A Puritan on Daily Triumphant Faith

 

I love the Puritans. Their zeal for God and devotional hearts have always kept me in awe – and spurred me forward. Before I knew Jesus, I subscribed to the ’60s slogan: “Never trust anyone over 30”. Now I sympathize with this sentiment: “Never trust anyone under 300”.  I’ve been reading ‘Voices from the Past’ as part of my devotions this year. It’s a collection of excerpts from various Puritan writings. From time-to-time,faithpic I’ll pass some of it on. Thus this from Thomas Case (1598-1682).

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“The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7

The life of faith is the only safe life. Its fortifications are impregnable. Trust in the Lord forever, for in Him is everlasting strength. Ages pass away but the Lord our Rock abides forever. He that rained manna in the wilderness will give us bread; and He that brought water from the rock will be a never-failing fountain. Faith’s work is to pray for what it needs and to give thanks for what it has. Faith uses means [opportunities], but trusts in God. When there are no means [opportunities] to use we say, ‘Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines . . . yet I Will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation’ (Hab. 3:17—18).

Faith can live upon God when there is famine in all creation. The peace of God guards the heart from all surprises of fear and trouble. As faith enjoys God in all things in the greatest abundance, so she can enjoy all things in God in the deepest need. Paul describes his trouble in Asia: ‘We were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself’ (2 Cor. 1:8). ‘But’, he said, ‘that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.’ If God can raise the dead, he can conquer the greatest difficulty. He can put life into dead men, life into dead hopes, and raise up our expectations from the grave of despair. He can put life into dead bones and life into dead faith.

We are proud creatures and full of self—confidence, but God, by strange and unexpected providences, hedges up our way with thorns. He brings us to despair even of life and brings us under the sentence of death that we might not trust in ourselves, but in him who raises the dead. He overturns us by despair, shows us what babes and fools we are in ourselves, that we might know nothing but God.

Go in the strength of the Lord!

THOMAS CASE, ‘Selected Works’, Treatise Afflictions’, pp. 48-57

(From ‘Voices From The Past’, Edited by Richard Rushing, Banner of Truth)

Thunder and Lightning

The thunder I’ve been hearing is the sound of old, heavy theater seats tossed into a large construction bin late at night. The lightning is just the blinking of a worn out street light, coughing up spasms of past brilliance. 

You could think there’s no such thing as Thunder or Lightning – if you’d never been shaken by Thunder’s Deep Voice, or startled by Lightning’s penetrating flash. The immediate, heart-stopping crash feels as if some mighty celestial oak has just fallen. But I’ve heard Thunder and chased Lightning. Their incomparable voices are etched in my psyche. 

But what if someone has never heard – or seen – or been struck by the awe of a raw encounter? How could I convey what they’re missing? Any attempt at mimicking the sound of Thunder, or Lightning, would be a kind of blasphemy. Perhaps I could play a recording. Yes, that could make them believers. But no sound system in the world can convey the inimitable reality. They must experience it for themselves. Somehow I’ve got to bring them to the Encounter – or the Encounter to them.

Lord, I’ve been shaken by Your, Deepest-of-All Voice and awakened by the Flashing Insights of Your Spirit. They’ve left indelible inscriptions on my psyche, my soul. You have never been a subject of debate – for me. 

But others have not. How can I make You known to them? My mimicry could convince them that I believe. Your Words through my lips might engender faith. But without an Encounter, Your In-counter, they could slowly sink into passive acquiescence. 

They need You. We need You. I need You. Only You can make a believer out of those who ‘believe’.

Please, Lord,  put Your Thunder in our voices and Your Lightning in our touch. Or, better yet, revive us. Re-open our eyes, re-ignite our trust, re-infuse us with the unshakeable certainty that Your Thunder is in Your Word and Your Spirit is ready to strike in an instant – in this instant.

Help us to know that Your Voice silently thunders when we speak of You and that Your Spirit flashes when we touch others – and pray for them.

That Your Power is perfected in our weakness when it’s offered to You.

3 The voice of the Lord is over the waters; The God of glory thunders; The Lord is over many waters.  4 The voice of the Lord is powerful; The voice of the Lord is full of majesty.  5 The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars, Yes, the Lord splinters the cedars of Lebanon.  6 He makes them also skip like a calf, Lebanon and Sirion like a young wild ox.  7 The voice of the Lord divides the flames of fire.  8 The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; The Lord shakes the Wilderness of Kadesh.  9 The voice of the Lord makes the deer give birth, And strips the forests bare; And in His temple everyone says, “Glory!”  10 The Lord sat enthroned at the Flood, And the Lord sits as King forever.  11 The Lord will give strength to His people; The Lord will bless His people with peace.”

Psalm 29:3-11

A NEW ADVENTURE: Pt.3 – HOW YOU CAN HELP US

Our new adventure means we are now faith-based missionaries to pastors and their wives, churches and missionaries. As such, we are depending on the Lord to provide through the support of like-minded believers who have a heart for helping pastors and churches and would like to do it through us.

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In order to make this work, we’ve adjusted our cost-of-living significantly (see ‘Radical Downsize’ below). Travel and housing costs will be a major ministry expense. Many churches need help but can’t afford to pay. We want to be able to offer that help – with your help.

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RADICAL DOWNSIZE

IMG_6580   In order to take this step of faith, and ask you and others to consider supporting us, we believe it’s incumbent on us to do what we can to lower our living expenses. Along with the normal steps of shopping moIMG_6579re carefully, cutting expenditures and reviewing spending, we’ve swapped houses with our daughter and son-in-law, Grace & David Velasquez. They’ll be renting the big house (3300 sq. ft.), and we’ve moved into the cottage (600 sq. ft.),

We’ve also sold our Honda Pilot and are keeping the Honda Fit.

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Houdini’s not the only one who can squeeze into tight places.


CONTACT INFO
John & Laura Cowan2015-06-01_08-56-54_AM

John: pastorjbc@gmail.com
fb: http://www.facebook.com/pastorjbc
blog: http://www.pastorjbc.wordpress.com
Laura: lauracowan@aol.com
fb: http://www.facebook.com/laura.cowan.520
blog: http://www.lauracowan.wordpress.com

A NEW ADVENTURE: Pt.2 – WHAT WILL OUR JOINING POIMEN MEAN?

poimen logoWHAT WILL OUR JOINING POIMEN MINISTRIES MEAN?
Thanks to the encouragement and support of Pastor Terry and Calvary Chapel Salt Lake City, I will continue to be based in Salt Lake as a ‘Pastor Emeritus’ (a pastor sent out for ministry to the general body of Christ). Although my normal ministry responsibilities are being transitioned to others, we will continue to be part of the fellowship and serve whenever our schedule allows.

As for support, we will be primarily dependent on the support of like-minded believers who have a heart for helping pastors and churches and would like to do it through us. In order to make this work, we’ve adjusted our cost-of-living significantly (see ‘Radical Downsize’). Travel and housing costs will be a major ministry expense. Many churches need help but can’t afford to pay. We want to be able to offer that help – with your help.  (Please see ‘A NEW ADVENTURE – Pt.3’ for information on how you can support us)

EXPANDING NOT LEAVING
When we left Calvary Chapel Sacramento after 26 years, I remember feeling like we were losing our family and exchanging it for a new one. Instead, we discovered that we didn’t lose our Sacramento friends and family, we gained an expanded circle. And so, we take this step with the confidence that we won’t lose our Salt Lake family, but will expand the circle in hopes that the Lord will use us, in spite of ourselves, to bless more of His flock.

A NOTE FROM LAURA – Off we go!

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The other day, our youngest son Tim opened the car door for me. It’s strange how his humble gesture supplied an inexpressible comfort.  He saw a need, responded without fanfare, and off we went.  For John and I, this sums up the goal in our new venture:  to come alongside, identify a need, and open a door of encouragement and relief to a church leader or a group of believers; and then, to move on.

   Your prayers and financial support open the door for us, enabling us to open the door for others. Here are three things to pray.  Please feel free to add to this list.

Discernment • Strength • Provision

P.S.  Some of you have asked what I’ll be doing.  Well, I’m the official keeper of the stuff, John’s personal fashionista (you can’t wear that in public, John), and I have serious nunchuck skills in hospitality and…well, who doesn’t like a salted caramel cupcake once in a while?  Oh- and I like to write about everything.  It’s kind of like non-stop talking only-better-because-if-you-get-tired-of-me-you-can-jus-t“click”-and-I-disappear-and-I-won’t-even-know-you-did-it.

I will also continue as a rep for Voice of the Martyrs.    Thank you for your immeasurable encouragement.

“Oh magnify the Lord with me and let us exalt His name together!”

Psalm 34:3  (John’s and my life verse.)

WHAT’S AHEAD?
The nature of this ministry means we often don’t know our next ‘assignment’ until it’s in front of us. Please pray for the Lord to clearly direct us.

JUNE

• Calvary Chapel Bishop, CA: Their long-time pastor, Daniel Mcclenaghan, went home to Jesus the week before Easter. We’ll be with them for a weekend doing a Mini-Conference, sharing with the Worship Team and speaking Sunday morning.
• Calvary Chapel Seine Bight, Belize: Spending time with Jim & Anna Mensie, missionary pastors to Seine Bight, an impoverished, voodoo-infested community in Belize. Laura will be speaking at a regional Women’s Retreat. John will do a mini-conference with the men at the church, as well as speak at various services. We’ll also be doing an informal Sunday Night Concert.

JULY

• Calvary Chapel Bishop, CA: Sunday Service

• Calvary Chapel Senior Pastors’ Conference, CA: We’ll be attending the Conference, meeting some of the Poimen team, reconnecting with old friends (and making new ones) as we hang out at the Poimen Ministries table.

• Calvary Chapel Bishop, CA: Sunday Service

NEXT? You will be praying for us – right?

A NEW ADVENTURE: PT.1 – WE ARE JOINING POIMEN MINISTRIES

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 A NEW DIRECTION IN MINISTRY

The Lord is leading Laura and I into a new ministry adventure. After 26 years as Sr. Pastor of Calvary Chapel Sacramento and 9 years of ministry with Calvary Chapel Salt Lake City, we are taking a further step of faith into a new ministry. The Lord has slowly prepared us for this change over the past 18 months. But, now that His direction is clear, things have moved quickly. So what is this new direction?

WE ARE JOINING POIMEN MINISTRIES 

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(‘Poimen’ = ‘Shepherd’)

Poimen Ministries (www.poimenministries.com) is a team of seasoned Calvary Chapel pastors dedicated to serving other pastors. The goal is to help pastors, churches and missionaries fulfill their calling by offering personal encouragement, practical help, fresh perspective and seasoned guidance. This may mean simply filling in for a pastor over a weekend – or committing a couple of years to shepherding a church through a challenging transition. Each ‘assignment’ is unique whether a ministry of encouragement to a leadership family, bringing assurance and hope to a church that’s lost it’s pastor, coaching a younger pastor through the challenges of ministry, or providing an honest assessment of a church’s ministries. This means we’ll be depending more than ever on the Lord’s guidance and the Spirit’s enabling. For us, this brings a new intensity to our frequent prayer: “Lord, help us to be what they need.”

Poimen is a ministry that resonates deep within our hearts. It has been my joy over the years to mentor others towards ministry and coach fellow pastors – often giving them the benefit of lessons I learned through my own mistakes. The Lord has continually drawn us to this kind of service, consistently encouraging us by blessing our efforts. Although this will require new steps of faith and a dependence upon the Lord’s provision through His people, we are excited and feel honored to have this opportunity. Please remember us in your prayers. We want our lives to count for Jesus, now more than ever. Our prayer is that the Lord will use us to strengthen pastors and churches so they, in turn, will continue to reach more and more souls for the Kingdom.

  •  A SNAPSHOT OF POIMEN
    Here is a snapshot of team activities this past month (May 2015):
    • Bill: Finished 4 1/2 months at Calvary Chapel Bible College, in Peru
    • Al: Completed a church assessment in NY; helping a church in Northern GA.
    • Bob: Serving churches in England: sorting out new, restrictive visa regulations.
    • Phil: Completed church assessment in NY; on way to Czech Republic.
    • Gillette: Returned from Nepal; on way to church assessment.
    • Trip: Finished 6 wks in Juneau, AK; helping 2 churches in FL.
    • Pat: Filled in for various pastors; Teaching at School of Ministry
    • Larry: Pastor Larry Anderson went home to be with his Lord while filling in for a missionary pastor in Kosovo, Yugoslavia (see tribute at http://www.poimenministries.com).

Temptation (4): Never Too Much

20131123-120209.jpg1 Corinthians 10:13 – “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”

The Christian life is filled with paradoxes. One of those is the discovery that, once we have found true Peace by resting in Jesus, we have also joined Heaven’s Resistance Movement in a Great War. Like the underground organizations resisting Nazi occupation in WW II, the Body of Christ is called to be a resistance movement against the Enemy’s occupation of Planet Earth. In essence, each local church is meant to function as an organized and committed cell carrying out strategic actions to sabotage the enemy, free captives, and equip them to join the resistance. It’s called spiritual warfare and you won’t last long on active duty without coming to understand the nature of the battle and the power of the Full Armor of God – how it fits and how it operates (Eph. 6:10-18).

There are three fronts in this battle: the World, the Flesh, and the Devil, and they all come together in the battle with temptation. By Flesh, we mean our natural, sinful nature with it’s predisposition towards sin. It’s also called the ‘old man’. When we come to Jesus, we find that the ‘old man’, was crucified with Him on the Cross. From that point on, in Heaven’s eyes, our old sinful self is seen as dead. Through our trusting union with Jesus, we become new creations and the old is gone (2 Cor. 5:17).

It doesn’t take long, however, before we realize that our ‘old man’ apparently died with a death-grip firmly in place. Our flesh is still firmly attached and works hard to use it’s dead-weight against us. All of this moves the battle from somewhere ‘out there’ into the realm of our next thought or glance or word. Again we find the paradox that, when we’re born into spiritual Life, the conflict between the Spirit and the Flesh becomes more noticeable – more pronounced. This is exactly what Paul told the Galatians: “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish” (Galatians 5:16-17). Our response to the Flesh comes down to two things: 1) Walking in the fulness of the Spirit, and 2) Reckoning the old man dead (Rom. 6:5-11).

“For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Romans 8:13)

Have you ever watched a piano being tuned in the classic manner? The Tuner, who is a true craftsman, strikes his tuning fork with a mallet, sending the correct vibration through the air to the piano strings. When the vibration comes in contact with the strings, it produces a ‘sympathetic vibration’ in the appropriate string and it comes to life with a corresponding, resonating sound. That’s wonderful. But it’s a different thing when it’s the Devil who is striking the tuning fork of the World (which reflects his nature) and we find our Flesh responding with it’s own resonating sin. That’s temptation, and sometimes it can seem overwhelming.

never too muchyThat’s where the promise of 1 Cor. 10:13 comes in. We have it on the authority of God Himself that He will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able to handle. That’s the promise. That’s the truth. That’s a rock every child of God can confidently stand on.

The problem, of course, is when the trial or temptation we’re facing feels  overwhelming. When that’s the case, we find ourselves facing an added temptation – the temptation to believe that this particular trial is more than we can handle. Going down that road means ignoring God’s promise and accepting the lie that some temptations are exceptions to the ‘common to man’ rule. It also implies believing that God either a) hadn’t thought of this particular situation when He made the promise, or b) He wasn’t watching when it slipped past His Hands, or c) He isn’t really that concerned. All lies. False, but effective (if we buy into them).

So, what do we do? We give ourselves a spiritual ‘pep talk’. We remember the promises of God, we recall His faithfulness to us, we call the devil the Liar he is, and we stand. We stand on the promises of God. That’s what faith is about. As the old hymn puts it:

Standing on the promises of Christ my King,

Through eternal ages let His praises ring,

Glory in the highest, I will shout and sing,

Standing on the promises of God.

Standing, standing, Standing on the promises of God my Savior;
Standing, standing, I’m standing on the promises of God.

dragged you

Temptation (3): I Am Not Alone

20131123-120209.jpg1 Corinthians 10:13 – “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”

There is no such thing as a truly unique temptation. Every temptation we face is “common to man”. To be sure, some temptations are extremely creative. But after you peel off the fresh paint, they’re still the same ol’, same ol’.  Understanding that is essential for avoiding the Devil’s attempts at disarming us. If he can get us to believe that the temptation we face is unique in some way, then he can persuade us that the promises of God don’t apply in our situation. Or, if he can get us to believe that our situation is somehow unique, he’ll suggest that the normal rules don’t apply to us. Once we buy into that, we’re soon justifying our latest sin while rationalizing the ones to come. It doesn’t take much encouragement. I know I can rationalize anything if I want to. It’s amazing how brilliantly stupid we can be when justifying our sin. We’re all by nature card-carrying members of the Sinners’ Anonymous Mensa Society.

all together

The truth that temptation, no matter how creatively dressed, always comes in ‘standard sizes’, is actually a great encouragement (as all Truth ultimately is). Realizing that the things I wrestle with are the same things others are facing means I am not alone in the battle. We’re all in this together. And, the more we walk together, the greater the victories we share. It’s just one of the many reasons believers are meant to do their pilgrimage together in the circles of their local church tribe. It’s there, in the environment of genuine fellowship that we find a place where we can tell our stories, show our scars, share our lessons and lift each other up in prayer. As the Preacher of Ecclesiates put it,  “Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. …” (Ecc. 4:12a).

Knowing that I’m not the only one facing temptation also means I’m not the first. Others have gone before me. There are veterans in the Body of Christ who’ve fought the good fight and whose scars have been transformed into medals. They’re there to give us hope – we can make it. They’re there as examples for us to follow. They’re there so we can hear the story behind their medals and the keys to their victories. It’s always the true heroes who humbly refuse the label. But, if we listen and learn, we’ll find our own scars beginning to look a little more like bronze. We’ll also hear them inevitably talking about the Great General Who pinned those medals on. When they do, they’re simply echoing the words of Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:7-8).

When we consider the fact that all temptations are “common to man”, that we all battle the same demons, and there is truly “nothing new under the sun”, we will eventually be led to the Only One Who faced temptation without a single failure – Jesus. We could go to the Gospels and follow Him through the 40 days of temptation in the wilderness. But instead we need to listen to Hebrews: “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are –yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb. 4:14-16).

Can we trust Jesus to understand what we’re going through? Yes! He “has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin”. Among other things, this tells me that it’s not a sin to be tempted, it only becomes sin when we give in to the temptation. It also reminds me that my Savior was and is absolutely victorious over sin – and temptation.

Can we really find help in Him? Absolutely! In Jesus, we may “approach the throne of grace with confidence”.

What kind of help can we expect to receive? Mercy and Grace! Because of Jesus, “we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need”. In the midst of life’s battles, as I call out to The Throne, I receive Mercy for my failures and find the Grace to get back up and do better.

“Lord, as You taught me, I ask You to ‘lead me not into temptation’. But as I inevitably find myself facing temptations (as You know so well), I also pray that You would ‘deliver me from evil’. Thank You that I can come to You knowing that ‘Yours is the Kingdom, and the Glory, and the Power Forever.’ Amen.”

Temptation (2): The Rules Do Apply to Me

20131123-120209.jpg1 Corinthians 10:13 – “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”

Jesus left no doubt about the Devil’s nature: He is a liar. “… He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it” (John 8:44). Our Enemy is also supremely pragmatic. He doesn’t really care what tool he uses as long as it works. Unfortunately, he knows what’s effective for dislodging our hold on Truth and our faith in the Giver of Truth – lies. In his efforts to keep believers from being fruitful, he clearly knows that a simple, logical lie can often do greater damage than a host of frontal assaults.

More than once I’ve awakened out of some spiritual slumber or compromise by discovering that a simple lie had silently inserted itself into my thinking. It usually comes dressed in the guise of a false assumption I’m unconsciously acting on.

rules don't apply

When it comes to temptation, the Devil likes to tell us that our temptations are unique and, therefore, the promises of God do not apply in our situation (see ‘Temptation Pt.1’). An effective variation on this strategy is when he convinces us that our situation is somehow unique and, therefore, the normal rules don’t apply in our case. When this happens, we begin to believe that what is clearly sin for others – isn’t for us.

This lie takes many forms. One that I see more and more in premarital counseling is couples who are living together because they “can’t afford to live separately”. Supposedly, since they don’t have the money to afford two apartments, that makes it OK for them to live together. After all, “the Lord knows we just don’t have the money”.

In my conversations with them, they normally acknowledge that it’s a sin (usually phrased as “it’s not the best choice”). But, inevitably, I find myself listening as they explain why their situation is unique and, therefore, the normal rules obviously don’t apply to them. Of course, when you put it in black and white (as I’m doing here), the absurdity of it becomes clear. What they’re doing, as professing believers, is wrong on multiple levels and in multiple ways. It’s sin and the rules do apply to them – period.

In most cases it’s the guy who’s the strongest advocate for their excuses. After all, he’s got the most to lose (free sex). Sometimes I get the “but we’re married in God’s eyes” routine. To which I ask if her name has been changed on her driver’s license, if they’re filing their taxes jointly, if they’re on a shared medical plan and “On what day and at what time did this take place?”. You get the idea. This is followed by pointing out that, when someone is truly married, their legal and social status is clearly and definitely changed – if it’s not, they’re not.

Sometimes they claim that the Bible (acording to them) doesn’t say a lot about weddings and legal marriage. In this case, I point out that every time the Bible uses the words ‘husband’ or ‘wife’ or ‘married’ (often ‘to take a wife’), the very definition of the words only apply if the social, cultural (and legal) status of the couple has changed from being single to being married. It also implies that this change has taken place in the context of a ceremony that has, in fact, established their new standing in the eyes of their family, society and culture.

But I digress …

The Rules Do Apply. They apply to me and they apply to you. To think otherwise is to believe a lie and join the innoculated ranks of the spiritually impotent. We know better than that.

Although my interviews with ‘cohabitating’ (read ‘sinning’) couples usually end with an air of tension, a marked change often occurs over the next couple of weeks. I love it when they march up to me with beaming faces to announce that they’ve asked the Lord’s forgiveness, committed to purity, and one of them has moved out (usually the guy, who’s now sleeping on a friend’s couch). It’s amazing what you can afford when you’re willing to accept a little inconvenience.

So, the next time the Tempter tells you the rules don’t apply to you because, after all, your situation is unique,  just reply “If you believe that, I’ve got some beach front property in Nevada I’d like to sell you.” Or, better yet, just say “I’m sorry but I CAN’T HEAR YOU!”

“Lord, forgive me for the times I’ve believed Your rules don’t apply to me. Teach me to be quicker to recognize the Tempter’s lies. And help me remember that Your ‘rules’ are actually the guard-rails of Your Will for my life – Your good, acceptable and perfect will (Rom. 12:1-2). Amen.”

Temptation (1): I Am Not Special

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1 Corinthians 10:13 – “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”

Everyone likes to feel special – including me. We live in a time when there’s a lot of focus on that. We call it having self-esteem, and many people are riding the roller coaster of daily measuring how good or special they feel. Sadly, most are simply looking in the wrong place. Our true ‘specialness’ is only found in being restored to the ‘Special One’. In Him we discover that we are His work-of-art, formed to fulfill a good and special purpose (Eph. 2:10). From Him we receive the treatment of Grace through which He declares that each and every one of us is His Special Favorite and Dearly Loved child (1 John 3:1-2). In fact, these blessings are So Great it takes faith, aided by the Holy Spirit, to even begin to grasp how vast they are (Eph. 3:14-21).

Sometimes, however, it’s just as important to understand when and where we are not special. Facing temptation is one of those times. That’s why the Word makes it clear “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man“. Getting this is key to finding success in times of temptation. Why? Because one of the Tempter’s most effective strategies is convincing us that our trial or temptation is unique – or that we’re somehow a ‘special case’. Believing that lie is like going into battle without any armor.

You see, if I believe that my particular trial or temptation is somehow uniquely different from anyone else’s, then I will believe the devil when he tells me that the promises of Scripture don’t apply in my case: “Your situation is special, no one else has ever faced what you’re facing. The promises of God may apply for others, but they don’t for you – you’re special.” Can you see where this is going? I can believe my challenges are special NotSpecial(because I’m special) and pay for that belief by losing my confidence in the promises of God. Or I can believe God when He tells me “no temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man” and know, therefore, that “God is faithful, Who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”

To be sure, the details of our trials and our temptations may have unique qualities to them, but the substance does not. If we accept that, then we’re candidates for the promises of God. After all, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” (2 Peter 1:3-4)

We know that many trials are the Lord’s instruments of instruction for us – given to help us grow (James 1:2-4). But do we see that they may also come so we have concrete opportunities to trust Him. James says, “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (James 2:26). Dead faith talks about trusting God, living faith Trusts Him in the real rapids of our winding lives. Every one of us encounters boulder-sized trials and Class 5 temptations. Every one of us. They are “common to man”. We can believe the devil’s lies, forfeit our faith in God’s promises, and be just one more casualty washed up on the shore (what ‘special’ about that?). Or we can humbly accept the fact that the challenge we’re facing is a common one, look to the uncommonly powerful promises of our God, and turn the battle into a victory story and the trial into a testimony. That is special.

“Lord, help me to trust You when You tell me that my temptations are a common part of the human condition. Then, help me to rest in the Rock of Your Faithfulness and take Your way of escape. You are faithful and that’s where my faith needs to be. Amen.”

Note to Self: ‘Don’t Take the Bait.’

NOTE TO SELF: “DON’T TAKE THE BAIT”

1 Corinthians 14:33
“For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.”

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In his commentary on Genesis, James Boice makes the following observation regarding the devil: “The devil was the first one to sin, and he has as one of his names, Diabolos, which means “the disrupter.” The word diabolos is based on two Greek words: dia, which means “through” or “among,” and ballō, which means “to throw.” We get our word “bowling” from it. Together the words describe one who is always throwing something into the middle of things. He is the one who throws the monkey wrench into the machinery. He disrupts. And so does sin!”

I thought it was an interesting take on the devil’s knack for causing confusion. We all know he’s a master at it, but I hadn’t pictured it in quite the sense of throwing something into the middle of a situation or relationship or thoughts simply for the purpose of distracting and confusing. But, it certainly is one of his methods – and it can be very effective.

This may be a poor illustration (because I’m not trying to equate myself and Pastor Terry Long with the devil), but I remember when we were on an exploratory ‘Footsteps of Paul’ trip with a number of other pastors – mostly Lutheran. We knew the Lutherans were from two very different branches: ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) is very liberal and recently approved ordaining active homosexuals, and the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod which is very conservative and traditional Lutheran. So, at the dinner table, I asked a ‘loaded question’ and Terry and I sat back and enjoyed the exchange. OK, my intent wasn’t ‘evil’, but I remember the reaction was as if I’d just tossed a relational grenade in the middle of the table – quite lively to say the least.

My point is that I realize there are those times when the devil tosses a grenade in the middle of our lives and circles just so he can sit back and enjoy the chaos. And, like our friends at the pastors’ dinner table, we all too often take the ‘bait’. I know I do.

Just last week, following my mid-week study, I got drawn into a conversation on the issue of whether or not it’s important to address the conflicts between Biblical Creation and Modern Evolutionary Beliefs. I’m passionate on this subject and so I was an easy catch for Diablo’s bait and got drawn into an animated exchange with someone that, in retrospect, I regret. Why? Not because anything amiss was spoken, but because it was simply not productive or helpful to the real issues. It was an effective diversion. If I had been listening closer to the one who began the exchange with me, I would have realized that she wasn’t trying to enter into a dialog but was simply expressing her opinion with a loaded question. Her real issues don’t have anything to do with Creation vs Evolution and so, by getting so easily diverted, I was led off-track. Instead, I should have sought to find the true heart-issue that is troubling her and asked The Lord to give me Words of light and Truth.

I often find myself telling others “Don’t take the bait. Back off and pray.” It’s good counsel. Now, if I can just start taking my own advice.

“Lord, You know how many time I’m so intent on giving helpful counsel to others that I miss it for myself. Forgive me for having such tunnel vision. Help me to remember, as I seek Your Wisdom for others, that I, too, am one of the needy ones. Amen”

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