Then, apply the truth you learn, and observe the results.
   Hearing God's voice and being in tune with His Spirit are vital parts of walking in faith. But these things don't just happen; they require determined persistence. As with physical exercise, the more we strengthen our spiritual "muscles," the more the process becomes part of who we are.
Stanley, Charles F. "The Requirements of Faith." In Touch: Daily Readings For Devoted Living August 2016. Atlanta: In Touch Ministries. page 6.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Taking the Yoke of Jesus

1 Peter 5:6-11

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 11 To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen. NIV Bible

    Giving our burden to the Lord in order to take His yoke may sound like a contradiction. But the yoke of Jesus Christ is not some new kind of weight. In fact, it is a symbol of the believer's transformation: Submitting our burden to the Lord means submitting our very selves to Him as well.
   The only way that Christ can share our load is for Him to exercise control of our life. However, human beings are reluctant to give up authority over themselves. The illusion of having control of our circumstances gives us a false sense of security. But the truth is that until we allow the heavenly Father to manage our life, we will be managed by our problems-chasing after the quickest solution or the easiest escape from pain.
   Sacrificing control means that we cannot continue to rely on our previous survival techniques. Instead, through prayer, meditation, and daily Bible reading, we must learn how to walk in the same way our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ did. As our steps begin to align with His, our new yoke shifts the weight of our problems onto His shoulders.
   The most important concept we must learn is to trust God. If we're certain He has a plan and purpose for our life, we can be confident that our burden-whether a troubled marriage, a child on drugs, or a harsh financial situation-will not drag us to the ground. Psalm 55:22 says, "He will never allow the righteous to be shaken," which means He is faithful to carry the weight and show us how to care for those affected by our burden. Trusting Him lightens the load.
Stanley, Charles F. "Taking the Yoke of Jesus." In Touch: Daily Readings For Devoted Living July 2016. Atlanta: In Touch Ministries. page 15. 

Saturday, November 19, 2016

When We Feel Frustrated

Philippians 4:10-13

Thanks for Their Gifts

10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength. NIV Bible

   During Seasons of frustration, a natural reaction is to blame circumstances or individuals. When we find ourselves hindered from achieving our goals, discontent may be triggered by external forces, even though the root cause often is internal. Then we sometimes make changes-such as quitting a job, ending a friendship, or moving away-in an attempt to spare ourselves further dissatisfaction. But that's not how to find genuine peace. When frustrated, we must determine the cause. Discontent has three internal roots:
   One is the inability to accept ourselves as God created us. The talents, personality, and physical attributes we've been given may not be what we desire, but they are exactly what we need to follow God's will for our life. Dwelling on what we lack or what we'd change distracts us from serving Him.
   A Second root is a reluctance to deal with our past. We may have painful memories or recall mistakes that brought us heartache. Only when we admit their impact and confront any resulting emotional or psychological issues can we move on in peace.
   The final source of frustration is a refusal to deal with behaviors or attitudes that are outside the Lord's will. Holding on to an ungodly spirit or a bad habit will often lead to the useless practice of repeatedly trying to justify ourselves to our heavenly Father and those around us.
   The human solution for frustration-changing our external situations-will fail every single time. The only way to truly uproot our frustration is by relying on God for the strength to grapple  with its source. 
Stanley, Charles F. "When We Feel Frustrated." In Touch: Daily Readings For Devoted Living June 2016. Atlanta: In Touch Ministries.  page 26.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Belief and Faith

John 3:16-18

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. NIV from Bible
   The Apostle Paul told his jailer, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household" (Acts 16:31). That Philippian man and his household had saving faith-they accepted the invitation and joined God's family.
   Saving faith has three elements: knowledge, conviction, and trust... To believe in Jesus as our Savior, we need to know who He is, what He accomplished, and why it was necessary.
  WHO IS JESUS? He is deity-God the Son. At the request of God the Father, Jeus set aside His divine rights, took on human form and dwelled on earth (Phil. 2:6-7).
   WHAT DID HE ACCOMPLISH? Jesus lived a perfect life, which qualified him to be our substitute: He stood in our place and bore God's judgement for our sins. His death on the cross made a way for us to be forgiven and experience peace with God.
   WHY DID HE HAVE TO DIE? We could not save ourselves, since our "good deeds" are all marred by our sin nature. When we accept Christ's atoning work, we go from being God's enemy to becoming a member of His family...
   Knowledge without conviction and trust does not bring salvation. Even the demons understood that Jesus was the Son of God (Luke 4:41). Do you believe what you know to be true?

John 1:12-13

12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. NIV from Bible

    ... Knowledge of who Jesus is and what He did must be accompanied by confidence that the facts are true and apply to us.
   First, it's important to realize, I have broken God's law-that makes me a sinner. All of us are born with a nature that rebels against the Lord. Second, we acknowledge that none of our efforts can earn His favor. Third, we agree that Jesus died for each of us. He paid for all our sins, no matter how terrible they are in the world's eyes.
   Next, we believe that Jesus' death is sufficient payment for our wrong-doing; nothing else is needed. We must accept that He paid our penalty and endured the Father's wrath in our place. Finally, we accept by faith that we've been adopted into God's family on the basis of Christ's atoning death. The invitation is for all humanity, but not everyone has true conviction. Too many people see these facts as "information" rather than life-altering truths.
   Once we are convinced that Jesus is our Savior, trust is demonstrated through action. As a "new creature" (2 Cor. 5:17), we each are no longer who we once were, and there are different values and priorities for us to embrace. Jesus, our Lord, has authority over our life, and He alone deserves to be our top priority. He knows what pleases the Father and has sent His Spirit to live in us and teach us.
   Take time to examine yourself for evidence of knowledge, conviction, and trust. If one area is lacking, ask God to help you come to true saving faith.
Stanley, Charles F. "What It Means to Believe in Jesus" & "Saving Faith." In Touch: Daily Readings For Devoted Living, June 2016. Atlanta: In Touch Ministries. pages 20 & 21.