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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

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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”

Faith is NOT BLIND

Faith is not blind. On the contrary, we’re told that faith “is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)  That’s why I don’t like the term ‘blind faith’. Faith doesn’t blind us – it enlightens us! By faith our spiritual eyes are opened and we see so much more than our natural eyes will ever perceive.

Paul writes that what the natural eye cannot see and the natural ear can’t hear – we do perceive through the Spirit of God. (“9 But as it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” 10 But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. …” 1 Corinthians 2:9-10)

I remember my first sensation after praying and giving my life to Jesus Christ. I literally thought the universe had just gone through some kind of phase-shift and someone had turned up the intensity of light and color. I soon realized the change wasn’t an external one, it was inside the very core of my being. I was experiencing what the Bible calls ‘illumination’. When we are born again, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within us and gives life to our spirit. We become a new creation in Christ and that new, spiritual creation comes with a new set of eyes and ears. “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:14)

It’s kind of like getting satellite radio. The signals have been there, but, until you get the right equipment, you have no way of hearing them. Others may tell you about them or try and describe it to you. But you won’t be able to hear for yourself until you get your hands on an XM Satellite Radio. Once you do, a whole new world of sound opens up.

Faith in Jesus is like that. All of a sudden we’re introduced to a whole new world – a whole new universe. It can be both thrilling and disconcerting at the same time. Thrilling because we’ve ‘discovered’ a new country. Disconcerting because the Kingdom of God doesn’t always play by our rules. The ‘physics’ of Heaven are not earthly. If you want to be great, become a servant. If you want to live, die. If you want to be first, be last. They’re not our rules, but they work – in the Kingdom.

And that’s where walking by faith instead of sight comes in. When I try to live the Christian life by earthly principles – sight – it just doesn’t work. But when I seek to walk by faith, it works. And since faith essentially means trust, it all comes back to simply trusting Jesus even when my natural senses are saying ‘I don’t understand what’s going on’. Sometimes it’s my ‘how does this work?’ questions that get in the way of simply enjoying the fact that it does work.

Faith is not blind. It allows us to see things that cannot be experienced any other way. Trust Jesus. And when you hear His call, “Step out of your boat and join Me!”, set your eyes on Him and get ready for something radically new.  “Hey, look at me. I’m walking by faith!”

“Lord, I’m thrilled to think of the ‘undiscovered country’ You’ve shown me as I’ve followed You. But I’m also sobered by my entrenched hesitancy. Forgive the tentativeness of my faith – and my natural bent toward walking by sight. Thank You for Your Merciful Patience and Your Encouraging Persistence. Amen.”

Walking (Pt.2)

“I will walk before the LORD In the land of the living.” Psalms 116:9

“I will walk before the LORD In the land of the living.” Psalms 116:9 – The Christian life is a Walk of Faith, and here and now, “in the land of the living”, is where and when we walk it. The day will come when our faith will become sight and we’ll know even as we are known. But, until then, we walk by faith. And so, just as we should value suffering because, as believers, we’ll only experience and gain from it in this life (see ‘The Unique Value of Suffering and Sorrow“), the same is true with the walk of faith. Only in this life do we have the opportunity to walk by faith.

It’s not that I don’t look forward to seeing, touching, hearing and feeling those things that I cannot see now. But there is an eternal value in learning to trust in them now by faith. First of all, I cannot be saved apart from faith: “For by grace are you saved through faith” (Ephesians 2:8). But, beyond that, I simply will not experience the adventure of the Christian life unless I learn to walk by faith. When I’m walking by faith, I find myself depending on things I can’t ‘see’, and when I do that, God somehow makes the invisible – ‘visible’. If I choose just to live by my natural senses, I miss the opportunity to experience that miracle. I don’t want to miss it. I don’t want to just live a natural life (the Bible calls that ‘carnal’). I want to live a supernatural life, the life of faith. How about you?

So maybe it can help us if we remember that it’s only here and now – “in the land of the living” – that we have the opportunity to walk by faith. Remembering that can give us the extra nudge we need to take those steps of faith. For me, that means commiting  to some action or decision that absolutely depends upon the Lord to succeed. Something that, if the Lord isn’t part of it, will fail. Sometimes I do fail. But other times, the Lord shows up and it-is-awesome!

By the way, failure isn’t optional – it’s guaranteed. But that means fear of failure is no excuse for not stepping out. If I think I’ll avoid a failure of faith by not stepping out, then I’ve failed already – I’ve failed to ‘step out’!  So if I’m going to experience failure anyway, I might as well step out and enjoy some spiritual successes while I’m in the process (are you tracking with me here?).

The bottom-line is this: Right now, today, is when we have the opportunity to walk with the Lord by faith.

“Lord, help me to trust You today. Help me to live by faith. Help me to take actions and respond to opportunities in ways that reflect You and depend on You. Thanks for the daily fulfillment of Your promise to always be with me. And thanks for the tangible hope You’ve given. Help me to live for You now as I look forward to being with You – soon. Amen”

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.
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