Within a Stone’s Throw

 
Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her. John 8:7
 
As a group of religious leaders herded an adulterous woman toward Jesus, they couldn’t know they were carrying her within a stone’s throw of grace. Their hope was to discredit Him. If He told them to let the woman go, they could claim He was breaking Mosaic law. But if He condemned her to death, the crowds following Him would have dismissed His words of mercy and grace.

But Jesus turned the tables on the accusers. Scripture says that rather than answering them directly, He started writing on the ground. When the leaders continued to question Him, He invited any of them who had never sinned to throw the first stone, and then He started writing on the ground again. The next time He looked up, all the accusers were gone.

Now the only person who could have thrown a stone—the only sinless one—looked at the woman and gave her mercy.
“ ‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin’ ” (John 8:11).
 
Whether today finds you needing forgiveness for judging others or desiring assurance that no sin is beyond His grace, be encouraged by this: No one is throwing stones today; go and be changed by God’s mercy.
 
Father, cleanse me of my judging nature and free me from the bonds of sin. 
Let me taste Your mercy and then help me to live a changed life.

 

We serve a Savior who is eager to forgive.



Praying For You Today

 
The Spirit himself intercedes for us . . . . [Christ Jesus] is also interceding for us. Romans 8:26, 34
 
When we face a perplexing situation or a tough problem, we often ask our brothers and sisters in Christ to pray for us. It’s a great encouragement to know that others who care are holding us up to God in prayer. But what if you don’t have close Christian friends? Perhaps you live where the gospel of Christ is opposed. Who will pray for you?
 
Romans 8, one of the great, triumphant chapters of the Bible, declares, “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. . . . The Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God” (Rom. 8:26–27). The Holy Spirit is praying for you today.
 
In addition, “Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (v. 34). The living Lord Jesus Christ is praying for you today.
 
Think of it! The Holy Spirit and the Lord Jesus Christ mention your name and your needs to God the Father, who hears and acts on your behalf.
 
No matter where you are or how confusing your situation, you do not face life alone. The Spirit and the Son are praying for you today!
 
Dear God, I bow in humble thanks for the prayers spoken by the Holy Spirit and
by Your Son today—for me. What an amazing truth!
 

The Holy Spirit and Jesus are always praying for you.

 


Purpose in Routine

I run with purpose in every step. —1 Corinthians 9:26 nlt

A rolling-ball clock in the British Museum struck me as a vivid illustration of the deadening effects of routine. A small steel ball traveled in grooves across a tilted steel plate until it tripped a lever on the other side. This tilted the plate back in the opposite direction, reversed the direction of the ball and advanced the clock hands. Every year, the steel ball traveled some 2,500 miles back and forth, but never really went anywhere.

It’s easy for us to feel trapped by our daily routine when we can’t see a larger purpose. The apostle Paul longed to be effective in making the gospel of Christ known. “I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air” (1 Cor. 9:26 niv). Anything can become monotonous—traveling, preaching, teaching, and especially being confined in prison. Yet Paul believed he could serve Christ his Lord in every situation.

Routine becomes lethal when we can’t see a purpose in it. Paul’s vision reached beyond any limiting circumstance because he was in the race of faith to keep going until he crossed the finish line. By including Jesus in every aspect of his life, Paul found meaning even in the routine of life.

And so can we.

Lord, give us renewed vision and energy to pursue the goal of making Christ known in the midst of our daily routine.

Jesus can transform our routine into meaningful service for Him.



The Power of Words

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit. Proverbs 18:21

Nelson Mandela, who opposed the South African apartheid regime and was imprisoned for almost 3 decades, knew the power of words. He is often quoted today, but while in prison his words could not be quoted for fear of repercussion. A decade after his release he said: “It is never my custom to use words lightly. If 27 years in prison have done anything to us, it was to use the silence of solitude to make us understand how precious words are, and how real speech is in its impact on the way people live and die.”

King Solomon, author of most of the Old Testament book of Proverbs, wrote often about the power of words. He said, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Prov. 18:21). Words have the potential to produce positive or negative consequences (v. 20). They have the power to give life through encouragement and honesty or to crush and kill through lies and gossip. How can we be assured of producing good words that have a positive outcome? The only way is by diligently guarding our hearts: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (4:23niv).

Jesus can transform our hearts so that our words can truly be their best—honest, calm, appropriate, and suitable for the situation.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer. Psalm 19:14

Our words have the power to build up or tear down.



When Things Don’t Go Well

We know that all things work together for good to those who love God. Romans 8:28

The first words that many people like to quote when misfortune hits are: “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). But that’s hard to believe in hard times. I once sat with a man who had lost his third son in a row, and I listened as he lamented, “How can this tragedy work for my good?” I had no answer but to sit silently and mourn with him. Several months later, he was thankful as he said, “My sorrow is drawing me closer to God.”

Tough as Romans 8:28 may be to understand, countless testimonies give credence to the truth of it. The story of hymn writer Fanny Crosby is a classic example. The world is the beneficiary of her memorable hymns, yet what worked together for good was born out of her personal tragedy, for she became blind when she was an infant. At only age 8, she began to write poetry and hymns. Writing over 8,000 sacred songs and hymns, she blessed the world with such popular songs as “Blessed Assurance,” “Safe in the Arms of Jesus,” and “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior.” God used her difficulty to bring good for her and us and glory for Him.

When tragedy befalls us, it’s hard to understand how anything good can come from it, and we won’t always see it in this life. But God has good purposes and always remains with us.

What trial in your life have you found to be for your good? What good things have come from it? What are you now suffering that you pray will bring something good?

God always has good purposes for our trials.



Coming Alongside

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, . . . who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble.  2 Corinthians 1:3-4

When my sister Carole was diagnosed with breast cancer, our family worried. That diagnosis, with its surgeries and treatments, caused us to fear for her well-being, which drove our family to prayer on her behalf. Over the ensuing months, Carole’s updates were honest about the challenges. But we all celebrated when the report came back that the surgery and treatments had been successful. Carole was on the road to recovery!

Then, less than a year later, my sister Linda faced the same battle. Immediately, Carole came alongside Linda, helping her understand what to expect and how to prepare for what she would face. Carole’s experience had equipped her to walk with Linda through her own trial.

This is what Paul calls for in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, where we read, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

Thankfully, the Lord doesn’t waste anything. Our struggles not only give us an opportunity to experience His comfort, but they also open the door for us to share that comfort with others in their struggles.

Today, how can I be an encouragement to others whose hearts are weighed down by the cares of life?

God’s presence brings us comfort; our presence brings others comfort.



Turn It Off

Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while. Mark 6:31

When our kids were young, we took a trip to northern Wisconsin to visit my grandparents. They didn’t get very good reception on their television, but TV wasn’t much of a priority with them. After I had seen our son Scott fiddling with the TV set for a while, he asked with frustration, “What do you do if you can get only one channel and you don’t like what’s on that one?”

“Try turning it off, ” I said with a smile. Not exactly the advice he was hoping for. It’s even more difficult to do now, especially when there are so many devices that entertain, inform, and distract us.

Sometimes we do need to just turn it all off and rest our minds for a little while; we simply need to “unplug.” Jesus often drew aside for a time—especially when He wanted to take time to pray (Matt. 14:13). He encouraged the disciples to step away as well—even for a brief time (Mark 6:31). That kind of solitude and time for reflection is beneficial for each of us. In those moments we are able to draw near to God.

Follow the example and wisdom of Christ. Get away by yourself and “rest a while.” It will be good for your body, mind, and spirit.

Lord, help me to seek those things which are from above. I want to turn off all that distracts me and draw near to You.

Turning down the volume of life allows you to listen carefully to God.



Grey Power

Just as my strength was then, so now is my strength. —Joshua 14:11

Dutch artist Yoni Lefevre created a project called “Grey Power” to show the vitality of the aging generation in the Netherlands. She asked local schoolchildren to sketch their grandparents. Lefevre wanted to show an “honest and pure view” of older people, and she believed children could help supply this. The youngsters’ drawings reflected a fresh and lively perspective of their elders—grandmas and grandpas were shown playing tennis, gardening, painting, and more!

Caleb, of ancient Israel, was vital into his senior years. As a young man, he infiltrated the Promised Land before the Israelites conquered it. Caleb believed God would help his nation defeat the Canaanites, but the other spies disagreed (Josh. 14:8). Because of Caleb’s faith, God miraculously sustained his life for 45 years so he might survive the wilderness wanderings and enter the Promised Land. When it was finally time to enter Canaan, 85-year-old Caleb said, “Just as my strength was then, so now is my strength” (v. 11). With God’s help, Caleb successfully claimed his share of the land (Num. 14:24).

God does not forget about us as we grow older. Although our bodies age and our health may fail, God’s Holy Spirit renews us inwardly each day (2 Cor. 4:16). He makes it possible for our lives to have significance at every stage and every age.

Heavenly Father, I know that my physical strength and health can fail. But I pray that You will continually renew me spiritually so I can serve You faithfully as long as I live.

With God’s strength behind you and His arms beneath you, you can face whatever lies ahead of you.



Whose Mess?

Out of the heart come evil thoughts . . . . These are what defile a person. —Matthew 15:19-20 niv

“Could they not carry their own garbage this far?” I grumbled to Jay as I picked up empty bottles from the beach and tossed them into the trash bin less than 20 feet away. “Did leaving the beach a mess for others make them feel better about themselves? I sure hope these people are tourists. I don’t want to think that any locals would treat our beach with such disrespect.”

The very next day I came across a prayer I had written years earlier about judging others. My own words reminded me of how wrong I was to take pride in cleaning up other people’s messes. The truth is, I have plenty of my own that I simply ignore—especially in the spiritual sense.

I am quick to claim that the reason I can’t get my life in order is because others keep messing it up. And I am quick to conclude that the “garbage” stinking up my surroundings belongs to someone other than me. But neither is true. Nothing outside of me can condemn or contaminate me—only what’s inside (Matt. 15:19-20). The real garbage is the attitude that causes me to turn up my nose at a tiny whiff of someone else’s sin while ignoring the stench of my own.

Forgive me, Lord, for refusing to throw away my own “trash.” Open my eyes to the damage that pride does to Your natural and spiritual creation. May I have no part of it.

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Most of us are farsighted about sin—we see the sins of others but not our own.



Pencil Battle

They did not cease from their own doings nor from their stubborn way. —Judges 2:19

As I learned to write my letters, my first-grade teacher insisted that I hold my pencil in a specific way. As she watched me, I held it the way she wanted me to. But when she turned away, I obstinately reverted the pencil to the way I found more comfortable.

I thought I was the secret winner in that battle of the wills, and I still hold my pencil in my own peculiar way. Decades later, however, I realize that my wise teacher knew that my stubborn habit would grow into a bad writing practice that would result in my hand tiring more quickly.

Children rarely understand what is good for them. They operate almost entirely on what they want at the moment. Perhaps the “children of Israel” were aptly named as generation after generation stubbornly insisted on worshiping the gods of the nations around them rather than the one true God. Their actions greatly angered the Lord because He knew what was best, and He removed His blessing from them (Judg. 2:20-22).

Pastor Rick Warren says, “Obedience and stubbornness are two sides of the same coin. Obedience brings joy, but our stubbornness makes us miserable.”

If a rebellious spirit is keeping us from obeying God, it’s time for a change of heart. Return to the Lord; He is gracious and merciful.

Heavenly Father, You are loving and gracious, and eager to forgive when we return to You. May we pursue you with our whole heart and not cling to our stubborn tendency to want things our way.

First we make our habits; then our habits make us.