Charles Stanley – Daniel: Forward by Faith

 

Daniel 6:1-28

While reading the book of Daniel, it’s good to keep the big picture in mind: This is a story about the man’s great trust. Daniel had clung to his faith so consistently that when he was cast into the lion’s den, the prospect did not ruin him.

The prophet’s faith began with his parents, who likely talked about the Scriptures and set a godly example. He also witnessed the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecies concerning the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon. Both factors undoubtedly reinforced the idea that God keeps His word, and Daniel was determined to obey Him.

Later, in Babylon, he courageously refused to eat the king’s food, which had been offered to idols and therefore violated Scripture (Ex. 34:15). God shepherded Daniel through that situation and as well as many others where his position or his life was at risk. Letting go of doubts each time, the prophet steadfastly obeyed the Lord and endured.

Strong trust like Daniel’s doesn’t materialize out of thin air. Throughout life, he made small decisions in faith until his commitment to God’s way was habitual and unshakeable. The same is true for us—faith grows as we take more steps of obedience. We witness God’s answers to prayer and increasingly depend on Him until we have a personal history of His trustworthiness.

Bible in One Year: Job 31-34

 

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Our Daily Bread — Truly Humble, Truly Great

 

Bible in a Year:

[Christ Jesus] made himself nothing.

Philippians 2:7

Today’s Scripture & Insight:Philippians 2:1–11

As the American Revolution concluded with England’s improbable surrender, many politicians and military leaders maneuvered to make General George Washington a new monarch. The world watched, wondering if Washington would stick to his ideals of freedom and liberty when absolute power was within his grasp. England’s King George III saw another reality, however. He was convinced that if Washington resisted the power pull and returned to his Virginia farm, he would be “the greatest man in the world.” The king knew that the greatness evidenced in resisting the allure to power is a sign of true nobility and significance.

Paul knew this same truth and encouraged us to follow Christ’s humble way. Even though Jesus was “in very nature God,” he “did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage” (Philippians 2:6). Instead, He surrendered His power, became “a servant” and “humbled himself by becoming obedient to death” (vv. 7–8). The One who held all power surrendered every bit of it for the sake of love.

And yet, in the ultimate reversal, God exalted Christ from a criminal’s cross “to the highest place” (v. 9). Jesus, who could demand our praise or force us to be obedient, laid down His power in a breathtaking act that won our worship and devotion. Through absolute humility, Jesus demonstrated true greatness, turning the world upside down.

By:  Winn Collier

 

 

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Come to Me

 

Grief is a strange thing in that its memory is more characterized by what the relationship was or was not than by what characterized the death.(1) You look forward and ache over what has now been lost for the future. You look backward and grieve what never truly was and can now never be.

The award-winning author Paulo Coelho is a beautiful writer, and his lines of pure poetry are disguised as novels. His book The Witch of Portobello, a mystical story with many unusual turns, remains on my shelf, no matter where I live. I often pull it off, brush my hand across the cover, and flip it open to a page I have nearly memorized.

The story begins in Beirut, Lebanon, a country that boasts of warm hospitality, platefuls of hummus and tabouli, the Mediterranean coast, and beautiful cedars. Coelho describes his heroine, Athena, as an unusual girl who possessed a sense of spirituality from the time of her youth. She married when she was nineteen and wanted to have a baby right away. Her husband left her when the baby was still young, and Athena had to raise him alone.

During one Sunday Mass, the priest watched as Athena walked toward him to receive Communion, and his heart was filled with dread. Athena stood in front of the priest, drew her eyes closed, and opened her mouth to receive. I picture her standing there in vulnerability, asking to receive Christ’s body, given for her. She was hungry for the grace that it offered.

But he did not give it to her.

The young girl opened her eyes, terribly confused. The priest tried to tell her in hushed tones that they would talk about it later, but she would not be turned away. She persisted until she received an answer.

“Athena, the Church forbids divorced people from receiving the sacrament. You signed your divorce papers this week. We’ll talk later.”(2)

She was crushed, speechless, numb. People began to step around her, an obstacle in the way of their path.

 

I imagine Athena devastated. She had lost something that mattered to her, something she thought would always be hers. And when it was gone, it claimed her dreams, her respect, her ability to hope, her very sense of self. I imagine that many of her friends turned against her. Some saw her as tainted, regardless of the details. I imagine that her marital status became part of her name, as in “Athena, the girl who is divorced.” I wonder if they told her there was no place for her in ministry, if they sat in comfortable chairs, dressed in their suits, and held meetings behind closed doors to decide, while their own stories remained tucked away with their coordinated handkerchiefs. Did someone say, “Do you know that God hates divorce?” And did she answer, “I know. So do I. Possibly even more than you”? I wonder if it hurt when they pinned the Scarlet D on her, or if she was so wounded and fragile that she added the pain and guilt to the shame she had already inflicted on herself.

Did they know how hard it was for her to come to church that day? And now, in a final act of driving the knife into her gaping wound, she was told she was no longer worthy to come to Christ, the one who could give refuge in her anguish. For unlike them, he did know all that lay within her heart. And it was to him that she actually answered, not the masses who tried to occupy his place.

As the priest finished administering the Sacrament, he slowly stepped back to the altar. Athena stood where he left her and cried out what many have only cried on the inside: “A curse on all those who have never listened to the words of Christ and who have transformed his message into a stone building. For Christ said: ‘Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ Well, I’m heavy laden, and they won’t let me come to him. Today I’ve learned that the Church has changed those words to read: ‘Come unto me all ye who follow our rules, and let the heavy laden go hang!”(3) Athena vowed to never set foot in a church again. She turned on her heels and left with her crying baby, tears streaming down her own cheeks.

Years pass within this single chapter, and the priest cannot forget her face, the forlorn look in her eyes, the poignancy of her words, and Christ’s: “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” As he looks back on life and ministry, the priest affirms his confidence in God and in a practice of faith made up of human beings trying to do the best they can, though they fall short. The chapter ends with the priest’s words: “I like to imagine that when she left the church, Athena met Jesus. Weeping and confused, she would have thrown herself into his arms, asking him to explain why she was being excluded… And looking at Athena, Jesus might have replied, ‘My child, I’ve been excluded too.”(4)

As for me, I imagine that Jesus took her broken heart and held it carefully, gently. I imagine he called her by her first name, and it was not followed by any failures. I imagine he loosened the Scarlet D they had pinned to her and told her she carried his image and his name. I imagine he opened his hand to show her the scar of a nail, maybe he pointed to the mark that the spear had left in his side. And then he called her to his table and told her that his broken body was also offered for her.

And I imagine she left with a grace all-sufficient for her broken story too.

Naomi Zacharias is director of Wellspring International at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

 

(1) The following essay is an excerpt from Naomi Zacharias’s The Scent of Water: Grace for Every Kind of Broken (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010).
(2) Paulo Coelho, The Witch of Portobello (New York: HarperCollins, 2007), 44.
(3) Ibid., 45.
(4) Ibid., 46.

 

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Joyce Meyer – Determined to Love

 

Iron sharpens iron; so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend [to show rage or worthy purpose]. — Proverbs 27:17 (AMPC)

Adapted from the resource Closer to God Each Day – by Joyce Meyer

We all have a few people in our lives who are like sandpaper to us; some are like an entire package of sandpaper. Believe it or not, God places them in our lives to smooth off our rough edges. We’re all like diamonds in the rough; we have something incredibly beautiful and valuable underneath the hard, crusty surface of our flesh. When God began to work spiritual maturity in me, He placed several people in my life who were extremely difficult for me to deal with. I thought they needed to change, but God wanted to use them to change me. We need to learn how to deal with all kinds of people and appreciate the ways they’re different from us.

Dave is a great example of this. He can wait a long time for things and never get frustrated, but I want things to happen quickly. He’s quiet and I talk a lot; he likes to play music in the morning, and I like it quiet. I’m sure you have people in your life who are very different than you are, too. Instead of being irritated, or proudly thinking we’re right and they’re wrong, we should do our best to accept them in love, just like Jesus accepts us. We can be determined to love and get along with each other no matter how different our personalities or situations may be. Because when we love the people around us— even the most difficult people— we open ourselves up to learn something God may be trying to teach us. Today, I encourage you to choose to walk in the love of Christ and let Him shape you through the other people He brings into your life.

Prayer Starter: Father, please help me not to stay frustrated with the difficult people in my life. Give me the grace I need to love and accept them right where they are, and to learn what I need to learn in the process. In Jesus’ Name, amen.

 

 

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Campus Crusade for Christ; Bill Bright – In the World to Come

 

“And Jesus replied, ‘Let me assure you that no one has ever given up anything – home, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, or property – for love of Me and to tell others the Good News, who won’t be given back, a hundred times over, homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and land – with persecutions! All these will be his here on earth, and in the world to come he shall have eternal life'” (Mark 10:29,30).

What a wonderful promise. God will return to you and me a hundred times over what we invest for Him and His kingdom.

I believe that millions of Christians like ourselves are awakening to the fact that we must be about our Father’s business. As I observe God’s working in the lives of people around the world through many movements, I am persuaded that the greatest spiritual awakening since Pentecost has already begun.

Jesus said, “Go…and make disciples in all nations.” In order to make disciples, we must be disciples ourselves. Like begets like. We produce after our own kind.

The man who is committed to Christ, who understands how to walk in the fullness of the Spirit, is going to influence others and help to produce the same kind of Christians. Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23).

For some, such a call to discipleship may sound too hard. However, in these verses Jesus tells us that we must be willing to give up everything. That this promise has been fulfilled in the lives of all who seek first Christ and His kingdom has been attested to times without number – not always in material things, of course, but in rewards far more meaningful and enriching.

Bible Reading: Luke 9:23-26

TODAY’S ACTION POINT: Realizing that God has promised manifold gifts, persecutions, eternal life in exchange for faithfulness and commitment to Him, I vow to make that surrender real and meaningful in my life every day.

 

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Max Lucado – What the Grateful Heart Sees

 

Listen to Today’s Devotion

Some things were not made to co-exist. Long-tailed cats and rocking chairs? Bad combination. Bulls in a china closet?  Not a good idea. Blessings and bitterness? That’s the mixture that doesn’t go over well with God. Perhaps you’ve sampled it?

Gratitude doesn’t come naturally. Self-pity does. Belly aches do. Yet they do not mix well with the kindness we’ve been given. I attended a banquet where a soldier was presented with the gift of a free house.  He nearly fell over with gratitude. He hugged the guitar player in the band, the woman on the front row.  He thanked the waiter, the other soldiers.  He even thanked me and I didn’t do anything.  Shouldn’t we be equally thankful?  John 14:2 says Jesus is building a house for us. Our deed of ownership is every bit as certain as that of the soldier!  The grateful heart sees every day as a gift.

Read more You’ll Get Through This: Hope and Help for Turbulent Times

For more inspirational messages please visit Max Lucado.

 

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Denison Forum – How experiences shape our understanding: a difficult choice we must all make

 

James Earl Ray, the escaped convict who assassinated Martin Luther King Jr., was arrested 52 years ago today in London, England. He fled to England after shooting King with the goal of reaching Rhodesia, then led by “an oppressive and internationally condemned white minority government.”

Ray would later confess to killing MLK before recanting and saying he was the fall guy for a much larger conspiracy. There are still a number of people who believe him, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary and multiple investigations across the decades since. The constant harassment by the FBI in King’s final years and his public denouncement of the Vietnam War give many pause in assuming the US government did not play a role in the civil rights leader’s death.

I bring all that up now to remind us that often the lens through which we see the world around us and the actions of others is determined as much by our personal experiences as by the larger reality of the situation.

The impact of a single experience

As I’ve read the various accounts of personal experiences from members of the black community in the wake of recent protests, what’s stood out the most is how even a single incident of racial discrimination can have a lasting impact.

In an article for the Athletic, for example, a series of black writers who cover various teams shared stories of the times they’ve been targeted and mistreated because of their race. The accounts of when they were discriminated against by police were especially poignant and left a clear impression on how they view cops to this day.

And it’s not that all—or even most—police are racist, but enough are to make it a real problem throughout this country.

The simple truth is that the actions of some, if seen as representative of the larger group, can often have an outsized influence on how we see the collective whole. It’s why a few bad cops can make people suspect of police everywhere, and also why a small group of rioters can cast an otherwise peaceful protest in a violent light.

And nowhere is that the case more than when those actions threaten our safety or leave us feeling powerless and afraid.

Why we’re still tribal people

As people, we’re hardwired to gravitate towards grouping both ourselves and others according to easily identifiable characteristics. Most of us have one or two that define the core of our identity and, consequently, how we identify others as well. That basic tendency is often referred to as tribalism.

For some, it’s based on what they do for a living. For others, it’s based on race or culture. Still more find that sense of identity in their faith. But all of us do it to some extent.

For the vast majority of human history, such grouping was necessary for our survival. History has, at least to some degree, trained us to see people who don’t fit in the same groups as we do with skepticism and fear.

However, a society as large, diverse, and interconnected as ours cannot sustain itself under those conditions. And that’s a good thing. After all, just because our nation was able to endure through discrimination and inequality in the past doesn’t mean it should continue in the future.

Where this is becoming a challenge for many of us today, though, is that we can agree on the problem but not the solution. That’s in part because there is no simple solution to the racial discrimination, police brutality, and other factors fueling the recent protests. Just as important, though, is the reality that it’s often simply not possible for us to fully understand the perspectives of people with whom we have trouble identifying.

Understanding what you can’t understand

I don’t know what it’s like to be pulled over by a police officer and searched, questioned, or otherwise harassed without just cause. I can read stories about it and try to empathize with those for whom that moment was not only real but, in many ways, defining, but we can’t truly understand something we’ve never experienced.

In the same way, I don’t know what it’s like to be part of a police department where a coworker was shot making what seemed like a routine stop or was otherwise injured while trying to keep the peace. I can listen and I can try to understand, but I’ve simply never had that experience.

And while neither experience would justify sinful and prejudicial action towards another person, perhaps understanding the degree to which we can’t understand where others are coming from can give us the necessary empathy and self-awareness to find a better path forward than the one we’ve been on to this point.

Ultimately, it’s not a sin to lack understanding, but it becomes a sin if we’re content to continue living in ignorance when that ignorance facilitates the discrimination and degradation of other people’s lives. God has called us to so much more.

Valuing lives over comfort

Eric Stephens put it well in the Athletic article referenced above. In talking about the residual anger and pain from experiences of racial discrimination, he wrote, “Don’t try to relate. I don’t want you to. Just understand. Just acknowledge that in some ways, our existence will always be different than yours. Don’t be afraid to stand up if you see someone being mistreated. And don’t be afraid to speak up and have a conversation about race in public and, more importantly, in private.”

Such actions will seldom be comfortable, but engaging in them anyway puts us in good company. After all, you don’t have to dive too deep in the Gospels to find plenty of examples of uncomfortable conversations Jesus had with those he encountered. But whether it was condemning the religious leaders for being blind and insensitive to the pain caused by their legalism, confronting the woman at the well with her sin, or simply teaching the otherwise bewildered masses, our Lord made a habit of valuing people’s lives over their comfort.

Given his example, can we really afford to do otherwise?

Two paths forward

It’s been two weeks since George Floyd was killed, and the protests, difficult conversations, and calls for real change don’t seem to be going away anytime soon. As such, it seems we’re left with two choices.

The first is to wait and hope that eventually things will get back to normal. I’ll be honest, there’s part of me that wants to do just that.

However, the second option is to take an honest look around us and accept that normal probably isn’t worth getting back to.

I think it’s pretty clear which path will do the most good for the kingdom and for the people God has called us to love with the self-sacrificial empathy, compassion, and concern that Christ displayed for all those who crossed his path.

Which will you choose today?

 

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