June 18: Victor Or Victim?

Today's Reading: 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22

Hold on to what is good. 1 Thessalonians 5:21

TWO LITTLE GIRLS were skipping through a field on their way to school when an angry bull started toward them. One girl screamed and dropped her books, then said to the other, "Let's stop and pray that God will protect us!" The other girl was a bit wiser. "No," she said, "let's pray while we're running!"

Some situations demand action on our part as well as trust in God. Temptation to sin is one of those things. It's important to lean on God's help and power, but overcoming temptation also requires personal responsibility.

Every temptation we encounter provides us with two possible and distinct outcomes. We can either sin or be victorious. We can either defeat Satan or fall to him. We can either grow stronger in our faith or weaker through our failure. We can glorify God or disappoint him. We can grow more focused on our purpose or be diverted from it. We can grow closer to God or draw away from him.

Temptation is an opportunity to develop power and mastery over the enemy's roadblocks. We should see it as a stepping-stone toward greater character and faith—a chance to grow in grace and love and control over our sinful nature. How we react to temptation depends on what we want to be before God. How strong we want to become. How great a weight we want our witness to carry. How mighty a warrior we want to be in God's earthly kingdom.

God understands the moral struggles we deal with daily, and he allows them because they develop strength of character within us. The stumbling blocks that Satan throws in our path become God's tools to sharpen us. What Satan would use to destroy us, God uses to give us dominion over him. We were made to be conquerors, not cowards. Victors, not victims.

"Hold on to what is good," says Paul. "Keep away from every kind of evil" (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22). Remaining faithful to God is more than an act of faith—it is a commitment of the will. Temptation will come to every one of us. More often than we would hope. And how we handle it makes all the difference.



How does it help you overcome sin when you see it as God's tool for sharpening your character? What should you pray when temptation comes?

July 22: Two Thieves

Today's Reading: Luke 23:39-43

We deserve to die for our evil deeds, but this man hasn't done anything wrong. Luke 23:41

THE PLACE was called Golgotha, Aramaic for "The Skull." It was chosen as the perfect setting for an execution. The crosses could easily be seen from the heavily traveled highway outside the walls of Jerusalem. Romans ruled by intimidation, and public executions sent a clear message to the criminals within their midst. Offend Caesar and you die in humiliation and pain.

"Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus."

Nicolae, 160

This is where they hung Jesus on a cross, between two common thieves. This was no accident—just another method of discrediting the man who claimed to be the Messiah. He lived among sinners, so let him die among them, Pilate might have thought. Pilate also ordered that a sign be made and nailed to the cross above him. It read: "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews." He had it written in three languages so that no one would be left out of his little joke. The leading priests were offended by the placard. "Change it from 'The King of the Jews' to 'He said, I am King of the Jews,'" the priests said to Pilate (John 19:21). But he refused, saying, "What I have written, I have written" (19:22).

Even one of the criminals by his side scoffed at Jesus. "So you're the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you're at it!" (Luke 23:39). Somehow his anger seemed out of place. Why would he care? What would cause him to lash out at one of the few people who understood the pain that he himself was suffering? Could it be that he wanted to believe? Could he have seen Jesus preach, watched him heal others of their afflictions, lingered behind as the crowds followed him through the countryside? Maybe he hoped that Jesus was the Messiah he'd been waiting for. But now here he was, dying among common thieves.

But the man on the other side of him saw a different Jesus. Somehow he got it. For some reason, in the middle of all the lies and accusations, while the whole world was turning its back on the Savior, this man saw through the chaos and turned his face toward him. Jesus' disciples scattered, his followers shook their fists at him, and the Jewish leaders were certain they had carried the day. Yet somehow this man saw through it all and believed. Hanging on a cross, nearing his last breath on earth, he saw what the entire world had missed and said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom" (Luke 23:42). And the answer Jesus gave is the same he gives to all who believe: "I assure you, ... you will be with me in paradise" (23:43).



When did you call out to Jesus to save you? If you have not done so, what is keeping you from taking that action? What steps can you take today to resolve that decision?

August 27: Solid Spiritual Food

Today's Reading: Hebrews 5:12-14; 6:1

Solid food is for those who are mature. Hebrews 5:14

HAS GOD had you on a diet of milk for too long? Have you been slow to cut your teeth in Christian service or to grow out of childish needs and desires? Have you been a follower of Christ for long enough to know better, yet still find yourself being treated like a baby Christian?

"Solid food is for those who are mature," says the writer of Hebrews, "who have trained themselves to recognize the difference between right and wrong and then do what is right" (5:14). When we find ourselves on a diet of milk, it is because God knows we are not yet ready for solid food. His desire is to wean us off of baby food and to set real meat and potatoes on our table, but he won't do so until we choose to grow mature and ready.

A solid diet is made up of things that strengthen our faith and lead others to Jesus. Jobs that take spiritual muscle and knowledge to perform. Responsibilities that are not for the faint of heart or the squeamish. God gives big assignments to those who prove that they can handle the pressure. And with these assignments come great rewards.

But also they bring great temptation. When God sends disciples to work, the enemy is close by, waiting to trip them up. The greater the task, the harder he works to bring them down. The steeper the road, the more stones thrown along the path to make us stumble. That's why God is careful how he doles out his spiritual steaks and potatoes.

So how do you convince God that you are ready for solid food? You begin by learning to "recognize the difference between right and wrong." You hone your skills of discernment. You hide God's Word in your heart until you know instinctively what to do when temptation comes your way. You learn the enemy's strategy—how he plays on the weakness of his prey, how he lies and cheats and steals, how he hides around the corner to catch us unaware. You learn the difference between God's will and Satan's schemes.

And once you know the difference, you "do what is right." You make a choice not to sin. You stare the enemy down and turn a deaf ear to his lies. You choose God's will over your own. You remain obedient even to the point of pain and embarrassment. When you develop the strength to chew and digest solid food, God will serve it to you.



What hinders God from trusting you with solid spiritual food? Pray today that he would prepare you for greater service and responsibility.

September 22: Speaking Out Blessings

Today's Reading: Matthew 12:35-37

A good person produces good words. Matthew 12:35

IMAGINE BEING GIVEN the greatest gift of your life and not being able to tell anyone about it. What would it be like to receive a blessing from God so great that you couldn't contain your excitement and then have to keep it to yourself? That's what happened to poor old Zechariah.

When the angel of the Lord told him he would be having a son—not just any son, but John the Baptist, the foreteller of the Savior—Zechariah didn't know how to receive the news. He doubted the angel's words. "I'm an old man now," he said. And his lack of faith caused the angel to strike him dumb. "Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah to come out," Luke records, "wondering why he was taking so long. When he finally did come out, he couldn't speak to them" (1:21-22).

The angel figured that if Zechariah couldn't stop speaking out curses on his life, then maybe it would be best for someone to stop it for him. He quieted the old man's tongue and told him he'd have to stay that way until his son was born.

The object lesson for you and me is pretty clear. There is power in the words we say, both good and bad. What comes out of our mouths affects the state of our heart. The things we say have an impact on the direction of our future. If we speak out messages of gloom and despair and doubt, we are doing little more than bringing those destinies about. What we say influences how we see ourselves, and it limits what God can do through us.

But when we speak words of blessing and faith, we are allowing God to shower us with that kind of future. We are spreading seeds of hope, not hopelessness. "A good person produces good words from a good heart," says Jesus, "and an evil person produces evil words from an evil heart.... The words you say now reflect your fate" (Matthew 12:35, 37).

We can choose the words that come out of our mouth. We can quiet the doubt before it reaches our lips. We have the ability to bite our tongue when negative thoughts come to our mind. We also have the ability to speak blessings in their place. How we choose to speak says volumes about the depth of our faith. And a person in God's will chooses carefully.



Are you in the habit of speaking out curses or blessings? Why not begin today developing positive speech habits?

—Embracing Eternity