In Touch Ministries; Charles Stanley – Run With Endurance

Hebrews 12:1-3

Athletic contests were popular in New Testament times, so it makes sense that the writer of Hebrews likened the Christian life to a race. Following Christ isn’t a short sprint but a marathon with many obstacles, hardships, and unexpected turns.

To encourage us on the course we’re running, God has given us a “great cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1). These are saints from the past who faithfully walked with Him through all the trials and challenges of life (Heb. 11:4-38). Their examples inspire us to trust the Lord and obey Him no matter how difficult and confusing the hurdles in our path may be.

We are also urged us to “rid ourselves of every obstacle and the sin which so easily entangles us” (Heb. 12:1). If we’re going to be sustained throughout the race, we must honestly examine our life for anything that might prevent us from knowing the Lord and following Him. It could be habitual sin, an idol, worldly distractions, or false teaching that we’ve accepted as true.

And, of course, we need to fix our eyes on Jesus, the ultimate example of faithful endurance: He suffered for us on the cross so that we could be with Him forever.

Bible in One Year: Ezekiel 17-19


http://www.intouch.org/

Our Daily Bread — Fix Up Time

Bible in a Year:

Be made new in the attitude of your minds.

Ephesians 4:23

Today’s Scripture & Insight:

Ephesians 4:20–32

It was time to give the inside of our home a fresh, new look. But just as I’d begun prepping a room for painting, our state government announced it would be halting the sale of many home improvement items due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As soon as I heard the announcement, I rushed to the store and purchased the essential materials. You simply can’t remodel without the proper supplies.

Paul had a bit of a remodeling project in mind when he wrote Ephesians 4. But the changes he was talking about went far beyond superficial alterations. Even though trusting Jesus as Savior makes us a new creation, there’s still some ongoing work the Spirit needs to do. And it takes time and work for Him to accomplish “true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24).

The presence of the Spirit makes needed changes on the inside that can help us reflect Jesus in our words and actions. He helps us replace lying with speaking “truthfully” (v. 25). He guides us to avoid sin in regard to anger (v. 26). And He directs us to speak words that are “helpful for building others up” (v. 29). These Spirit-controlled actions are part of the internal change that’s manifested in things like kindness, compassion, and forgiveness (v. 32). The Spirit works in us to enable us to imitate Jesus Himself and reflect the heart of our heavenly Father (v. 24; 5:1).

By:  Dave Branon

Reflect & Pray

In what areas do you need the Holy Spirit to make real, heart-based improvement in you through His leading and strength? How will you get started?

Loving God, thank You for making me a new creation in Christ. Help my actions, through Your guidance, to reflect the change You’ve made in me.

Learn more about the Trinity.

http://www.odb.org

Grace to You; John MacArthur – The Reality of Spiritual Warfare

“Be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:10-12).

Victory in battle comes when you identify the enemy, resist his attacks, and then take the initiative against him.

Our nation has known many wars, but Vietnam was an especially frustrating campaign. Thick jungle terrain made the enemy hard to find and guerrilla warfare made him hard to fight. Many Vietnamese who peacefully worked the rice paddies by day donned the black garb of the Viet Cong soldier by night and invaded unsuspecting U.S. forces camped nearby. American public opinion was strongly anti-war and morale among our troops was often low.

Spiritual warfare has similar parallels. Subtly and deceitfully, Satan disguises himself as an angel of light and “prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). His emissaries disguise themselves as apostles of Christ and servants of righteousness (2 Cor. 11:13-15). It takes wisdom and discernment to identify them and defend yourself against their attacks.

Most people are defenseless, however, because they scoff at the supernatural and deny the reality of spiritual warfare. They think Satan may be fine for movie plots and book sales, but assume only the superstitious and credulous take him seriously. Unfortunately, many Christians have succumbed to their ridicule and forsaken the battle.

Ephesians 6:10-24 reminds us that spiritual warfare is real and that God has given us all the resources we need— not only to defend ourselves, but also to take the initiative and win the victory over the forces of darkness.

I pray that our studies this month will encourage you in the battle and challenge you to always have on “the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil” (Eph. 6:11).

Suggestions for Prayer

Seek discernment and grace to identify the enemy and stand against him courageously.

For Further Study

Read Ephesians 6:10-24. What armor has God supplied to protect you in spiritual warfare?

http://www.gty.org/

Joyce Meyer – Decide to Go On

And as for you, brethren, do not become weary or lose heart in doing right [but continue in well-doing without weakening].

— 2 Thessalonians 3:13

All of us must face and deal with disappointment at different times. No person alive has everything happen in life the way they want it to, in the way they expect.

When things don’t prosper or succeed according to our plan, the first emotion we feel is disappointment. This is normal. There is nothing wrong with feeling disappointed. But we must know what to do with that feeling, or it will move into something more serious.

In the world we cannot live without experiencing disappointment, but in Jesus we can always be given re-appointment!

The apostle Paul stated that one important lesson he had learned in life was to let go of what lay behind and press toward all that lay ahead! (See Philippians 3:13–14.)

When we get disappointed, then immediately get re-appointed, that’s exactly what we’re doing. We’re letting go of the causes for the disappointment and pressing toward what God has for us. We get a new vision, plan, idea, a fresh outlook, a new mind-set, and we change our focus to that. We decide to go on!

Prayer Starter: God, I know that every day is a brand-new start! We can let go of yesterday’s disappointments and give You a chance to do something wonderful for me today, amen.

http://www.joycemeyer.org

Truth for Life; Alistair Begg –Divine Guidance

You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.

Psalm 73:24

The psalmist felt his need of divine guidance. He had just been discovering the foolishness of his own heart, and to prevent himself from being constantly led astray by it, he resolved that God’s counsel should be his guide. A sense of our own folly is a great step toward being wise, when it leads us to rely on the wisdom of the Lord. The blind man leans on his friend’s arm and reaches his home in safety, and likewise we should give ourselves up implicitly to divine guidance, without doubting, assured that even though we cannot see, it is always safe to trust the All-seeing God. “You will” is a blessed expression of confidence. He was sure that the Lord would not neglect the necessary task.

Here is a word for you, believer; rest in it. Be sure that God will be your counselor and friend; He will guide you; He will direct all your ways. In His written Word you have this assurance fulfilled in part, for Holy Scripture is His “counsel” to you. We are happy to have God’s Word as our constant guide! What is the sailor without his compass? And what is the Christian without the Bible? This is the unerring chart, the map in which every shoal is described, and all the channels from the quicksands of destruction to the harbor of salvation mapped and marked by one who knows the way.

O God we bless You, that we may trust You to guide us now, and even to the end! After this guidance through life, the psalmist anticipates a divine reception—“and afterward . . . receive me to glory.” What a thought for you, believer! God Himself will receive you in glory—you! Though you are wandering, erring, straying, still He will bring you safe at last to glory! This is your portion; live on it today, and if perplexities should surround you, go in the strength of this text straight to the throne.

C.H. Spurgeon, revised and updated by Alistair Begg.

http://www.truthforlife.org

Kids4Truth Clubs Daily Devotional – God Comforts Us

“Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3)

“Strike three; you’re out!” The umpire shouted the dreaded words. The small crowd of parents and siblings was silent as Gabe shuffled back to the bench, tossing his bat in the dirt.

Gabe sat down on the far end of the bench and sighed. He was sure that last pitch had been a ball – that’s why he hadn’t swung. He could not believe he had struck out for the second time in one game. Why could he not come through when all his team needed was a simple base hit?

As Gabe felt more and more discouraged, his teammate Jackson walked over and sat down beside him. “Hey Gabe, don’t worry about it. You did your best. Remember last week when we had guys on second and third and two outs, and I was up? I smacked the ball right into the pitcher’s glove. Three outs; game over. I was so bummed. I was ashamed that I messed up and let everybody down.”

Gabe looked over at Jackson, one of the team’s best players. Jackson had felt ashamed? “But that night, I was reading my Bible,” Jackson said. “And I read this verse that said, if we look to God, we won’t be weighed down, and our faces won’t be ashamed (see Psalm 34:5). I thought it was great how the verse talked about exactly what I was feeling that day.”

Jackson understood how Gabe felt because Jackson had been there himself. And when he had felt discouraged, God comforted him through His Word. Now he could share that comfort with Gabe.

One of the reasons God lets us go through hard times is so that He can show us His strength by the way He comforts us. Sometimes He does that not by taking the hard times away, but by giving us strength to face them. Then when our Christian friends are facing similar hard times, we can share with them how God strengthened us – and how He will strengthen them, too.

God comforts us in our hard times so we can comfort others in their hard times.

My Response:
» How has God helped me when I was facing hard times?
» How can I pass on that comfort to Christian friends who are facing hard times right now ?


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Denison Forum – Tesla unveils plan for a new robot: What does the Bible say about AI?

Tesla unveiled their plan to create a humanoid robot at its AI day conference. It will be able to help around the house with tasks, get groceries, and . . . well, it’s hard to say how useful it would actually be, but it looks sleek (and existentially frightening if we think about the plot of most sci-movies on the subject).  

It’s built around the same AI technology as Tesla’s self-driving cars. They claim a prototype will be available “sometime next year,” though the technology still faces immense hurdles and will probably take longer.  

A company called Boston Dynamics already builds humanoid robots that continue to improve over time. In one video, they show off their prototype robots by having them do preprogrammed parkour. Their incredible routine ends with a backflip.  

At present, Boston Dynamics already mass manufactures robots on four legs, affectionately called “Spot.” The owner can automate Spot to accomplish tasks on its own or control it themselves. Companies in mining, oil and gas, construction, utilities, and even NASA use these robots to perform all kinds of tasks, often ones that are dangerous for humans.  

If all of that sounds terrifying, don’t worry: they’ve made sure that “humans can outrun them.”  

Isn’t that encouraging? 

Some more positive areas of futuristic development include: 

  • A cranial surgery was successfully performed on an epileptic child in 2019 with the help of a robot. 
  • Some robots being developed are nearly microscopic and help eliminate cancer cells.  
  • In New Zealand, a company is testing drone deliveries for things like pizza. 
  • Self-driving cars and humanoid delivery robots continue to be developed. 

It seems like technology is catching up to The Jetsons

Will humanity be “terminated”?  

The takeover of Schwarzenegger-like Terminator robots is probably not going to happen, but the movie’s AI network known as Skynet may pose a greater danger. To understand why, we need to clarify some terms. Three kinds of technology can get easily confused:  

  • Robots: Robots simply do repeatable tasks. These have been used for years to make factory assembly lines more efficient and sometimes entirely automated. They can also be dancing toys for kids.
  • Specific or Narrow AI: This is a program that learns and adapts. These kinds of AI can already beat humans in some of the most complex games. An AI defeated the human champion of the notoriously complex Chinese game Go. Such AI is used in self-driving cars, and, more vitally, in social media and Google. One will also find the term “deep learning,” which refers to the depth of layering in the AI’s program. Sometimes people will use the term “algorithm” to avoid confusion with artificial general intelligence.
  • Artificial general intelligence (AGI): No one has developed an AGI (at least, not publicly). AGI would perform a wide range of cognitive tasks at the same level or better than humans. AGI could learn, like a child, how to play multiple kinds of games and navigate different problems fluidly. This could conceivably mean that the AGI would experience creativity and even emotions. 

Though AGI is what most people think of when they hear the acronym AI, companies that use AI are utilizing narrow AI. AGI raises philosophical questions: Would it be self-aware? Would it have a mind? Would it be “alive?” Though interesting, we’ll put off those inquiries for another time. 

Physicist and machine learning expert Max Tegmark argues that humanity will probably not be overtaken by robotsIf an AGI were set on gaining power, it wouldn’t need robots. It could just influence people through their phones, control computers, and leverage the economy. That concept is a bit more frightening than skull robots with machine guns if you ask me.  

That said, Tegmark is optimistic about the positives of AGI if we control it well. Some experts doubt whether AGI will ever exist, though surprisingly most think it will be invented in the next century.  

The far more prevalent issue of today is companies’ usage of narrow AI.  

How TikTok employs machine learning to keep you watching  

The key component of AI is “machine learning,” which makes predictions based on large amounts of data. Give it data about how long one hundred million people spent watching a cat on YouTube and it will interpret that data to know who else might like to watch that video.  

The site that probably utilizes this most efficiently is TikTok. In TikTok, people refer to the narrow AI as the algorithm. The ubiquitous algorithm learns the user’s preferences over time so that the content changes to exactly fit each person. Their feed will become dominated by what they spend the most time watching, whether it’s cooking, political, informational, DIY, funny, or even ironic videos making fun of TikTok itself. The variety of TikTok content is astounding; it has something for everyone.  

Endless swiping and millions of creators provide nearly limitless content, and what’s presented is actively personalized by a massive AI network. It’s no wonder that TikTok users spend an average of one hour per day on the app and that 90 percent of TikTok users view it daily.  

This strategy leads to some predictable downfalls. 

If someone watches conspiracy videos from certain creators, the AI will begin showing the user what they want to see—probably more conspiracy videos. Just like in other social media sites, this can lead to inbred thinking. On TikTok, though, the effective AI makes it particularly compounded.  

Additionally, though TikTok technically regulates pornography, the content is nonetheless often heavily sexualized, and loopholes to pornography exist, especially for users who want to see it. Many users won’t see any sexual content on TikTok, but that’s because each individual’s feed is personalized to them.  

TikTok’s explosive growth demonstrates the power of AI.  

AI is everywhere  

Though TikTok is a prevalent example, narrow AI’s influence is not limited to that demographic. Essentially every major media site now uses targeted advertisements with the help of AI. 

  • Amazon predicts what purchases their shoppers will want, personalizing the home page to incentivize buying.
  • Netflix predicts what shows will keep its users on their site. The AI can also choose a still shot from a movie to show as the cover seen on the homepage and changes it to renew interest in its users. This is why Netflix’s homepage appears differently for different people. 
  • Gmail and Google Docs will often predict the next word a writer will type (and is, in fact, doing so as I write this article).
  • Facebook identifies people’s faces and interprets the content of posts to target advertisements based on conversations. 
  • Google uses AI for translation. The AI learns and improves over time so that Google Translate will improve year over year.
  • YouTube uses AI to flag videos, recommend the next videos, and, again, target ads.
  • Spotify uses machine learning to customize each listener’s experience. 

The list goes on. I recommend this article for a helpful summary. 

Remember, each of these AIs are narrow and specifically designed for each task. Each company is not using one universal AI and applying it to their goals. That would require AGI.  

Nonetheless, AI is a powerful tool. In certain applications, AI, just like robots, efficiently solves problems and works for everyone’s benefit. At the same time, tools in the hands of sinful people will lead to abuse.  

AI does whatever it is designed to do very, very well. If AI is designed to keep people watching TikTok and YouTube, it will do that. Predictably, the better machine learning has become, the better it keeps people on their phones. The negative effects of high screen times have been written about widely.

Does the Bible speak to this modern invention?  

What does the Bible say about AI?    

The biblical implications of AGI, a conscious artificial mind, would take far longer to cover (though it may become necessary at some point). For now, we’ll just cover narrow AI and two dangers Christians should be aware of.  

AI magnifies temptation

Since AI has the unique ability to magnify what users want, it, therefore, magnifies fleshly desires. Certainly, this is true of sexual temptations. It is also true of countless other sins: jealousy, self-indulgence, etc. AI will follow whatever vice it gets a hold of. It knows to sell alcohol to alcoholics; it knows to peddle sin to sinners.  

The Bible says to flee sexual immorality and the desires of the flesh (1 Corinthians 6:18Romans 8:5). If certain platforms cause temptation, throw them away or limit them. Know that Satan can use algorithms to magnify temptations. 

Someone I know became addicted to buying unnecessary things from Amazon and had to impose restrictions on his own bank account. 

If the hand causes sin, cut it off (Matthew 5:30).  

AI magnifies time-wasting

Fasting reminds us of God’s provision and leads to thankfulness. Fasting from social media can create the practical effect of detaching us from the grip of its influence. 

This past week, I spent a ludicrous amount of time on YouTube, and so decided to take a break from it for at least a week. In the past year, my mother completely deleted her Facebook account due to having wasted too much time on the site. 

Paul writes, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:15–17). 

Don’t let this become legalism or judgmentalism, and certainly do not fast so that others will see you—social media isn’t evil. Nonetheless, we must be wise with our screen time and remember that algorithms are actively trying to keep us online.  

It’s clear that AI is used for good in many of its applications. As Christians, however, we must be aware of its grip and know that Satan can use it against us. Let us be “crafty as serpents and innocent as doves” and honestly know ourselves and our own sin (Matthew 10:16Lamentations 3:40).  

Before we turn our eyes to screens, let us turn our eyes to Christ.

http://www.denisonforum.org/

Upwords; Max Lucado –Headline Story

HEADLINE STORY – September 1, 2021

We love to know where we came from. We need to know where we came from. Knowing connects us, links us to something greater than we are. That is why God wants you to know his story.

Framed photos hang in his house, and lively talks await you at his table. A scrapbook sits in his living room, brimming with stories. Stories about Bethlehem beginnings and manger miracles. Enemy warfare in the wilderness and fishermen friends in Galilee. The stumbles of Peter, the stubbornness of Paul.

All are part of the story, but subplots to the central message of the headline story—John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life!” God saves his people! God’s story. And we are a part of it!

MaxLucado.com