Monday, August 7, 2017

Meditation: A Key to Hearing God

Psalm 19:7-14

The law of the Lord is perfect,
    refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,
    making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right,
    giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant,
    giving light to the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is pure,
    enduring forever.
The decrees of the Lord are firm,
    and all of them are righteous.
10 They are more precious than gold,
    than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
    than honey from the honeycomb.
11 By them your servant is warned;
    in keeping them there is great reward.
12 But who can discern their own errors?
    Forgive my hidden faults.
13 Keep your servant also from willful sins;
    may they not rule over me.
Then I will be blameless,
    innocent of great transgression.
14 May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart
    be pleasing in your sight,
    Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.  NIV Bible Gateway.com   

   Meditation means different things to different people. For some, it is a time of introspection and self-empowerment. To Christians, however, mediation has an altogether different meaning. And despite the various ways the word is used, it is something we believers must take seriously in our walk of faith.
   Simply put, meditation is the practice of thinking about God in all of His fullness, an asking questions such as:
  • Who is God?
  • How does He work in my life?
  • What does Scripture say about Him?
  • How has He shown faithfulness to me?
  • How has He made Himself known?
    When we meditate on the Word of God, His Spirit directs our thinking as we seek earnestly to know Him better. Often, the discipline will include wrestling with spiritual principles, which the Lord used to build a firm foundation in our life. It may even involve a time of repentance, as he reveals truth and moves us to yearn for a Christ-centered mindset. Or, meditation could lead to healing if God shows us areas of our heart that need His touch. When we take time to set our mind on Him, the Lord will direct our thoughts.
   This week, reserve a half-hour to sit quietly or take a walk. Dedicate that time to focusing your attention on God and letting Him speak to you. You will find this pause in your routine rewarding and exciting as you give yourself over to His presence. 
Stanley, Charles F. "Meditation: A Key to Hearing God." In Touch: Daily Readings For Devoted Living November 2016. Atlanta: In Touch Ministries. page 18. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The God of All Comfort

John 8:1-11

but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.
At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
11 “No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”   
NIV Bible Gateway.com   

An affliction is a crushing pressure that threatens us with destruction. Our health, peace of mind, or relationships could be in danger from the hardship. We know that God will comfort us when we are sick, but will He be there if we bring the affliction upon ourselves by sinning?
   Many believers ask this question, but too often they assume the answer is no. However, the Lord does not condemn us for sin - He has forgotten it. (See Heb. 8:32.) What remains are the consequences of our wrong actions. If we turn to God, He will soothe our soul and guide us safely through the painful fallout. Under His influence, self-inflicted pain is bearable and serves to make faith sronger.
   Remember the woman dragged before Jesus by the Pharisees. She had been caught in adultery, which was a clear violation of the Law. The religious leaders were prepared to stone the transgressor to death, but Jesus spoke to her with compassion. Although He in no way condoned her sin, He did recognize that she was already facing consequences for her unwise choices. He forgave her, saying, "Go. From now on sin no more" (John 8:11).
    Nothing we do can separate us from the love of God. One way He expresses that love is through the promise of comfort when we hurt, even when the pain is self-inflicted. We can allow shame to chase us away from the Father's loving arms, convinced He would not give encouragement to one who disobeyed. Or we can believe Scripture, which says He is "the Father of mercies and God of all comfort" (2 Cor. 1:3).
Stanley, Charles F. "The God of All Comfort."  In Touch: Daily Readings For Devoted Living September 2016. Atlanta: In Touch Ministries. page 16.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Sharing the Good News

Acts 5:42

42 Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah. NIV Bible Gateway.com

Acts 9:1-19

Saul’s Conversion

Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.
10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”
“Yes, Lord,” he answered.
11 The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”
13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”
15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”
17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength. NIV Bible Gateway.com

   When you receive exciting news, what's the first thing you do? If you're like most people, you probably tell someone who will share your joy. The apostle Paul told others about salvation for a similar reason.
   God saved Paul on the road to Damascus, and the apostle dedicated the rest of his life to spreading the good news of the gospel. He gave his time, his energy, and ultimately, his life because he was committed to telling people about Jesus.
   Why would he do this? Paul felt a deep obligation. First, he was indebted to Jesus for salvation. But his motivation came from more than just his love for and devotion to the Lord. He also felt compelled to offer hope to a world that was in desperate need (1 Tim. 1:15-16).
   And the message he gave them was this: God sent His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, into the world in human form. Through His death on the cross, Jesus paid mankind's sin debt in full. All who receive Him as their personal Savior will be forgiven.
   Paul realized he needed to bring the gospel to the Greeks as well as to the non-Greeks. In other words, he had to tell everyone. Some would accept the truth, while others would reject it. The apostle himself could not save people—he wasn't responsible for their reaction. His task was simply to tell about Jesus.
   Do you feel the same indebtedness that Paul felt? Pray that God would give you courage and wisdom to share the gospel with others.
Stanley, Charles F. "Sharing the Good News." In Touch: Daily Readings For Devoted Living November 2016. Atlanta: In Touch Ministries. page 16.

Monday, July 3, 2017

The Way to Hear God Better

Matthew 17:5

While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”    NIV Bible Gateway.com     

Our ability to hear the Lord is directly related to our relationship with Him. For example, without hearing the call to repentance and salvation in Jesus Christ, an unbeliever cannot become part of God's family Unless this vital step has been taken, nothing else God does or says to that person will make a difference.
   But what about believers? How does a Christian's closeness with God impact his or her listening? This is primarily an issue of identification. Once we receive Christ as Savior, then we certainly have salvation and are eternally secure in Him. But beyond that, God wants us to grow and mature in our faith.
   We grow in Christ by identifying ourselves more and more with Jesus. That continual process bings us closer to God. And so when we pray, we are not talking to some distant god out there somewhere. Instead, we are praying to a God who loves, sustains, and molds us into His own image.
   That changes how we approach Him, doesn't it? Instead of crawling face down before Him, mourning and wailing because of our sin and pleading for His mercies, we can come to Him boldly and joyfully assured that He loves us, forgives us, and rejoices in our prayers.
   When we have unimpeded fellowship with the Father, we definitely hear Him better. As we grow closer to Him, our spiritual hearing continues to improve. Through Jesus, we can have unimaginable clarity and intimacy in our two-way communication with almighty God. Let the Lord know that is your desire. 
Stanley, Charles F. "The Way to Hear God Better." In Touch: Daily Readings For Devoted Living September 2016. Atlanta: In Touch Ministries. page 15.
 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Our Generous Provider

Psalm 65

Praise awaits you, our God, in Zion;
    to you our vows will be fulfilled.
You who answer prayer,
    to you all people will come.
When we were overwhelmed by sins,
    you forgave our transgressions.
Blessed are those you choose
    and bring near to live in your courts!
We are filled with the good things of your house,
    of your holy temple.
You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds,
    God our Savior,
the hope of all the ends of the earth
    and of the farthest seas,
who formed the mountains by your power,
    having armed yourself with strength,
who stilled the roaring of the seas,
    the roaring of their waves,
    and the turmoil of the nations.
The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders;
    where morning dawns, where evening fades,
    you call forth songs of joy.
You care for the land and water it;
    you enrich it abundantly.
The streams of God are filled with water
    to provide the people with grain,
    for so you have ordained it.
10 You drench its furrows and level its ridges;
    you soften it with showers and bless its crops.
11 You crown the year with your bounty,
    and your carts overflow with abundance.
12 The grasslands of the wilderness overflow;
    the hills are clothed with gladness.
13 The meadows are covered with flocks
    and the valleys are mantled with grain;
    they shout for joy and sing. NIV Bible Gateway.com

   Generosity is usually a term we apply to people, but have you every considered how generous the Lord is toward us? First of all, He created the earth and all its contains as a habitation for mankind. He made the sun to give light and cause vegetation to grow, and He sends rain to water the land and quench our thirst. The Lord has abundantly made provision for our physical needs.
   This alone should cause us to stand in awe of His love and care for us, but His generosity doesn't end with the physical necessities. He's also provided for all our spiritual needs through His Son. As a result of Jesus' death on the cross for our sins, we who believe in Him are reconciled to God and given a wealth of spiritual blessings. We have His Word to Guide us, His Spirit to empower and transform us into Christ's image, and His church to encourage and support us. Yet His generosity doesn't end there.
   The Lord has also promised us an imperishable, undefiled, and unfading inheritance in heaven. (See 1 Pet. 1:4.) All that He has prepared for us is beyond our human understanding, bu Revelation 21 and 22 describe the new heaven and earth as a place of abundance and blessing, untainted by sin and death.
   In light of all that the Lord has so richly provided and promised, gratitude should be our first response. However, since we are His people, who are called to walk in His Spirit, we should also be characterized by generosity toward others. That means meeting not only physical needs but also spiritual ones by proclaiming the gospel and encouraging fellow believers. 
Stanley, Charles F. In"Our Generous Provider." In Touch: Daily Readings For Devoted Living October 2016. Atlanta: In Touch Ministries. page 33.

Monday, June 12, 2017

When Facing Life's Mountains

Zechariah 4:1-9

The Gold Lampstand and the Two Olive Trees

Then the angel who talked with me returned and woke me up, like someone awakened from sleep. He asked me, “What do you see?”
I answered, “I see a solid gold lampstand with a bowl at the top and seven lamps on it, with seven channels to the lamps. Also there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.”
I asked the angel who talked with me, “What are these, my lord?”
He answered, “Do you not know what these are?”
“No, my lord,” I replied.
So he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.
“What are you, mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground. Then he will bring out the capstone to shouts of ‘God bless it! God bless it!’”
Then the word of the Lord came to me: “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this temple; his hands will also complete it. Then you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you.   NIV Bible Gateway.com

     Wouldn't it be great if it were easy to do God's will? But sometimes it seems as if a mountain stands between us and what we've been called to do. When Zerubbabel felt this way, the Lord sent His prophet Zechariah with a message of encouragement.
   Zerubbabel was given the task of rebuilding the temple. When King Solomon built the first temple, the kingdom was at peace, the treasuries were overflowing, and the workforce was huge. But the situation was quite different when the Jews returned after 70 years of Babylonian captivity. They were few in number, their enemies kept attacking them, Jerusalem was in ruins, and resources were very limited. Zechariah's message to Zerubbabel (4:1-9) contained two principles that strengthened him and will also help us when we face insurmountable obstacles.
  • We are to face our God-given tasks in the power of the Holy Spirit, not in our own strength and energy (v. 6). The Lord's work can never be done with human strength. His indwelling Spirit must empower us with the wisdom and energy to accomplish His will in our lives.
  • When God calls us to a task, He assumes the responsibility for removing any hindrances (vv. 7-9). What seems to us like Mount Kilimanjaro is a mere anthill for the Lord. When we're tempted to give up, it's time to look up, see the obstacle through His eyes, and trust Him.
 Is the Lord asking you to do something that seems impossible? Dwelling on your own inadequacy leads to discouragement, but focusing on the Lord gives hope and the strength to persevere.
Stanley, Charles F. "When Facing Life's Mountains." In Touch: Daily Readings For Devoted Living October 2016. Atlanta: In Touch Ministries, page 28.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Burden of Sin

Romans 5:12-21

Death Through Adam, Life Through Christ

12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—
13 To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.
15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! 16 Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!
18 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.
20 The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, 21 so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.   NIV Bible Gateway.com

   The burdens we carry come in all shapes, sizes and varieties. Many are weighty, but there's one load that proves even heaver—and it can be traced back to the garden of Eden.
   Because Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit (Gen. 3:6), all people have been born with sinful hearts. Holiness and sin cannot mix. Therefore, in our natural state, none of us are able to fellowship with God.
   What is worse, we continue to do wrong.The Bible says that every one of us has gone astray, like a sheep wandering from his shepherd (Isa. 53:6). So on our own, we have no access to God. And there is nothing that we—fallen humans—can do to rectify the situation. That's why I see this as the heaviest burden of all.
  But our Creator loved us so much that He sent His own Son to live a perfect life on earth. Jesus deserved fellowship with God, yet He took our sin and its punishment by dying on the cross in our place. And then He conquered death by rising to life again.
   His atonement for our wrongs is a gift that is available to anyone who believes. The Savior longs for us to accept that He willingly paid the price to redeem us. He desires to relieve the burden of sin from our heart. Only then will we experience true life and freedom.
   Have you received God's free gift of salvation? Jesus loves you so much that He gave His life to have a relationship with you. If you believe in Him and accept His death as your undeserved atonement for sin, He will forgive you for all unrighteousness and welcome you onto the path of true life.
Stanley, Charles F. "The Burden of Sin." In Touch: Daily Readings For Devoted Living October 2016. Atlanta: In Touch Ministries. page 30. 

Monday, June 5, 2017

You Can Trust God

Romans 4:16-21

16 Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. 17 As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.
18 Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 19 Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. 20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, 21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.  NIV Bible Gateway.com

   As we all know too well, life oftentimes confronts us with unexpected or painful circumstances. Sometimes these situations leave us feeling fearful, discouraged, and frustrated. Consequently, we may question whether the heavenly Father truly is reliable.
   During such troubling moments, we can rest on his essential truth: The Lord is perfect in His love. Consider verse 5 from 1 John 1: "God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all." In other words, everything our heavenly Father does is righteous. And if He is a God of love, then it is impossible for Him to mistreat any of His children. We can be assured that whatever He places or permits in our lives is good and that His motives are pure.
   Jesus demonstrated this deep care for us when He offered His blood on the cross—there exists no greater display of love than giving one's life for someone else (John 15:13). Our sin debt could be paid only with a flawless sacrifice (Deut. 17:1). Christ, the perfect lamb, was willing to die in our place so that we could have an eternal relationship with the Father. If God gave us His Son—the most precious and amazing gift He could possibly give—to take care of our greatest need, then we can trust Him to provide for all areas of our life.
   When difficulty arises, remember how much God loves you. He proved this by willingly giving His Son to take the penalty for your sin. Even when circumstances are painful, you can be confident that you are held in the capable and caring hands of your heavenly Father, because of His love for you. 
Stanley, Charles F. "You Can Trust God." In Touch: Daily Readings For Devoted Living October 2016. Atlanta: In Touch Ministries. page 28. 

Friday, June 2, 2017

Your Perspective in Prayer

Psalm 95:6-8

Come, let us bow down in worship,
    let us kneel before the Lord our Maker;
for he is our God
    and we are the people of his pasture,
    the flock under his care.
Today, if only you would hear his voice,
“Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah [quarreling],
    as you did that day at Massah [testing] in the wilderness,    NIV    Bible Gateway.com        
 
 Why is it that two believers can pray about an issue and come away with completely different responses and attitudes? This has to do with their perspective.
   We each come to God with our own life experiences and expectations. If we want to hear His voice clearly, we must first address those things that affect how well we listen.
   OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD. The Father speaks differently to the unsaved than He does to the Christians. And while neither God not the fundamentals of faith ever change, He does tailor His message to individual believers on the basis of their spiritual maturity and unique situations. So two people may hear dissimilar things because they are at different points on the journey.
   OUR UNDERSTANDING OF WHO GOD IS. How we view the Lord changes the way we hear Him. For example, if you see God as a loving Father, you will hear His encouraging voice and accept His loving discipline. But if you see Him as harsh and demanding, then you may feel as though you can never live up to His expectations.
   OUR ATTITUDE TOWARD GOD. If we come to the Lord with a proud nature, we will naturally not be inclined to hear his voice. However, if we come with a submissive nature, we will hear - and joyfully receive - His Word.
   God is still speaking in the world today. Stop and think about what there is in your own life that could get in the way of His message. What affects your ability or willingness to listen? Lay it out before the Lord today, and ask Him to break through the barriers.
Stanley, Charles F. "Your Perspective in Prayer." In Touch: Daily Readings For Devoted Living September 2016. Atlanta: In Touch Ministries. page 14.
   

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.  

Monday, March 13, 2017

Making Him Known

Acts 17:16-33

In Athens

16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. 18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. 19 Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean.” 21 (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)
22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.
24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’
29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”
32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” 33 At that, Paul left the Council. NIV Bible Gateway.com

   There are three questions everyone needs to know how to answer correctly: Who is the one true God? What is He like? And is it possible to have a personal relationship with Him? Throughout the history of mankind, countless people from every nation have grappled with these questions. 
   When  the apostle Paul was in Athens, he provided answers for the people there by preaching about Jesus. Today Christians continue to share about Jesus because it is God's will that every single person have the correct answer to those three questions (1 Tim. 2:3-4). There is great need. Think about how many people are involved in the myriad religions all over the world. Most live in fear, uncertainty, and darkness.
Imagine that we are walking into church one Sunday morning and sitting in front of a giant statue made of bronze or gold. We might sing a few songs in honor of it, listen to a sermon, then take up an offering and lay it at the foot of the statue. After some additional music, church is over and we return to our houses. What would we carry home with us? What assurance could we claim? There would be no joy, peace, or assurance in this life or for the life to come because we bowed down to something that is lifeless and unable to hear us.
   As believers, we know the one true God. There is a world full of people who long to know Jesus but they have never heard about Him. Do not be content just to live your Christian life. Find a way to share your peace and joy with someone else.
Stanley, Charles F. "Making Him Known." In Touch: Daily Reading For Devoted Living October 2016. Atlanta: In Touch Ministries. page 14.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Powerful Practice of Fasting

Nehemiah 1

Nehemiah’s Prayer

The words of Nehemiah son of Hakaliah:
In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem.
They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.”
When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. Then I said:
Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.
“Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.’
10 “They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. 11 Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.”
I was cupbearer to the king.   NIV Bible Gateway.com

Nehemiah's brother arrived from Judah with some bad news: The Israelites living in Jerusalem were in great trouble. After hearing about their plight, Nehemiah fasted and prayed to the Lord for several days. During this time, he discovered God wanted him to ask the king of Persia for help.
   Fasting is a spiritual discipline that helps us center our attention on the Lord and discover His will so we may act according to it. People fast in different ways: Some abstain from food while others refrain from various activities. The period of time can vary as well. But the focus in each case is to be the same - to seek God and know His will.
   When we deny ourselves in this way, several things happen. First, the Holy Spirit will enable us to set aside earthly matters. Relationships, work, and pleasure will take a lesser place in our mind as we concentrate on God and His purposes. Second, our attention will shift from ourselves to the Lord. Thinking will become clearer, and our ability to understand His plans will sharpen because we are not distracted by other things. Third, the Lord is probably going to do some spiritual housecleaning in our life. His Spirit will convict us of sinful atitudes or behaviors. Then, upon confession of our sin, we'll be forgiven and cleansed (1 John 1:9).
   When unexpected news greets us, we - like Nehemiah - may find our emotions in turmoil. He wisely sought God through fasting and prayer. This powerful practice can also help us to hear clearly from our heavenly Father, who knows the best way through every situation. 
Stanley, Charles F. "The Powerful Practice of Fasting." In Touch: Daily Readings For Devoted Living September 2016. Atlanta: In Touch Ministries. page 10.