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”

‘HER’ (written for Laura)

HER

Sometimes ballast for my boat, sometimes wind in my sails
Sometimes North to my compass, Sometimes swimming with the whales
her smile is my pleasure, and her radiance my art
she’s closer than a brother, even when we’re far apart

she’s the last touch of my evening, the first smile of my day
my white-water companion, in the rapids ‘long the way’
and when we get tossed over, instinctively we reach
holding tight together while crashing through each breach

She’s ‘All Aboard’ for Jesus, ever since joining my Ride
sitting in the front seats, we’re staying near His Side
He chooses all the stops and sights, as passengers we’re blessed
His Steady Grip holds us in, though we fail many a test

She’ll sound the horn of warning, while singing songs of praise
Reminding me of who I am while constantly she prays
She’s the college girl I dated and the woman I adore
my sister, my companion – and the ‘babe’ my passion’s for

Keeping eyes on Jesus and staying in His Sight
we trust in Him to hold our hearts and nudge us toward what’s right
Of countless gifts He’s given us, the greatest is Endless Life
but next for me will always be my love, my friend – my wife

my love, my friend – my wife

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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.

Walking (Pt.1)

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

“I will walk before the LORD” – The Christian life is a walk. Like every walk, it’s made up of many steps.

IT IS A WALK OF FAITH

The first step is the one of Faith. Faith in Jesus Christ. Faith simply comes down to Trust. Trusting Jesus enough to yield to Him and follow Him. Faith is not just believing that you can trust Him – it’s actuallytrusting him. That cannot be done passively. We don’t trust someone ‘in theory’, we either trust them with specifics or we haven’t begun to actually trust them.So we need to ask ourselves “In what area(s) of my life am I depending on Jesus?”  or, to put it another way “What part(s) of my life would cease if Jesus were taken out of the equation?”

IT IS A WALK OF GROWTH

Faith is the beginning and end of our life in Jesus (Rom. 1:16-17). But there’s also a lot God has in store for us along the way. New discoveries, new challenges, new opportunities, new trials, new victories. When we join the Jesus Expedition, we find that life truly is an adventure. And with this comes growth. It’s actually the Holy Spirit fulfilling His job description: “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:18, NIV. To be transformed into His likeness basically means that our character becomes more and more Christ-like. Peter actually give us a list (2 Peter 1:5-8). It goes from Faith to Goodness to Knowledge to Self-Control to Perseverance to Godliness to Brotherly Kindness to Love! He ends with this: “For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

And so we need to ask ourselves “In what way(s) am I growing in Jesus?” “How is God working in my life?” “How am I more Christ-like now than a year ago?”

IT IS A WALK OF SIMPLICITY

One of the blessed paradoxes of following Jesus is this: The more I grow and learn and experience – the simpler it becomes. Life doesn’t necessarily become more simple, but  following Jesus does. The more I trust Him the easier it is to see and do His Will – the easier it is to see and follow His Path. Well, it’s not that I see His Path more clearly, but I definitely see His Next Step more readily. I think it’s because the more I’ve come to trust Him, the less I need to see what’s ahead. I only need to see the next step. That is always clear. And that keeps things simple.

So I need to ask myself “Am I content with just seeing and taking the next step – doing the next thing?”  “Can I trust Jesus enough to not always be asking ‘Where are we going?’?”  “Am I learning to enjoy the walk knowing that the Final Destination is assured – Heaven?”

“5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. 8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 2 Peter 1:5-8, NIV

New Emotions

Sometimes we talk about having discovered ‘muscles we didn’t know we had’ – especially after doing some unusual repetitive movement.  A few of the jobs I’ve had over the years were like that. It might have been stacking boxes or loading and delivering furniture, but I ‘discovered new muscles’ as I experienced  new aches.

The same is true with emotions. I remember clearly how the birth of our first son, Micah, hit me. As I held him in my arms, I found myself powerfully overwhelmed by new feelings. I was suddenly discovering new and deep emotions I had no idea existed – until that moment. The following weeks brought more and similar discoveries. All very personal and, for me, profound. Along with these emotions came new responses on my part. Before kids, I vowed I’d never be found making silly babbling sounds to any of my babies. But there I was, cooing and oohing and exhilarating at the least sign of a purposeful response from my new son. I genuinely saw it as a ‘cosmic breakthrough’ whenever I felt we had communicated with each other through our newly-developed audible-visual ‘code’. Typical dad – and it was wonderful.

Now I’m discovering another set of latent emotions. My first daughter, Grace, is getting married this week. I will have the incredible honor of performing the ceremony for her and David – just as I’ve done for five of her brothers before her (just two more remain of our eight kids). Every one has been a blessing and an emotional experience for me. I tend to tuck my feelings into the inner folds of my heart, but they’re there. Just this past June we celebrated the union of our son, Joe, and his wife Kali. An added joy to that event was this: their marriage took place in the middle of our family’s first official Reunion. What a blessing!

What is my new discovery? It really is different with daughters. Duh. I know it’s a well-known truism. But now it’s my personal experience. We couldn’t ask for a better husband for Grace than David. He’s a true gem. And yet, there’s this sentimental voice within me that whispers “but you can’t give Grace away, she’s your little girl …”. Of course the voice is accompanied by a melancholy sound track of symphonic strings adding to the overall pathos. “Grace, Grace, Grace …”

Ok. You get the point. The truth is I’m enjoying these new, yet mysterious, feelings. And I’m not actually sad at all.  I am so looking forward to giving her away and blessing their marriage. It’s just that I realize, as a father, the ‘away’ part of giving your daughter away does feel different than the ‘taking’ part of a son taking a wife. I am not going to overanalyze any of this. I’m just going to enjoy it. After all, I’m not really losing a daughter, I’m gaining a son.

“To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven:” Ecclesiastes 3:1

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