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Posts tagged ‘temptation’

BLEW IT AGAIN?

SOURCE:  Joe Dallas

Day has begun and I’m already sinning
Help me to change this heart that I have
Lord, help me taste of the grace that You’re giving.
I want to be a spiritual man.
“Let the Old Man Die” lyrics by Chuck Butler

 

Every one of us struggles with something. Some of us relapse into that “something.” Afterward, how we handle the relapse will have a lot to do with our future successes or failures.

To struggle is to have temptations, sometimes towards one particular life-dominating sin. You knew the type. It’s usually some bodily pleasure that we’ve discovered, then returned to, and then, after years of repetition, we’ve established as a pattern.

Overeating, porn, smoking, gambling, and drug abuse are all pretty good examples. What we discover we incorporate, and what we incorporate becomes predictable – a regular, often destructive part of our routine.

Predictable, that is until God puts His finger on that part of your life. That’s when He calls you to repentance, and when that happens, a new standard gets birthed.

Suddenly, what you used to allow is unacceptable, and abstaining from that “something” is a new mandate. New standards of what we do or don’t allow are sure to follow anytime we say “yes” when God says “this has to go.” That’s part of discipleship living.

But to say “God has called me to stop doing this” is also a way of saying “I’m committed to resisting the desire to keep on doing it.” Sometimes the desire is resisted successfully; sometimes not. And that opens up the possibility of relapse.

Relapse happens when you return to behavior you renounced. It’s often called “breaking sobriety” because it means you broke a commitment to abstain from something addictive; some would also call it a backslide. But whatever name the relapse rose goes by it smells just as bad, and is a thing to be avoided, guarded against, but also prepared for. It’s somewhat like John’s interesting statement about sin:

These things I write unto you that you sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous. I John 2:1

Clearly John wasn’t saying it’s OK to sin. But he was saying that if you do, you have an advocate. Likewise, when you commit to abstaining from porn, fornication, drunkenness or gluttony, you don’t by any means have to relapse. You can stay clean; there’s no reason to return to those behaviors.

But if you do, you have an advocate with the Father who will cleanse and restore you. In that vein, let me offer a few immediate steps to take if, God forbid, you should relapse.

1. Notify

Decide now who’d you’d call if you relapsed. In most cases, an accountability partner is your best bet (and if you’re committed to abstaining from addictive behavior, then an accountability partner really is a must!) since he works with you weekly and you’re probably in regular contact with him.

But a trusted friend or member of your church will also be a good choice, or perhaps a pastor or counselor. What matters is that you know who to call and what number to use, and that you call him immediately. Tell him you relapsed, and that you’ll need his prayers and support. If you have a severe crisis situation, meet with him ASAP.

2. Identify

With the help of whoever you notify, figure out what went wrong. Usually, people relapse because they slacked off on their prayer life, scripture reading, fellowship or accountability.

But there may be other reasons, so spend time exploring what you were doing before the relapse, what you could have done differently, and what you’ll do differently in the future to prevent this from happening again. Human error is a terrific textbook, so you may as well use it.

3. Move It!

Get back on the saddle immediately, because you’ll accomplish nothing by wallowing in grief over your relapse, and there’s no reason to delay beginning again. If you refuse to start over, you’re yielding to a more severe, deadlier sin than relapse: despair. Sin is something you can repent of, but despair? Yield to that, and you’re really finished.

Don’t be. Relapse is a temporary set-back; despair is the end.

You’re protecting a treasure when you guard your purity, so apply yourself to its longevity the way you’d protect a valuable antique or piece of jewelry. Recognizing its worth, you work both to keep it, and keep it in its best possible shape.

The freedom of godliness, likewise, is a purposeful, challenging, exciting way to live, and keeping the ball in play is worth all the blood, sweat and tears a committed athlete has to shed.

So move ahead today in the power of gratitude for God’s grace, and let it manifest in the smallest and largest areas of your life.

Adultery: Husband, Lift Up Your Eyes

SOURCE:  John Piper

LETTER TO A WOULD-BE ADULTERER

Dear Husband,

You may think I am ill-suited to counsel a young man on how to be faithful to his wife, because, in almost fifty years with my wife, I have never felt enticed to be romantic or to have sex with another woman. However, it might be worth probing whether this (perhaps unusual) fact has causes which are transferable to you.

Let me clarify. It’s not as good as it sounds. My eyes are as magnetized toward excessive female skin as most men’s. I am not designed for beach evangelism. I find airports to be problematic enough. I have zero tolerance for nudity in films — or even suggestiveness (which rules out almost all of them). One reason (among many) is that any sexually charged image lodges itself in my mind, with regrettable effects.

One more clarification: I have enjoyed a life of sexual intimacy with my wife, that is, I think, as intense as any can reasonably hope for. In other words, I don’t think my disinterest in sex with other women is owing to deficient hormones.

So, back to the point that needs some explanation: I am 71 years old and have been sexually attracted to Noël for 51 years. For 48 of those years (since we married), that attraction has been gratified with joy. During those 51 years, I have never been attracted to another woman romantically. I have never desired sexual relations with another woman. When I fell in love with Noël in the summer of 1966, a focused sexual longing exploded into being. That peculiar desire to be intimate with Noël has never shifted onto another woman.

Are there any discernible causes for this that might be shareable?

1. Plead with God to take away illicit desires.

“God worked a miracle to make adulterous touching not just morally wrong, but physically revolting.”

The first thing to say is that I consider this disinterest in sex with other women a pure gift of God’s sovereign grace. It does not feel like a reward for some virtuous discipline. It’s as if God said, “I have other sorrows you will have to deal with in your family. But I will spare you this one.” I have not felt like a valiant sailor lashed to the mast while the Siren voice of alien sex sang her seductive song. I didn’t need to be lashed, because the song was not attractive.

So, the first transferrable thing I would say is this: “Ask God for it.” Don’t just ask him to keep you from giving into temptation. Ask him to take away any desire for any woman other than your wife. Plead for this.

2. Feel how revolting and disgusting adultery truly is.

The second thing I would say is probably going to sound strange, maybe even questionable. One way God protected me from adultery is by making it feel revolting to me. Ever since I fell in love with Noël and I knew we would spend a lifetime being intimate, the very thought of touching another woman sexually became disgusting, sickening. This may sound weird. I have not talked about it with many people. But I have said to myself often, with amazement, “The thought of having sex with any other woman besides Noël feels as nauseating to me as the prospect of having sex with a man.”

I mean this quite literally. I am not merely raising the moral stakes by using physically strong language. I mean God worked a miracle to make adulterous touching not just morally wrong, but physically revolting. That is one of the greatest works of divine grace I have ever experienced.

Now let me speculate about the origin of this gift. When Jesus wanted to help us deal with adultery and lust, he said,

“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.” (Matthew 5:29)

He might have said, innocuously, “If your eye causes you to sin, turn the other way, because giving in to temptation can only be harmful.”

Why did he gross us out with the revolting image of digging our eyeball out of our head and throwing it like a slimy egg yolk into the garbage? Maybe it was to awaken in us something more than mere moral disapproval — something visceral, something like a gag reflex in our throat.

“Ask God to take away any desire for any woman other than your wife. Plead for this.”

I have been reading and believing my Bible since I was a child. The realities of God, Christ, heaven, hell, faith, and holiness have been ever-present realities to me — sometimes wonderful, sometimes terrible. They are not add-ons to who I am. They are baked in. They’re part of me, shaping what I love and what makes me want to throw up.

So, my speculation is that somewhere along the way in my life, God took the reality of his massive disapproval of lust and adultery, and the threat of indescribable suffering in hell (Matthew 5:29), and created a connection between the physical terror of eternal burning and the moral outrage of cheating on my wife. The form that this connection took was physical revulsion at marital unfaithfulness. It may be way more complicated than that. But that’s the best I can do for now.

However this happened, it seems biblically fitting to me, and I thank God for it. It has freed me wonderfully to focus on other things. Whether it is transferrable to you depends on God’s free grace. But my suggestion is that you saturate your life thoroughly with the realities of Scripture, and pray for their profoundest effects in transforming what you find desirable and what you find disgusting.

3. Don’t trade permanent pleasures for temporary trysts.

I’ll mention one other thing that seems to me to be part of the explanation for why adultery has felt not just wrong to me, but also nauseating. When I was a junior in high school, something awakened in me that I could call poetic, or spiritual, or aesthetic, or otherworldly. It was a sense that there is something stupendously wonderful and joyful to be experienced beyond the sensuous pleasures of the body.

If I weren’t a Christian, I would call it the “numinous” or the “Other” or “Beauty.” In other words, many people have this sort of awakening, not just Christians. But for me, it was distinctively Christian. The wonder and beauty and greatness were in God, through Jesus. Since those days, I have experienced a kind of ache for a Pleasure beyond the pleasures of the body.

But here’s the link with nauseous adultery. At the same time as this longing for the ultimate heavenly Pleasure was awakened, I discovered that sexual sin (like lust and its mistress, masturbation) caused my soul to plummet from any heights of joy they attained. It seemed to me that I was faced with the choice of wallowing in the mire of brief physical sensations (called pleasures) or soaring in my heart where something much more substantial and lasting and satisfying was offered.

“Sexual immorality cuts off the wings that lift us toward the highest, richest, most durable Joy.”

This built into me the visceral conviction: Sexual sin and spectacular satisfaction are utterly at odds. As Jesus put it, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).

I now see this as God’s existential gift of Colossians 3:1–5:

Seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above. . . . Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality . . .

In other words, sexual immorality cuts off the wings that lift us toward the highest, richest, most durable Joy.

But I wanted this Joy with a vengeance. And as this desire grew, so did my opposition to anything in me that stood in the way. And Colossians 3:5 put sexual sin at the head of the list. I believe God turned this opposition into physical revulsion in proportion as the desire for real Pleasure in God grew stronger.

Keep Asking God for Help

Well, that’s my effort to interpret my experience in the light of Scripture. I hope there are lessons to be learned here that are transferrable to you:

  • Ask God that he would make sin sickening to you, not just morally wrong.
  • Ask him to make biblical realities, like hell and heaven, terribly and wonderfully real to you — real enough to taste and feel.
  • Ask him to open your eyes to the glory of the spiritual world “where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.”
  • Ask him to give you a massive desire for ultimate Pleasure in God that is so strong that it makes sinful pleasures nauseous.
  • Ask him to transpose the pleasures of intimacy with your wife into foretastes of the unending ecstasies of heaven.

When you have prayed, lift up your eyes. Lift them up to the deep, blue sky. Lift them up to the brilliant whiteness of the billowing clouds. Lift them up to the unfathomable star-filled darkness of the night. Lift them up to misty mountain ranges, and to the rivers that have run for a thousand years, and to the mighty trees that took their time to become strong imperceptibly, and to the orange day-lilies and purple vines and the yellow-souled daisies, and to the ripple-free lakes at dusk, and the great bow of the ocean horizon.

Take your eyes off your computer, off your mirror, off your pain, off your dead dream, off your self-pitying lust. God is speaking to you. He is waving a thousand flags to get your attention. He has more to give you than you have ever tasted or felt or dreamed. The price he paid to satisfy his people, with never-dying joy and ever-new beauties, was great. Don’t push him away.

You Can Change the Way You Think

SOURCE:  Rick Warren

“We capture every thought and make it give up and obey Christ” 

(2 Corinthians 10:5b NCV).

Here’s the secret to temptation: Don’t fight it. Just refocus. Whatever you resist persists.

Did you know that in the Bible, not once are you told to resist temptation? We are told to resist the Devil, and that’s a whole different issue. But the key to overcoming temptation is not to push back. It’s to change your focus.

Whatever gets your attention gets you. The battle for sin always starts in the mind. That’s why the Bible says in Psalm 119:6, “Thinking about your commands will keep me from doing some foolish thing” (CEV). Why? Because if you’re thinking about God’s truth, you’re not thinking about the less important stuff.

It’s true in every single area of life — good or bad. If you focus on godly things, it’s going to pull you that direction. If you focus on the stuff that’s at the movies and in magazines, it’s going to pull you that direction. Whatever you focus on gets your attention. Whatever gets your attention is going to get you.

The key is to just change your mind.

Temptation always follows a predictable pattern: attention, arousal, and action. Your mind gets hooked, your mind kicks in, and then you act on it.

So you don’t fight a temptation; you just turn your mind to something else. “We capture every thought and make it give up and obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5 NCV).

The thing is, we’re not very good at capturing every thought and turning it to Christ, because it takes lots of practice. You can’t always control your circumstances, and you can’t even always control the way you feel. But you can control what you think about. That’s always your choice.

And if you change the way you think, it changes the way you feel, and that will change the way you act.

Making Sexual Advances Toward Another is OK…IF…

SOURCE: Taken from an article by  Family Life/Barbara Rainey

The Power of a Woman

I have come out to meet you, to seek your presence earnestly, and I have found you. I have spread my couch with coverings, with colored linens of Egypt.
Proverbs 7:15-16

Few things are more abhorrent to me than seeing women make sexual advances toward married men, either on television or in real life. We should recoil at this kind of behavior. But just because flirtation is often corrupt doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with making sexual advances toward one married man — the one you’re already married to.

I believe we can learn something from the powerful woman described in Proverbs 5–7. Although she is an adulteress and would not typically be seen as a positive role model, perhaps there is a pure use of this power when these tactics are directed toward a woman’s own husband.

For example:

  • Her lips “drip honey” and are “smoother than oil” (Proverbs 5:3). There was a time during the dating season when gentle, soothing speech came easily. But now in marriage, it’s all too easy to gripe and complain. Words are powerful. Use yours well, and you’ll melt him like butter.
  • “She seizes him and kisses him” (Proverbs 7:13). What would be the look on your man’s face if, when you first saw him at the end of a day, you grabbed him around the shoulders and really planted one on him? There’s not a man alive who wouldn’t wonder what you’d had for lunch that day — and who wouldn’t hope you’ll have it again tomorrow.
  • She captures him “with her eyelids” (Proverbs 6:25). We wives can tend to get sloppy with our appearance around the house. That’s understandable. But every once in a while, make sure you look good when he comes home. Really good. Use your eyes to engage him. “Capture” him with your physical attractiveness.

A wife who understands her allure as a woman is protecting her husband from temptation. She’s like a magnet, drawing him home from the seductions of his day.

She’s got power. And she knows how to use it.

Pray that God will never let Satan, who knows how to twist it, steal the joy of sexual attraction and romance from you.

Sexual Sin: Be Cautious & Active

SOURCE:  David Longacre/Living Free

“All of you must keep awake (give strict attention, be cautious and active) and watch and pray, that you may not come into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Matthew 26:41 AMP

Are you immune to the temptation of sexual sin?

The truth is, we all have boundaries that, if crossed, can result in the loss of self-control.

The sin of proximity happens when we allow ourselves to be enticed to sin by not avoiding events, people, places, objects or anything else that we know will likely stir up lustful thoughts in our minds. Some would describe the sin of proximity as allowing ourselves to come into contact with the occasion for sin.

When we commit a sin of proximity, what we are doing is setting the stage for overt sin to occur. We are prone to lie to ourselves that what we are doing will not have consequences. We think we can play around the edges of sin without actually acting it out. This thinking is self-deceptive because sin has great power and, if entertained, can overwhelm us.

Avoiding the people or events or things that may tempt us to sexual sin is vital to overcoming sexual addiction or to avoid entering into any kind of sexual sin. We must remember, however, that there is no “formula for success” in this path—otherwise we would trust the formula and not God.

The rules are only tools to enable us to better love Jesus. The real key is to stay in fellowship with Him—to “give strict attention, be cautious and active … and watch and pray.”

Father, I know that only as I stay in close fellowship with you—through prayer and through your Word—will I be able to resist the temptations that come my way. I thank you for your love. Please give me the wisdom and strength to avoid situations and relationships that may entice me to sin. In Jesus’ name …

—————————————————————————————————————————


These thoughts were drawn from …

Crossroads: Choosing the Road to Sexual Purity by David E. Longacre. Crossroads deals with choosing the road to sexual purity.

Not Enabling, But Waiting and Watching

SOURCE:  Living Free/Dr. Jimmy Ray Lee

“The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.” 1 Corinthians 10:13 NLT

Enabling is anything that stands in the way of or softens the natural consequences of a person’s behavior.

God does not want us to enable others in their wrongdoing. Neither does he enable us when we choose to walk in disobedience to him. He loves us too much to enable us in our wrongdoing. He knows that we will not come to our senses and change our ways unless he allows us to suffer the natural consequences of what we do.

The great thing is that, just like the father of the prodigal son, our heavenly Father is loving us and watching for us. He wants us to come home and will run out to meet us, showering his love, mercy and forgiveness on us when we return.

Do you need to return? Perhaps you have recently fallen into something you know you shouldn’t do … Your Father is waiting for you.

Perhaps you have been locked into a downward spiral and feel as though there is no way out. God always provides a way. He is just waiting for you to come to him with a repentant heart. His arms are open wide … no matter what you have done. Jesus has already paid the price for your sin. Receive his forgiveness. He loves you unconditionally and is waiting to help you.

Father, I am so sorry for what I have been doing. Please forgive me and show me the way out. In Jesus’ name …

————————————————————————————————————————————————————-


These thoughts were drawn from …

Understanding the Times and Knowing What to Do by Dr. Jimmy Ray Lee. 

How Should We Respond to Those Struggling With Homosexuality?

SOURCE:  RICHIE HUGHES/Charisma Magazine

When my brother—a fifth-generation preacher’s son—came out of the closet, I encountered one of the church’s biggest dilemmas of our time: How should we
respond to those who struggle with homosexuality?

The day was supposed to be the greatest of my life. I was 29, getting married and had arrived at a local eatery to meet my brother, Eddie, and ask him to be my best man. I couldn’t wait to see his reaction when I invited him to be the most important person in my wedding other than my incredible bride-to-be.

His reply changed my life forever. Thankfully he didn’t decline with a “No.” But neither was his answer a hearty, “Oh, yeah! Congratulations, bro!” Instead, my only brother’s reply was a tearful, “Richie … I’m gay.”

What? That definitely wasn’t the response I expected. My thoughts raced: That’s simply not possible! No way! How could a family like ours, so deeply rooted in church, have a member who isn’t following suit, who isn’t living the same lifestyle we’ve always lived?

You see, I’m a fifth-generation ordained minister. In my family, leading churches and doing ministry is a part of our heritage. But in a split second, one of the biggest issues of our time had hit home (literally) for my family and me. This person—my brother—became what many other Christians thought of as our dirty little secret.

Looking back to that moment 10 years ago, it’s easy to see that a lot has changed in the way society views homosexuality. States have legalized gay marriage. It seems that in every election this issue is on the ballot in California and other states, and probably will be until same-sex marriage is fully legalized.

But a decade ago, things were different. Through his series of poor choices, Eddie eventually contracted AIDS. When I learned about his condition, I was confident there would be a medical solution.

This is the 21st century, I thought. Unlike 20 or so years ago, there are medications that help control the virus now. My brother can live a productive life, and all should be great. Right?

It didn’t happen that way for my family.

A Dream Comes True

Fortunately, Eddie was welcomed into the L.A. Dream Center. Matthew Barnett, the center’s pastor, and his team ministered to him in a way he had never seen before. The Dream Center staff loved him, celebrated his creativity and didn’t judge him. My brother experienced the love of Jesus and, as a result, accepted His grace and forgiveness.

I’ll never forget his phone calls. He’d say: “Richie, God is so awesome. He doesn’t care what I’ve done. He loves me just the way I am.”

You see, it took a church—a group of Christians who loved Eddie just the way he was—to reach him for Jesus. The Dream Center team did not tell him: “Clean yourself up. Stop doing this and never say that or go there again, and we might let you come to our church.”

No, they said: “Come as you are. You are welcomed, loved and celebrated here.” My brother saw Christ in the people of that church. But I don’t think he would have seen Him at every church. (Would he have seen Him at yours?)

Church Attitudes 

Because my family had never discussed AIDS or thought it would touch us directly, and because I’d never been part of a small group at church where it was addressed, I was totally unequipped to deal with it.

How about you? Would you be ready for it? How about your church? Is homosexuality discussed openly? Most churches overlook it or ignore it. Worse, they are afraid to make an effort to understand how we should love others as God has commanded.

Wouldn’t God want us to pursue the gay community like we would any other people group? Wouldn’t He want us to go after them for Jesus with the same tenacity we pursue the family units we perceive are perfectly intact and capable of raising our churches’ monthly giving?

We should lead the way in welcoming gay attendees into the faith. We should assist them in their journey with God and in pursuing Him more deeply.

During my time as the executive pastor of Free Chapel in Orange Co., Calif., I vividly remember the debates and friction caused by Proposition 8 (the state’s same-sex marriage amendment). Tension in and out of the churches in California was at an all-time high.

Our strategy at Free Chapel for diffusing the tension was to invite and welcome homosexuals into our church body. Many ministries joined together and strategized on how to reach out to this community in love, while others regretfully chose the other path of exclusion.

This issue and so many others can be summed up like this: Until something attacks your family, it isn’t likely to be at the forefront of your concerns. But when it does, then it becomes real in your life, and your opinion about it changes.

How Did Our Story End?

My family lived through this HIV attack on my brother. We watched an incredibly talented and intelligent young man lose the physical battle. My brother passed away as a result of HIV at age 28.

My perspective toward the gay community was changed by my undying love for my brother. His life and struggles taught me to love in ways I never knew before.

Do I have any doubt about his eternity? No. One choice secured his eternity in Christ and removed past transgressions, just like it has for me—the guy who has just written a Christian inspirational book, who blogs and who stands in the pulpit of a great church on Sundays.

God doesn’t play favorites, and we can’t earn His favor with our good deeds. Since God is “no respecter of persons” (see Acts 10:34-35), my brother and I will one day reunite with my sister, who also passed away at much too early an age. My brother was gloriously saved, and through his life we’ve learned more about the Father’s love.

I have so much respect for the way Eddie lived his final months just waiting to meet his Savior face to face. He lived in almost total seclusion his last few months. It was his way of resisting the temptations that were on the other side of his apartment door. His flesh wasn’t strong enough to be out in public without wanting to participate in some of the things that took his life, so he stayed indoors and protected his eternity. How many of us could do the same to avoid our area of temptation?

What We Must Do

Chances are, you or someone close to you has a loved one who is living a homosexual life. God wants you to love them unconditionally. Here are three simple ways we all can do this.

1. Show them Jesus. Please love them, welcome them and minister to them. A church and its people “loved” my brother back into a relationship with Jesus that ultimately secured his destiny into heaven!

2. Get real about sin. Let’s realize that we all have a natural inclination to certain things that challenge our walk with God. On the sin scale, is homosexual fornication different than heterosexual fornication? No. Yet do we condone heterosexual fornication more readily than homosexual fornication? I would say most of us do. Sin is sin, wrong is wrong, and any sin breaks God’s heart.

3. Pour on the grace. Make no mistake; we are to follow the Bible in its entirety. The instruction manual is clear, and we are to resist all temptations. But we all fall from time to time (see 1 John 2:1-2). Even though Peter denied Christ three times (and yes, he walked on water with Jesus), he was not disqualified from a wonderful purpose. It was Peter who was used to preach on the day of Pentecost. God gave him a place to fit in.

My plea to the body of Christ is before you judge or form an opinion, before you shun or disqualify one of God’s own children, think about this: Where would this person fit in to Jesus’ group?

I’ve served as a church leader at many churches and heard every reason for why “We can’t let this or that happen, pastor!” But I know this as Eddie’s brother: If we had created a place for him to serve, to use his gifts and talents, and to be celebrated, he might still be with us today. Just maybe part of God’s plan for my brother was to open our eyes to his dilemma.

When looking at the gay and lesbian community, there are many factors that churches and organizations should research and understand. But when it’s all said and done, I hope our conclusion is one of love, compassion and an attempt to show Jesus to any and all who are outside the body of Christ, for any reason.

We must go after the Eddies of the world for Jesus. In doing so I believe we can make a difference to a community of people—and make them God’s people.


Richie Hughes is an agent/manager for authors and music artists, and an in-demand speaker for churches and businesses. He is the former executive pastor of Free Chapel church, pastored by Jentezen Franklin. His latest book, Start Here, Go Anywhere, released in August. For more information, visit richiehughes.org.

How Can I Stay “Christian” in the Midst of Temptation?

SOURCE:  Jonathan Parnell/Desiring God

Joy Comes to the Rescue

Your heart matters. It really, really matters.

The heart, after all, is the “noble faculty of the soul,” as John Flavel explains in his 1668 publication now titled, Keeping the Heart. Most generally, the heart refers to the inner man, and most importantly, a person’s everlasting state depends upon its condition.

Writing in a style more practical than sliced bread, Flavel exhorts Christians to give their hearts upmost attention.

Be diligent in heart-work, he says, which eventually translates into two things: 1) preserve the soul from sin; and 2) maintain sweet communion with God (18). Said another way, repent and believe; or mortify and vivify; or put off and put on. This work is “one great business of a Christian’s life.”

The Hour of Temptation

After stating his case and laying a strong foundation, Flavel rolls up his sleeves to describe specific seasons in life that require our upmost care in this keeping labor. The ninth “season” is the hour of temptation, and this is where it gets wild.

How does Flavel urge Christians to stay Christian in the midst of temptation?

Answer: pleasure.

His advice begins with our understanding the nature of sin.

He writes, “Satan suggests that there is pleasure to be enjoyed; the temptation is presented with a smiling aspect and an enticing voice” (89). Flavel goes on to mimic this enticing voice that rebukes the Christian for being so dull. Temptation is full of name-calling, you know. Oh come on! You’re not like that, are you? Are you so boring that you can’t have a little fun? And a thousand other lies.

Reader, Be Rescued

As if placing his hands on our shoulders, Flavel writes: “Reader, you may be rescued from the danger of such temptations by repelling the proposal of pleasure.” See what Flavel did here: we avoid the danger of temptation by repelling its proposal of pleasure. And how we repel temptation’s proposal of pleasure is by clinging to the hope of a greater pleasure.

Flavel again:

But why should the pretended pleasure of sin allure you, when you know that unspeakably more real pleasure will arise from the mortification than can arise from the commission of sin? Will you prefer the gratification of some unhallowed passion, with the deadly poison which it will leave behind, to that sacred pleasure which arises from fearing and obeying God, complying with the dictates of conscience, and maintaining inward peace? (90)

For Maximum Joy

There is a greater pleasure than the empty-promise of sin.

It is “that sacred pleasure,” as Flavel calls it. It is the life of fearing and obeying God, of believing the truth that God himself is enough, satisfying our deepest desires. And the only way, John Piper explains, to defeat the power of sin’s promise is with the power of this superior promise. The crux of temptation, then, is the object of our faith: Do we trust in the lies of sin? Or in the sufficiency of Jesus? This is the fight of faith, as John Piper writes,

Faith is not content with “fleeting pleasures” [see Hebrews 11:24–26]. It is ravenous for joy. And the Word of God says, “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). So faith will not be sidetracked into sin. It will not give up so easily in its quest for maximum joy. . . .

Our chief enemy is the lie that says sin will make our future happier. Our chief weapon is the truth that says God will make our future happier. And faith is the victory that overcomes the lie, because faith is satisfied with God. (Future Grace, 335, 336)

Keeping our hearts means giving ourselves over and over again to “that sacred pleasure.”

It’s when, in that moment of temptation, real joy comes to the rescue.

A Good Day I Must Never Forget

Source:  taken from Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners by John Bunyan [born 1628]

113. I had, also, once a sweet glance from that in II Cor. 5.21: ‘For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.’ I remember, also, that one day as I was sitting in a neighbour’s house, and there very sad at the consideration of my many blasphemies, and as I was saying in my mind, What ground have I to think that I, who have been so vile and abominable, should ever inherit eternal life? that word came suddenly upon me, ‘What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?’ (Rom. 8.31). That, also, was an help unto me, ‘Because I live, ye shall live also’ (John 14.19). But these were but hints, touches, and short visits, though very sweet when present; only they lasted not; but, like to Peter’s sheet, of a sudden were caught up from me to heaven again (Acts 10.16).

 
114. But afterwards the Lord did more fully and graciously discover Himself unto me; and, indeed, did quite, not only deliver me from the guilt that, by these things, was laid upon my conscience, but also from the very filth thereof; for the temptation was removed, and I was put into my right mind again, as other Christians were.

 
115. I remember that one day, as I was travelling into the country and musing on the wickedness and blasphemy of my heart, and considering of the enmity that was in me to God, that scripture came in my mind, He hath ‘made peace through the blood of his cross’ (Col. 1.20). By which I was made to see, both again, and again, and again, that day, that God and my soul were friends by this blood;

yea, I saw that the justice of God and my sinful soul could embrace and kiss each other through this blood.

This was a good day to me; I hope I shall not forget it.

———————————————————————————————————————————————
Bunyan, J. (1995). Grace abounding to the chief of sinners (57–58). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

Defend against Temptation

SOURCE:  Charles Stanley/In Touch Ministries

Read | James 1:12-16

To build a defense against temptation, we must understand how it works.

Every sin originates as a thought, often the result of a flaming arrow the Evil One shoots our way (Eph. 6:16). If a believer holds on to the thought, it becomes a fantasy—the chance to imagine what it would be like to pursue that notion without actually doing so. The problem with fantasies is that they can easily become entangled with a person’s emotions. This creates a desire, which brings the believer to the point where a choice must be made: he or she must either consent to the sin or refuse. This process is quite dangerous, as the progression from thought to choice can be almost instantaneous.

Wise believers determine ahead of time to resist temptation—before it enters their consciousness. There are two cornerstones to a good defense: the commitment to obey God, and the recognition that He is in control and has limited what Satan can do (1 Cor. 10:13).

We can further fortify our defense when temptation actually comes. Satan has a way of spotlighting the pleasure of sin until that’s all we see. But with conscious effort, we can retrain our focus to take in the bigger picture: Is this choice a violation of God’s Word? What are the consequences? Am I prepared to pay that price?

No defense against temptation is complete without Scripture and prayer. Every moment spent meditating on the Word and communicating with God builds our faith. As the bulwark around our mind and heart strengthens, we are ever more prepared to douse Satan’s flaming arrows.

Deal Wisely with Temptation

SOURCE:  Charles Stanley/In Touch Ministries

Read | 1 Corinthians 10:12-13

Common sense dictates that a pilot trainee flying for the first time in a squall needs to be quite cautious. But a wise seasoned pilot knows that he must be just as watchful in his hundredth storm as in the first. Despite thousands of flight hours and years of experience, he can still be brought down by bad weather unless he is proactive.

Temptation is a lot like an unexpected storm that sweeps in and damages those who are caught unaware. Like a good pilot, a believer must be alert to the approach of temptation and prepared to ride it out. In this life, none of us reach a level of maturity at which sinful enticements lose all their power.

Understanding our own weaknesses is an important part of being watchful and prepared. In which areas are you most vulnerable? What we commonly think of as “huge sins”—like adultery and murder—are not what land most people in hot water. It’s usually a multitude of “little sins” that lead to big trouble. Temptation is an invitation to carry any God-given desire beyond its God-given limits. Take one step over the line, and soon there is inducement to take another. And then another. Unless you correct the course quickly, you could find yourself estranged from the Father and overwhelmed by guilt and shame.

The issue of temptation cannot be ignored. Know where you are vulnerable, so you can prepare a defense. Learn when and how you’re most likely to be lured, and take extra precautions in those situations. And always look for the escape route that God promised to those who are tempted (1 Cor. 10:13).

Pornography: Q & A — Should I Marry A Man With Porn Struggles?

SOURCE:  Russell Moore

Should I Marry a Man with Pornography Struggles?

A couple of months ago, I posted a question about an ethical dilemma a recently engaged woman is facing. She just found out that her spouse to-be has had “ongoing struggles with pornography.” She isn’t sure what to do, or how to make sure the issue is sufficiently addressed. You gave your thoughts on the issue, and here are mine.

Dear Engaged and Confused,

Far too many women are watching “The Notebook” or “Twilight” for indicators on what kind of man they should marry. Instead, you probably should watch “The Wolf Man.”

Have you ever seen any of those old werewolf movies? You know, those in which the terrified man, dripping with sweat, chains himself in the basement and says to his friends, “Whatever you do, no matter what I say or how I beg, don’t let me out of there.” He sees the full-moon coming and he’s taking action to protect everyone against himself.

In a very real sense, that’s what the Christian life is about. We all have points of vulnerability, areas of susceptibility to sin and self-destruction. There are beings afoot in the universe who watch these points and who know how to collaborate with our biology and our environment to slaughter us.

Wisdom means knowing where those weak points are, recognizing deception for what it is, and warring against ourselves in order to maintain fidelity to Christ and to those God has given us.

What worries me about your situation is not that your potential husband has a weakness for pornography, but that you are just now finding out about it. That tells me he either doesn’t see it as the marriage-engulfing horror that it is, or that he has been too paralyzed with shame.

What you need is not a sinless man. You need a man deeply aware of his sin and of his potential for further sin. You need a man who can see just how capable he is of destroying himself and your family. And you need a man with the wisdom to, as Jesus put it, gouge out whatever is dragging him under to self-destruction.

This means a man who knows how to subvert himself. I’d want to know who in his life knows about the porn and how they, with him, are working to see to it that he can’t transgress without exposure. I’d want to know from him how he plans to see to it that he can’t hide this temptation from you, after the marriage.

It may mean that the nature of his temptation means that you two shouldn’t have computer in the house. It might mean that you have immediate transcription of all his Internet activity. It might be all sorts of obstacles that he’s placing in his way. The point is that, in order to love you,  he must fight (Eph. 5:25; Jn. 10), and part of that fight will be against himself.

Pornography is a universal temptation precisely because it does exactly what the satanic powers wish to do. It lashes out at the Trinitarian nature of reality, a loving communion of persons, replacing it with a masturbatory Unitarianism.

And pornography strikes out against the picture of Christ and his church by disrupting the one-flesh union, leaving couples like our prehistoric ancestors, hiding from one another and from God in the darkness of shame.

And pornography rages, as Satan always does, against Incarnation (1 Jn. 4:2-3), replacing flesh-to-flesh intimacy with the illusion of fleshless intimacy.

There’s not a guarantee that you can keep your marriage from infidelity, either digital or carnal, but you can make sure the man you’re following into it knows the stakes, knows how to repent, and knows the meaning of fighting the world, the flesh, and the devil all the way to a cross.

In short, find a man who knows what his “full moon” is, what it is that drives him to vulnerability to his beastly self. Find a man who knows how to subvert himself, and how to ask others to help.

You won’t find a silver bullet for all of this, but you just might find a gospel-clinging wolf man.

(Image Credit)

Being “trapped” is exactly where Satan wants us

 SOURCE: Adapted from an article at:   Lighthouse Network/Stepping Stones

Addictions – the Stone Gods

As kids, none of us set out with the goal of feeling trapped in an addiction.

Sadly, after a slow and insidious beginning, that is the ultimate end for all addictive behaviors: enslavement.

Addictions make us slaves to that object. Some people can feel the enslavement very specifically. Others are fooled into thinking they aren’t enslaved, because the takeover is so subtle and usually occurs over a big chunk of time. The reality is, we easily become slaves to the objects that soothe us. Being “trapped” is exactly where Satan wants us. He cleverly disguises our addiction objects. Because we aren’t stupid, and really don’t want to be slaves, Satan has to be subtle and crafty to help us progress down the enslavement pathway.

People can find themselves obsessively and compulsively hooked on almost anything. The object of desire for an addict is always staring them right in the face.

For some it’s using food as a source of comfort. For others it can be substances, control, relationships, anger, spending, Facebook, the phone, sports, TV, anxiety, panic attacks, guilt, fear, hobbies, money, power (think parent tactics), a loud and intimidating voice, the silent treatment, avoidance … man, the list is endless. Just think of how many times these responses or objects got you into trouble, yet you still do them. That is enslavement.

People caught up in an addiction have replaced God with an idol.

They have found something that promises a good time, makes things better or easier to deal with, or makes the pain or struggle go away. What entered life as an understanding resource, tool, friend, or savior quickly became a cruel master.

The problem with idols is that they are chosen because we want what we think they can give us, not because of what they actually are. We believe that they will do something for us, so we give them our devotion. But they are actually stone gods … illusions and lies that give us a little, but then trap us by interfering with the full, long term relief that going to God will actually bring in-full.

Today, know and spread the news that for believers there is great hope. We are not alone in our addictions. No matter where we are, the Holy Spirit is within us and intercedes for us before God.

When you are uncomfortable emotionally, notice what you turn to for soothing. Today’s scripture tells us that we are “crucified with Christ, therefore we no longer live, but it is Christ who lives within us.”

This is the truth: we do not struggle alone. Christ is with us, and in Him we are free. When we are focused on Him, we can find the strength we need for freedom and victory over all our addictions. Your decision, so choose well.

Prayer

Dear Father God, Today more than ever I need You to live up to that divine title of Savior. I need You to save me from myself, my addictions, my fear, my burdens. I am so tired of trying to do it on my own. I am weary and exhausted, stressed out and alone. Come to me and save me. Free me from my fears and help me to hold onto You, so that my life, dreams, and hopes can be renewed. I pray this in the name of the One whom You sent to set me free from all enslavement, Jesus Christ;  – AMEN!

The Truth

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,

Isaiah 61:1

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.

Galatians 2:20

The Devil’s Playbook

SOURCE:  Ray Ortlund

We are not ignorant of his designs.  2 Corinthians 2:11

The Bible reveals to us the devil’s playbook. How does he aim to defeat us? To begin with, in these four ways:

One, a judgmental attitude. In this passage in 2 Corinthians, the devil designs to make a church into a harsh environment, where people are “overwhelmed by excessive sorrow” (verse 7). Such a church stops feeling like Jesus. It starts feeling like a scene out of Kafka. How to defeat this satanic design? Repent of self-righteous judgments, and eagerly communicate Jesus’ forgiveness, inclusion, honor.

Two, normal human instincts. In Matthew 16:21-23, Jesus rebukes Peter, through whom Satan is speaking. How did Peter open up to, of all things, satanic influence? Not by consciously opening up to satanic influence. All he did was think in normal human ways (“setting your mind on the things of man”). All he did was set his heart on survival, making the way of the cross unthinkable. Another of the devil’s designs. How to defeat him? Die to selfish survival.

Three, a spirit of accusation. In Revelation 12:10 the devil is exposed as “the accuser.” Another of his designs is to pierce our hearts with accusing thoughts about our sins – or even sins we haven’t necessarily committed, but we fear we have, or others say we have. He spreads a mist of vague anxiety within ourselves and dark suspicion of others. How to defeat this defeat? Run to the cross for all our sins, and refuse to counter-accuse against our accusers. A calm explanation might help at the interpersonal level. But if the negative emotions are really intense, the only thing to do is not make the feeding-frenzy worse. Wait on God to vindicate you.

Four, lying in order to win. In John 8:44 Jesus calls Satan “the father of lies.” It is his nature to lie, to deceive, to distort and twist and confuse. He spreads his trademark behavior to others, especially in scenes of ungodly conflict. He uses half-truths, self-serving accounts, spin. How to defeat him? Admit the plain truth, all of it, however embarrassing it might be. We won’t die. We will find it to be freeing. Our safety and joy are always found in honesty before God and one another.

We have an enemy, and we know his strategies. As C. S. Lewis taught us in The Screwtape Letters, we should neither ignore him nor obsess about him. But fixing our eyes on Jesus, we can crush Satan under our feet (Romans 16:20) by humbly staying in, or humbly returning to, the ways of the gospel.

Never Underestimate The DEVIL!

SOURCE:  J. C. Ryle

Let it never surprise us, if we are tempted by the devil.

Let us rather expect it, as a matter of course, if we are living members of Christ.

The Master’s lot will be the lot of His disciples. That mighty spirit who did not fear to attack Jesus himself, is still going about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. That murderer and liar who vexed Job, and overthrew David and Peter, still lives, and is not yet bound.

If he cannot rob us of heaven, he will at any rate make our journey there painful. If he cannot destroy our souls, he will at least bruise our heels (Gen. 3:15). Let us beware of despising him, or thinking lightly of his power.

Let us rather put on the whole armor of God, and cry to the Lord for strength. “Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

~ J.C. Ryle

Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Luke volume 1, [Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1986], 108, 109. {Luke 4:1-13}

Everyday IDOLS: Have One? You Bet!!

What competes with God for your affections?

SOURCE:  Discipleship Journal/Stacey Padrick

Riiinnngggg !!!

The doorbell outside the lobby of my apartment building alerted me to an unexpected visitor. I suspected it might be the man I had been admiring for some time. But my immediate thought was, Whoever it is, I can’t answer it! My apartment and I were both a mess, and I was not prepared for a Saturday morning visitor.

After much deliberation, I finally pushed the buzzer to allow him into the building. But by then he had already gone. I felt awful about not answering the door. As I expressed my regret to the Lord, I sensed that something more significant than a mere lack of hospitality had motivated my actions.

“Why was I so reluctant to welcome him in, Lord?” I questioned. Having recently studied the topic of idolatry, the answer hit me hard: I had made my image into an idol. What people thought of me had become too important. Though I could have given 100 softer-sounding explanations, I knew that only this one revealed the root of my response.

“Idolatry? That sounds a little extreme,” one might argue. “Isn’t idolatry about pagans in the Old Testament bowing down before gold or wooden images? We don’t prostrate ourselves before statues; what does idolatry have to do with us today?”

To answer these questions, we must look at the essence of idol worship: the spiritual posture of a worshiper’s heart. When we do so, we will discover that everyday idols are still a strong temptation for believers.

God’s View of Idolatry

In the Old Testament, people looked to idols for provision, meaning, significance, and identity. Worshipers bent their knees in submission and devotion to the idols they believed could save them. When the unfaithful Israelites turned to idolatry, God asked, “But where are your gods which you made for yourself? Let them arise, if they can save you in the time of your trouble; for according to the number of your cities are your gods, O Judah” (Jer. 2:28, NASB). But God made it clear that only He could save them. “You were not to know any god except Me, for there is no savior besides Me” (Hos. 13:4, NASB). His people were to worship Him alone.

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol. . . . You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God.

Ex. 20:2–5, NASB

So abhorrent was idolatry in His sight, God commanded the Israelites not to leave even a remnant of the pagan peoples they conquered:

Tear down their altars, and smash their sacred pillars . . . and burn their graven images with fire. . . . And you shall consume all the peoples whom the Lord your God will deliver to you; your eye shall not pity them, neither shall you serve their gods, for that would be a snare to you.

Dt. 7:5, 16, NASB

Yet despite these clear commands, book after book in the Old Testament drips with the tears of those who strayed to follow false gods. When the Israelites failed to destroy the pagan altars as God instructed, the idols of those nations ensnared their hearts. Though the prophets entreated God’s people to repent many times, Israel continued to live in rebellion. In righteous wrath, God ultimately responded by destroying Jerusalem with plagues, famine, war, and captivity (Ezekiel 6–11). Clearly, God took His people’s infidelity very seriously, and His response was severe.

Promises, Promises

“But that was in the Old Testament. Do we need to be concerned about idolatry today?” some might ask. We, too, fall prey to serving other gods by sacrificing the best of our time, energy, and attention to them instead of the Lord. Idolatry today takes many forms, from careers, entertainment, technology, and relationships to physiques, fashion, stock portfolios, and cars.

Though the shapes of contemporary idols may differ from those in the Old Testament, the temptation of idolatry—looking to something other than God for what only He can provide—remains strong. In the New Testament, Paul admonishes, “My beloved, flee from idolatry” (1 Cor. 10:14, NASB). No matter what the century, idolatry threatens to ensnare God’s people.

But we must go further than simply identifying the typical idols in our culture. For the sin of idolatry does not lie primarily in the object we worship, but in the act of worshiping anything other than God. The root of idolatry lies within us, for we set up idols in our hearts (Ezk. 14:3).

God created us with hearts that long to worship. Ever since the fall, Satan has corrupted our passion to worship the Creator and redirected our hearts toward created things. The problem, then, is not that our hearts are prone to worship, but that they are prone to wander. “Thus says the Lord to this people, ‘Even so they have loved to wander'” (Jer. 14:10, NASB).

When we allow anything apart from God to rule us, compel us, or control us, we have created an idol.

For example, does God want us to love our family and children? Yes! But when we allow these God-given gifts to define our worth and value, we make them into idols. Martin Luther pointed out, “Whatever your heart clings to and relies upon, that is your God.” We worship idols when we look to something other than God to fulfill our deepest needs, satisfy our longings, give us hope, or define our identity.

Many idols are not inherently “bad.” Money, for example, is not a bad thing; the love of money is (1 Tim. 6:10). God’s blessings—love, family, hard work, exercise, food, sex, ministry—become idols when we begin to set our hearts on them above God. John Calvin observed, “The evil in our desires typically does not lie in what we want, but that we want it too much.”

Idols promise everything we desire: love, acceptance, worth, happiness. But they deliver bondage. Glistening like a spider’s web, idols intrigue and lure us but ultimately ensnare our hearts and lives. The lie of the idol hisses: “You cannot be truly fulfilled or have significance unless you have _____.” We begin thinking, Unless that person esteems me, I am of little worth. Unless I am married, I cannot be fulfilled. Unless I graduate with honors, I’m not valuable. Unless I have a date to the prom, I am a nobody. Unless I work at a well-known company . . . Unless my children excel at school … Unless I am financially successful. . . . But these idols can never deliver us or save us; God alone claims that privilege, and He asks us to set our hearts upon Him, not the things of this world (Col. 3:1–3, 1 Jn. 2:15–17).

Destroying the Destroyers

Our enemy diligently seeks to keep us enslaved to idols. Satan will whisper that our idols are harmless and insignificant, certainly not worth the effort it takes to destroy them. But when God’s people did not totally destroy their idols and those of their captives, idolatry plagued the Israelites for generations. When we allow anything to usurp God’s place in our hearts, we estrange ourselves from Him (Ezk. 14:5).

God wants to set us free from enslavement to false gods. Following are some ways we can begin to unshackle ourselves from the idols in our lives.

Unveil them. As we have already begun doing, we must detect and expose the idols in our lives. Prayerfully consider the following list of questions. They are designed to help you unmask any idols in your heart.

  • What preoccupies or rules my heart? Thoughts? Time?
  • What compels me? Controls me? Drives me? Motivates me?
  • To what does my heart cling?
  • What competes for my time with God?
  • What gives me a sense of worth? What defines my identity before others?
  • What do I crave?
  • If everything else were taken away, what is one thing I could not bear to live without?
  • Am I looking to something or someone to provide what only God can?
  • What do family or close friends think may be idols in my life? (Often others can see more clearly what we are too close to see.)

Remember, idols are not necessarily “bad” things. We can make idols of good, even “spiritual,” things. The Israelites worshiped foreign gods not only on pagan altars but even on altars within God’s own temple (Ezk. 8:16). Similarly, we may also erect false gods on altars within our churches and ministries. Consider the following potential idols:

  • Our strengths. Our culture and pride tempt us to rely upon our own strength, yet God calls us to depend wholly upon His strength.
  • Our gifts. We are often prone to rely more upon our God-given gifts than upon God’s Spirit to empower our ministry.
  • Our ministry. No matter how worthy our ministry, if we make it our central focus, we’ve created an idol.
  • Our productivity. We look to our achievements and accomplishments to validate our worth before God and others.

Repent of them. “Thus says the Lord God, ‘Repent and turn away from your idols'” (Ezk. 14:6, NASB). Isaiah instructs us in what to do with our idols: “Throw them away like a menstrual cloth!” (Is. 30:22). For some, that might mean throwing away (or at least fasting from) the things that hold sway in our hearts: TV, a leadership responsibility, a form of entertainment, a material item, coffee, a relationship. For others it may mean limiting the amount of time, money, thinking, or energy expended on potential idols. Dedicate the time previously devoted to an idol (such as working overtime, watching sports, surfing the net, serving on a church committee) to the Lord. Sit at His feet and delight in Him.

Again, none of these pursuits is necessarily wrong, but if we find ourselves serving them with the best or the bulk of our time, energy, and devotion, we may be worshiping them as idols.

Return to unadulterated fellowship with God. “Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity” (Hos. 14:1, NASB). God is jealous for our hearts and devotion. Just as a husband would grieve if his wife desired another man, so God grieves when we turn to false gods and become enamored with them: “How I have been hurt by their adulterous hearts which turned away from Me, and by their eyes, which played the harlot after their idols” (Ezk. 6:9, NASB).

Yet, knowing our waywardness, God reaches out to restore our fellowship with Him.

“Return, faithless Israel,” declares the Lord. “I will not look upon you in anger. For I am gracious. . . . I will not be angry forever. Only acknowledge your iniquity, that you have transgressed against the Lord your God. . . . Return, O faithless sons, I will heal your faithlessness.”

Jer. 3:12–13, 22, NASB

And again in Hosea, He promises, “I will heal their apostasy, I will love them freely” (Hos. 14:4, NASB). In His ultimate act of love, God took the initiative to reconcile us through Christ while we were yet sinners (Ro. 5:8).

Vigilantly guard against new idols. Just when we think we have forever banished false gods, idols in new clothing will arise to tempt us. John, like Paul, warned his readers, “Little children, guard yourselves from idols” (1 Jn. 5:21, NASB). When we move to a new place, develop a new relationship, or enter into any new circumstance, dazzling idols lure us to worship them.

For example, when I moved to England to pursue graduate work, an air of intellectualism pervaded the university. I found myself prone to overly esteem well-known scholars in my field and to base my self-worth upon my academic performance.

More recently, I moved to San Francisco, a very image- and fashion-conscious city. Here I must guard my heart against allowing my appearance to become a god that I serve with my time, money, and energy. I must also be careful not to trust in my appearance to establish my sense of worth as a person.

At Rest in God

On any given day, our hearts are prone to wander. We must continually ask ourselves, “Who or what is ruling my thoughts and behavior: the Lord or an idol?” Idolatry drives us to seek life from false gods; they are never capable of providing it. As we devote ourselves to knowing God more intimately, we will be less likely to buy into the lies of false gods when they promise what only He can deliver.

We are a worshiping people, created to freely worship and serve God. He abhors idolatry because He knows that when we serve anything else, it will enslave and ultimately destroy us. Only worshiping Him will satisfy our soul’s deepest hunger for the food we’ve been craving in idols. Only in worshiping God, and God alone, can our hearts finally rest.

Our Soul Enemy

SOURCE:  Tom Eisenman/Discipleship Journal

The first rule of war is to know your enemy.

When the satellite TV company offered us—their “preferred customers”—a three-months-free package of movie channels, my wife, Judie, and I said, “Sure, sign us up.” If nothing else, we’d save a bundle on movie rentals while the kids were visiting us over the holidays.

What were we thinking?

Judie and I had known we’d need to make discerning choices about what we watched. But we totally underestimated the tsunami of violence, nudity, bad language, and unabashed affronts to a godly lifestyle that would flood our home once we got hooked up. Two days later, we called and cancelled.

This experience brought to mind again the Apostle Peter’s warning: “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). In this case our relationship with God was at risk of being devoured with each image and sound bite.

Devilish Tactics

The Bible clearly teaches that a powerful evil being called Satan rules over dark powers in this world and also over forces of evil that inhabit the heavenly realms (Eph. 6:12). He appears to be motivated largely by anger and envy; he was banished forever from the very paradise to which we, as God’s children, are now heirs. And so he aggressively opposes both the people of God and the work of God (1 Thess. 2:18,Mt. 13:37–39).

Satan’s aliases suggest the typical strategies he employs against us. He is called the tempter (Mt. 4:3), the father of lies (Jn. 8:44), and the accuser of God’s people (Rev. 12:10). He is always looking for ways to wreak havoc in a believer’s life and will employ any or all of the above tactics—tempting, deceiving, accusing—to diminish or demoralize God’s people. Knowing his tactics will help us stand against him.

How tempting! First, let’s look at Satan’s role as tempter. How does Satan entice us? James describes the evil process this way: “Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed” (Jas. 1:14).

James leans heavily on fishing imagery in this verse. We are like hungry fish, lured by the bait. The evil fisherman knows us well: our appetites, our obsessions, the potentially dangerous power in our suppressed angers. His lure will be personal and powerful. Whatever our particular desire, he will dangle it in front of us to entice us and drag us away from God.

If you are captivated by sex, Satan will make certain that opportunities to satisfy your fantasies are readily available. If your battle is with envy or jealousy, you will meet people at every turn who have more than you do or who have succeeded in areas where you have failed. If you are susceptible to anger, you will struggle to forgive a person who has offended you, finding it nearly impossible to get the incident out of your mind.

Weapons of mass deception. One can visit the Garden of Eden for a revealing picture of Satan’s next role: deceiver. The entire entrapment of Adam and Eve is a network of lies, deception, and half-truths (Genesis 3).

Satan asks Eve what God said about the tree in the center of the garden. She says God warned them not to eat of it or they would die. Satan responds,

You will not surely die…For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God.

—vv. 4–5

In two brief lines he calls God a liar and implies that God has ulterior motives for withholding His best from the first couple. Further, Satan deceives Eve by suggesting that she can gain equality with God by taking things into her own hands.

Satan will similarly engage each of us. He will subtly invite us into dialogue about what God actually said or, more slippery yet, what God might have meant by what He said. We may find ourselves rationalizing why something we’ve always considered to be wrong might be acceptable in this particular case. Or an inner voice will convince us to indulge in something that will ultimately deliver only grief and pain. I deserve it, we reason, as hard as I’ve been working lately. Besides, everybody else is doing the same thing, and it doesn’t seem to be hurting them.

Remember, the devil has been around aeons longer than we have. He has been studying human nature and behavior from the beginning. He knows what lies we are most likely to believe. And he will not hesitate to use them against us.

I stand accused. Accusation is Satan’s third attack strategy. He uses this tactic to demoralize us and make us feel unworthy of a relationship with God.

Satan moves to the “accuser mode” after he has succeeded at tempting and deceiving us. In his roles as tempter and deceiver, the evil one whispers how sweet sin will be. “After all,” he reminds us, “God is a God of grace, mercy, and love. Nothing to worry about! You can always repent. Forgiveness will be easy.”

But once we take the bait, Satan changes his tactics. We’ve sinned, the glow has dimmed, and now reality hits. In that moment when the shame and emptiness of sin strikes, we’ll likely also hear a sneer within: “And you call yourself a Christian!” Now Satan is all over us about what losers we are, how unworthy we are to name the name of Christ, how undeserving we are of His costly love.

Have you noticed the common thread in these three strategies of the enemy? Whether he is acting as tempter, deceiver, or accuser, all these assaults are launched as attacks on our minds.

Messing with Our Minds

Let’s look at some specific ways Satan may try to invade the territory of our minds.

Commandeering our imaginations. Imagination is a wonderful gift from God. I believe it is given to us so that we can envision all we might do and become according to God’s power at work in and through us. But our imaginations are also vulnerable to Satan’s enticements, lies, and accusations.

Consider Eve. Satan shrewdly set her up to fantasize about grasping equality with God. The image was powerful, exciting, irresistible; any thought of following God in obedience and devotion paled in comparison. She ate, and then she became the devil’s advocate by inviting Adam to join her.

Fostering obsession. Another common strategy Satan employs to keep us off-balance is to feed our tendency to obsess. He will do anything to get our focus off of God and onto ourselves or our problems.

For instance, one person’s obsession might be guilt. As Satan keeps the image of her failures vividly alive, a healthy, active conscience is usurped by obsessive thoughts about how bad she has been. Remember, Satan is the accuser. His barrage of condemnation locks her inside herself and blinds her to the light of God’s forgiving grace.

One of my weaknesses is out-of-control worry. When my concerns are infected by the evil one, it’s like I have a video tape in my mind that won’t shut off. Over and over I replay an ugly list of what-if’s: What if this happens! What if that happens! Satan is playing on my fears, and fear always takes my focus off of God and places it on myself.

We are all vulnerable in some area. The evil one is prowling around, looking for host cells in which to plant one of his powerful obsession viruses.

Confusing our sense of what’s right. As we have seen, the deceiver loves to convince us that taking an action that is against God’s will can actually produce something good.

A person may conclude that it makes perfect sense to murder the doctor at the abortion clinic to save the lives of unborn children. Another might slip into a sexual encounter with a coworker, thinking that a temporary fling is just what’s needed to recharge the romance in a lackluster marriage.

Supersizing the initial pleasure. Satan also messes with our minds by ensuring that a first foray into sensual sin yields the greatest possible pleasure. By supersizing that initial experience, he hooks us into a pattern of committing the sin again and again in an attempt to recapture that first-time intensity. When indulging in the same experience doesn’t do it any longer, we up the ante.

A friend of mine started down this road when she tried marijuana. Over time she wound up addicted to heroin, which gave her the rush she could no longer get from other drugs. Finally clean after years of struggling with the addiction, she described her experience to me as “one big high, and the rest was killing pain.”

This is the nature of bondage to Satan: He works to produce in us a greater and greater appetite for a steadily decreasing pleasure. In the end, there is no pleasure at all. Only the raw hunger remains.

Encouraging isolation. In another mind-messing tactic, Satan tries to convince us that we can deal with our struggles on our own. Once we buy into this deception, we are less inclined to seek help and prayer support when we need it most. So we fail, and fail again, and fail again—and tell no one. Ashamed, we slip away altogether from fellowship with other Christians. Finally, isolated and alone, we pose no threat to the evil one’s deadly devices.

Distorting the truth about the reality of evil. The most effective mind trick of all is to downplay the truth about evil. If we don’t believe we have an enemy, we will spend no time preparing for spiritual battle. The truth is, as soon as we name Jesus as our personal savior we pick up enemies—all those evil beings pitted against the purposes of God. A spiritual battle is raging, and we are in the thick of it. If we refuse to believe it, we play into Satan’s hands.

Master Minds

Though these tactics may sound harrowing, we haven’t been left defenseless. Following are a few biblical strategies for defending ourselves against these attacks on the mind.

Guard your thought life. The Apostle Paul was apparently no stranger to assaults on the mind. He wrote,

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

—2 Cor. 10:5, emphasis mine

In Phil. 4:8, Paul urges us to fill our minds with those things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. This is strong encouragement to make choices that strengthen and guard the territory of our minds.

This strategy helped me recently with a man I have struggled to forgive. He pretended to be my friend but behind my back was spreading rumors about me that helped advance his career. The evil one loves to use a situation like this to plant anger and bitterness. Yet I remembered Jesus’ admonition to love and pray for our enemies (Mt. 5:44). Praying for an enemy is a powerful way to stake out the territory of our minds for the Lord.

Every time ugly thoughts about this man popped into my head and I felt anger rising again, I chose to pray for him. More than once, right after praying for the man and his family, I ran into him in a store or saw him drive by. Encountering him in person helped me sense immediately and thankfully how my thoughts had changed for the better.

Remember who you are. Often we don’t realize the full range of spiritual resources that has been passed on to us. In Ephesians 1, Paul prays that Christians will

know the hope to which [God] has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.

—vv. 18–19

If we know the truth about our victory in Christ, nothing the evil one does can steal our hope. A growing knowledge of our heavenly inheritance will sustain us when Satan loads on the doubt or tempts and accuses us. And if we know and really grasp the fact that the very power that raised Jesus from the dead is available to each of us, we will not fear the enemy’s attacks.

I have found it helpful to fill my mind with the truths in Ephesians 1. I’ve not only read this chapter repeatedly, I’ve also committed it to memory so I can carry it with me at all times. When temptations, doubts, or accusations assail me, my immediate response is to choose to remember who I am in Christ and all the heavenly resources that are at my disposal through my relationship with Him. When compared to the reality of God’s truth, the counterfeit pleasures of Satan grow dim. Instead of a one-time supersized thrill at the front end, the pleasures of true intimacy with God keep growing through time.

Give and receive prayer. Nothing will keep our minds more focused and actively engaged against evil than intercessory prayer. Prayer for one another was the mainstay of the early church. For instance, Paul mentions Epaphras, saying, “He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured” (Col. 4:12). Intercession is the primary ministry through which the community of faith can stand shoulder to shoulder with each other while joining with Jesus in our mutual struggle against the powers of evil.

Never give up.

It is important to remember that, no matter how much we learn about Satan’s strategies, we will not be victorious in every struggle against temptation, deception, or accusation.

As I wrote this article, I was often aware that I had—again—fallen short in some area. As always the evil one was right there to accuse me: How can you write about guarding your mind? Look what you’ve done. Yet I did not stop writing.

Yes, I’ve sinned. Yes, I still sin. But I get up, dust myself off, and keep going because I know my security does not lie in a perfect record. I take comfort in God’s promise through Paul: “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Ro. 8:1). The Spirit gave Paul this breakthrough insight as he was lamenting his own repeated failures (Ro. 7:14–25).

So yes, it is wise to know the tactics of our enemy. This knowledge will help us stay in the fight and make headway. But the enemy should never be our focus. Our focus needs to be on Christ, who saves us and in whom we have our victory. We finally and fully rest our minds and hearts in the truth that “the one who is in [us] is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 Jn. 4:4).

Endure Suffering – Not Until Deliverance, But Because GOD is Worthy

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by Wendy Alsup

There is a moment in the story of Job that disturbs me when I read it. In Job 23, Job is at his lowest point. His children have died, he’s lost all of his money, and he’s covered in painful boils. Everything to which he has given himself in this life has become dust. His comforters don’t bring comfort. He says his complaint is bitter and cries that he doesn’t even know where to look for God. Job, a righteous man by God’s own account, is in a miserable place not by his own foolishness. Really, if anyone deserved serious comfort, by my system of accounting, it was Job.

But, after a long silence, when God finally speaks to Job in chapter 38, His words don’t fit the profile of what I think Job deserves to hear.

1Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: 2″Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? 3 Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. 4″Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.5Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?

God continues on this way for four chapters. “I am GOD, Job! I hung the stars in the sky, created the oceans and every animal in them. Can you do that?! I am all powerful and all knowing. Don’t act like you could possibly know better on any issue than I do.”

I would expect God to say something more comforting–at least as I define comfort. Something like nothing can separate us from the love of God. Or that God works all things together for our good. Or that they who wait on God mount up on wings like eagles. Or that He who began the good work in us will be faithful to complete it. But none of those promises are emphasized here.

Instead, to the guy who was probably at the lowest point of anyone ever named in Scripture, God says, “I am God. I am all powerful. And I know what I’m doing!”

I have been wrestling personally with God over some things in my own life. Recently, I seriously prayed for a word from Him–“God, give me something to make sense of this time in life. Help me know how to think about all this and how to respond in obedience.” I don’t know what I expected, but His word was pretty clear. “Without faith, it is impossible to please Me.” (Hebrews 11:6).

God didn’t tell me that my troubles would soon end or that things would make more sense soon. Instead, He said pretty forcefully, “Trust Me! Believe in Me. I hung the stars in the sky and I know what I’m doing.”

I am reminded that God never explained to Job on earth (at least according to the Scriptural account) the purpose for his suffering. As far as we know, Job didn’t know until heaven what all was going on behind the scenes. In fact, Job’s suffering had no earthly purpose at all. It was fully about proving the trustworthiness of God’s character in the heavenly places to Satan and his minions.

I am beginning to see that the primary point of long periods of silence by God during our earthly sorrows and suffering is that we show His worthiness of our belief and trust based fully on who He is and not on what things He gives us. Satan can’t believe we would trust God just based on His character and not on the blessings on earth He gives us. That’s Satan’s taunt–“They only worship you because you are good to them. They’d never worship you if you didn’t answer their prayers and take care of them like they expect.”

The truth is that true faith doesn’t worship God because God is good but because God is God.

We don’t endure because we expect deliverance but because He is worthy. And we will never fully clarify this in our own hearts until God stops fitting our definition of goodness and requires us to sit patiently at His feet without answering our prayers for a season. And even if that season lasts the remainder of our lives, He is worthy.

The other truth is that for no one in Scripture did that season last the rest of their lives. God’s promises ARE that He will complete the good work He began in our hearts. He will work all the hard circumstances for honest to goodness GOOD in our lives. And when we wait on Him to work, He lifts us up on wings as eagles.

But that isn’t why we trust Him, have faith in Him, or worship Him. We worship Him because He alone is God. And He is worthy.

Oddly enough, until God actually moved again in my life (and He did), those counterintuitive words from Him did minister great grace to me.

… my righteous ones will live by faith.  Heb. 10:38

Where I Am Strong, I Might Stumble!

SOURCE:  Adapted from an article by  Oswald Chambers

Joab had defected to Adonijah, though he had not defected to Absalom —1 Kings 2:28

Joab withstood the greatest test of his life, remaining absolutely loyal to David by not turning to follow after the fascinating and ambitious Absalom. Yet toward the end of his life he turned to follow after the weak and cowardly Adonijah.

Always remain alert to the fact that where one person has turned back is exactly where anyone may be tempted to turn back (see 1 Corinthians 10:11-13). You may have just victoriously gone through a great crisis, but now be alert about the things that may appear to be the least likely to tempt you. Beware of thinking that the areas of your life where you have experienced victory in the past are now the least likely to cause you to stumble and fall.

We are apt to say, “It is not at all likely that having been through the greatest crisis of my life I would now turn back to the things of the world.” Do not try to predict where the temptation will come; it is the least likely thing that is the real danger.

It is in the aftermath of a great spiritual event that the least likely things begin to have an effect. They may not be forceful and dominant, but they are there. And if you are not careful to be forewarned, they will trip you. You have remained true to God under great and intense trials— now beware of the undercurrent. Do not be abnormally examining your inner self, looking forward with dread, but stay alert; keep your memory sharp before God. Unguarded strength is actually a double weakness, because that is where the least likely temptations will be effective in sapping strength. The Bible characters stumbled over their strong points, never their weak ones.

“. . . kept by the power of God . . .”— that is the only safety. (1 Peter 1:5).

5 Myths About Suffering: See Your Pain From God’s Perspective

SOURCE:  Stacy Padrick/Discipleship Journal – NavPress

“Your blood pressure is fine,” said the nurse, leaving me to wait for the doctor.

“Oh, Lord,” I prayed, “please help the doctor find out what is wrong with my body.”

After leaving numerous doctors’ offices with no answers over the course of 18 months, I was desperately seeking a cure for the mysterious virus that often confined me to home and bed. I longed to reclaim my active lifestyle, resume working full time, and eventually return to the mission field.

“Hello, Stacey,” the doctor’s voice interrupted my thoughts. “How are you feeling?” As I began describing my symptoms, she nodded as if already suspecting the answer. When lab results confirmed her diagnosis, my hope of simply “getting over it” vanished, leaving me to live with the daily limitations of an incurable disease. As a previously energetic and ambitious 27 year old, I watched in fear as this illness crept into every area of my life, threatening my work, my ministry, my finances, my dreams, my relationship with the man I loved, and even my walk with God. I cried out to Him, groping to know His presence in the midst of my pain.

Suffering. Just hearing that word can make us cringe. Under the influence of a society that abhors even the thought of suffering, we seek to escape the reality of pain in our lives any way we can—television, busyness, entertainment, drugs. Suffering doesn’t fit with the world’s notion of success or with the theology of God’s goodness and victorious living in Christ we often espouse. Never mind that Jesus often spoke about suffering. Like Peter and the disciples to whom Christ revealed His imminent suffering and death, we, too, are tempted to respond, “Oh, that will never happen to you!” (see Mt. 16:22).

Yet is it possible that our view of suffering has been colored by pervasive myths we have unthinkingly accepted? As I’ve faced pain in my own life and turned to God’s Word for consolation, I’ve identified five myths that tempt us to shrink back, doubt God, or experience despair during times of suffering.

Myth 1: Suffering is negative and to be avoided at all costs.

How often do we pray to know Christ better? Quite often, most of us would say. How often do we pray to know Him better through suffering? If you are like me, seldom, if ever! Shortly after my diagnosis, I read Paul’s words in Phil. 3:10: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.” I passionately prayed, “Yes, Lord, I want to know You better!” But as I came to the words that followed—”and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings”—my tongue froze. The idea of praying for suffering made me shudder! Why would Paul pray for fellowship in Christ’s sufferings? I began to wonder if he knew something we unknowingly miss in our rush to avoid or “get through” suffering.

Scripture clearly teaches that affliction and tribulation work to make us complete and mature. James wrote,

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

—Jas. 1:2–4

For the believer, suffering works on the seeds of faith in the same way manure works as a fertilizer. We abhor the stench of manure and, similarly, the agony of pain. Yet though it seems like waste material, suffering nourishes and feeds the growing fruits of faith and maturity in the garden of our lives. God does not waste any experience in our lives when we willingly surrender it to Him. Even Jesus, although He was God’s Son, learned obedience from the things He suffered (Heb. 5:8).

Truth: The spiritual fruit for which we often pray is fertilized by adversity.

Myth 2: We can only experience joy and peace when we are not experiencing pain.

Knowing that suffering develops character only partially comforted me at times. Though I tried to “consider it pure joy” as James advised, my emotions often swayed from peace to anxiety when my body battled unpredictable symptoms. How could I experience joy when I was losing my health, my independence, my dreams of returning to the mission field, and a love relationship?

The psalmist wrote: “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him” (Ps. 126:5–6). When God gave me the seeds of sadness and brokenness, I wanted to cast them aside and implore Him to give me seeds of joy and peace instead. But then it struck me that joy and peace are fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23), fruit which is often mysteriously born from seeds of suffering. Only as we willingly accept these uncomely seeds and allow Him to sow them in our lives will the lasting fruit of joy and peace bloom.

In 1873, Horatio Spafford, a prominent American businessman, waved good-bye to his wife and four daughters as they boarded a ship for Europe, where he was soon to join them. Days later, he received the shattering news that the ship had collided with another, and his four daughters had drowned in the Atlantic. Journeying to Europe to meet his wife, his ship sailed over the waters where his daughters had perished. As his tears poured forth, he returned to his cabin, committed his immense sorrow to God, and wrote the following: “When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say: It is well. It is well with my soul.”

Not only did he experience God’s peace for himself, but with the seeds of his suffering, he sowed a five-stanza hymn that has brought comfort and peace to countless people in pain for more than a century.

Truth: Suffering and sorrow, when willingly accepted, become the seeds of joy and peace in our lives.

Myth 3: Suffering is a sign of God’s displeasure or judgment.

As months passed and God did not answer the many prayers of friends and family for my healing, I began to wonder, Did I do something to invite this? Is this a sign of God’s judgment of me? Then the enemy, prowling about for an opportunity to attack when my spirit and body had grown weary, tempted me to believe that God had condemned me or, at best, overlooked me. Yet turning again to Scripture, I found truth in Paul’s words: “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Phil. 1:29, NASB).

Rather than a sign of God’s disapproval or neglect, adversity is a sign of God’s work in our lives. My pastor once said, “In God’s economy, sometimes the measure of our hurt is the measure of our success.” Why? Because suffering makes us more like the Author of our salvation. Allowing us to suffer is actually a sign of His grace! He cares so deeply for us that He will do whatever is necessary for us to know Him better and to become more like Him. God does not test us, as the enemy would have us believe, simply to see how much we can stand. Earlier in this century, an anonymous writer penned these words:

The very fact of trial proves that there is something in us very precious to our Lord; else He would not spend so much pains and time on us. Christ would not test us if He did not see the precious ore of faith mingled in the rocky matrix of our nature; and it is to bring this out into purity and beauty that He forces us through the fiery ordeal.

Truth: Affliction allowed by God is a sign of His grace in our lives and His love for us.

Myth 4: Only voluntary suffering “for the sake of Christ” has spiritual value in the kingdom of God.

To sustain my spirit during the most difficult times, I meditated on Scripture about tribulation and claimed the promises and hope they offered. Initially, I found comfort in Peter’s words:

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ.

—1 Pet. 4:12–13

However, the enemy soon began tempting me with thoughts such as, These verses don’t apply to you! They are for those who suffer voluntarily for the sake of the gospel. Your affliction just happened; it isn’t a result of your obedience to God. As I read verse 14—”If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you”—I had to concur that I was not being reviled for the sake of Christ. Perhaps the deceiver was right, and my affliction lacked real spiritual value.

Yet one night as I anguished over the apparent lack of purpose in my hardships, I stumbled upon a statement in C. S. Lewis’ Letters to an American Lady that challenged my narrow definition of suffering for Christ. Responding to a letter from a woman who laments about her many ailments and trials (from toothaches to budget problems), Lewis wrote: “Always remember that poverty and every other ill, lovingly accepted, has all the spiritual value of voluntary poverty or penance” (emphasis mine). What comfort these simple words brought!

As I committed my illness to God and asked Him to accomplish His will through it, my struggles no longer seemed in vain. Thomas À Kempis wrote, “Do not despair or be discouraged but accept God’s will calmly, bearing all that befalls you for the glory of Christ.” My disease, as frustrating and limiting as it was, could still be used for God’s glory.

Truth: All suffering can be used for God’s glory when we willingly accept and surrender our hardships to Him.

Myth 5: If God were truly good, He would remove this suffering from me.

As another year ended, I prayed once again, “Lord, may this new year be one of healing.” Even knowing the maturing benefits of affliction, I grew weary of the struggles. “Enough, Lord!” I wanted to say. “Haven’t I been pruned enough for a while?” How desperately I longed for Him to deliver me from the trials and bring restoration of the losses I had endured. If God was God, He could do that, right? If He were loving, He would do that, right? How tempted I was to believe that if God truly cared about me, if He were all powerful, He would take away the pain.

Yet as I continued praying, I stumbled upon a treasure I would have easily missed had I looked to healing as the only sign of His love. More often than not, God does not remove our suffering. He does something better: He enters into our suffering. The Lord Jesus enters into the fullness of our pain and bears it with us. He is the God who is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit (Ps. 34:18).

I finally understood why Paul prayed to know Christ and the fellowship of His sufferings. The path upon which we come to know Him better winds through the valley of suffering. If we seek a detour around the valley, we forfeit a chance to walk alongside the Suffering Servant. To know Christ more intimately, to more fully identify with Him, I must share in His sufferings by experiencing it myself. Whatever the nature of our affliction, sharing our pain with Him forges a deeper bond of intimacy. Nothing—not healing, not restoration, not success—compares with the comfort and sweetness of this fellowship.

The jewels of suffering abound: maturing faith, growing obedience, increased fruit. Yet the greatest treasure I have found is deepened intimacy with Christ as I fellowship with Him in the midst of my suffering.

Truth: Suffering helps us identify with the Lord Jesus more fully and deepens our intimacy with Him.

The Mythmaker

Where do these myths originate? I believe they come from none other than the father of lies. The tempter has thoroughly duped us into believing that suffering is negative, a sign of God’s neglect or of our own failure. Why would Satan be so determined to tempt us to avoid suffering (and sadly, sometimes to avoid those we know who are suffering)? Because he knows that suffering is one of the greatest means to draw us closer to Jesus and teach us increasing dependence upon Him. Thus, he will do whatever it takes to entice us to run from it  . . . until God, in His grace, allows suffering from which we cannot run.

When Peter refused to accept Jesus’ imminent suffering and death, He responded, “Get behind me, Satan” (Mt. 16:23). In the midst of our pain, we must refuse to accept Satan’s lies about suffering. When we believe that God loves us perfectly and that “perfect love drives out fear” (1 Jn. 4:18), we need no longer submit to the fear of suffering.

We live in a fallen world where the prince of darkness rules. Trials, hardships, and adversity are more normal in this life than abnormal. If this life were absent of suffering, we might begin to mistake it for the real thing. Suffering makes us hunger for heaven, our real home, where God will wipe away every tear. Though we may never fully understand our suffering, we can rest in the hope that “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Ro. 8:18).

Helpful Action Steps To Deal With Your Pornography Problem

SOURCE:  American Association of Christian Counselors

For the Person Viewing Pornography

  1. Flee Temptation
    • Identify all the locations and activities that provide temptation. Avoid bookstores that sell pornographic magazines—to avoid even the appearance of evil. Use the computer only when someone else is in the room. Purchase software that blocks access to undesirable Internet sites.
  2. Identify Emotional Triggers
    • Are there work associates, times of the day, or particularly stressful situations that trigger the temptation? Identify which part of HALT (hungry, angry, lonely, tired) is your strongest trigger.
    • Take specific steps to minimize the triggers. The triggers can be used as cues to engage in competing behavior—calling a friend or support group partner, praying, calling your wife, getting some work or other project done, and so on.
  3. See It as Sin
    • It is important to see the behavior as sin and no longer to justify it. With your counselor, think about how God views your sin, the nature of forgiveness, and God’s unconditional love. How do you see yourself in relationship to how God sees you?
  4. Refocus on Christ
    • Develop a plan to strengthen and deepen your relationship with Jesus Christ.
    • Be accountable to someone else for daily Scripture reading and prayer.
    • Memorize Scripture so that you can bring “every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).
  5. Find Support and Accountability
    • Become involved in a local Christian ministry that supports men (women) who are experiencing this struggle. Find a men’s (women’s) addiction group, especially one that works on sexual addictions, if possible.
  6. Seek Further Help
    • Pornography use can cause long-term problems. If this has been a long-standing pattern with a high degree of involvement, it is important to enlist the support of a professional trained in the arena of sexual addiction and/or be involved in a local 12-step group.

For the Spouse Seeking Counsel

  1. Watch for Triggers
    • You can identify locations and activities that provide temptation for your husband. Help him avoid bookstores that sell pornographic magazines (for example, don’t send him late at night to the local 7–Eleven on an errand).
    • Move the computer out of isolation. If your husband is willing to be helped, he should go along with this. If not, you can explain that you don’t want the kids to find pornography. Purchase software that blocks the access to undesirable Internet sites.
  2. Identify Emotional Triggers
    • Do you sense that there are work associates, times of the day, or particularly stressful situations that trigger the temptation? What can you do to help, if anything?
    • Which part of HALT (hungry, angry, lonely, tired) is the strongest trigger for your spouse?
    • What can you do to off-set these?
    • If your spouse is willing to be helped, you can talk to him about these triggers and how you can be his ally in minimizing them.
  3. Continue to Love Him
    • Nagging, anger, or humiliation will not work. Continue to love your spouse. It will be difficult because you will feel “cheated on,” but ask God to help you choose to love him through this.
    • Let him know that you want him back from the darkness and you want your marriage unhindered by these “other women.” Tell him how you feel when he views pornography—emphasizing your hurt and fear.
    • Ask your husband if he wants his children to be similarly enslaved when they are older.
    • Explain that eventually pornography will no longer satisfy, and he will need more and other types, or will be led into an affair.
  4. Pray
    • Pray that your husband will be sickened by what he sees and will choose to turn away.
    • Let God go to work in your husband’s life.
  5. Encourage Support
    • Encourage your husband to join a support group or men’s Bible study that will provide accountability. Do whatever it takes to free him up to attend such a group.

Biblical Insights

Now Israel remained in Acacia Grove, and the people began to commit harlotry with the women of Moab. Numbers 25:1

Sexual sin always progresses, drawing people farther and farther from God. What may start as an “innocent” flirtation with sin can lead to deadly consequences. Dabbling around the edges of sexual sin can take hold and consume a person, leading to pain and brokenness.

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust. 1 Thessalonians 4:3–5

The Bible is very clear about sexual sin. God created sex as a beautiful expression of love in marriage. Satan took that beauty and distorted it.

Sexual sin encompasses a wide range of activities that God forbids. No matter what society allows, believers must look to God for instruction in this serious matter.

Christians need to avoid activities or thoughts that warp what God intended for building oneness in marriage. Believers must have no part in sexual sin. God knows its power to destroy people. His commands are for our good.

I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works. Revelation 2:23

Sometimes people think they can hide portions of their lives from everyone. Christ searches minds and hearts. Nothing is hidden from Him. No sexual sin can escape His notice. People may think they are getting away with it, but God knows.

Everywhere we go, everything we say, think, or do is seen by God. That understanding alone should help us steer clear of sexual sin.

For the lips of an adulteress drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil; but in the end she is bitter as gall, sharp as a double-edged sword. Proverbs 5:3–4 NIV

While the thought of bringing anyone else into the bedroom is repulsive to most, the Bible says that the lips of a forbidden (including imaginary) woman (or man) “drip honey.” In other words, this spice is sweet and “her speech is smoother than oil.”

[The adulteress’s] feet go down to death; her steps follow the path of Sheol (Hell); she does not ponder the path of life; her ways wander, and she does not know it. Proverbs 5:5–6

In other words, the “spicy” gets real “dicey”, quickly consuming and destroying all who play. Lovemaking, play, and relationship building are all but gone—sacrificed on the altar of “just a little fun.”

An Affair: ‘The Beginning of the End’

The fatal blow to any marriage is an adulterous affair where one or both spouses think they “finally found his/her soul mate.”

by Cheryl Scruggs (Author of: I Do Again)

The fatal blow to any marriage is an adulterous affair where one or both spouses think they “finally found his/her soul mate.” Once convinced that he/she married the wrong person or that God put someone new in his/her life, the idea of divorce can take root and grow. Blinded by the deception of the affair, most people have no idea how they got there.

How does an affair start?

Many of us who have fallen prey to an adulterous affair did not see it coming. We were blindsided, and – before we knew it – were involved emotionally, physically or both, with a person other than our spouse. Many times the other person is a complete stranger, but the sudden emotional or physical connection deceived us into thinking we had known them all of our life. This new “love” was the missing puzzle piece to our happiness – or so we thought.

In most cases, no one intentionally seeks after an affair that could potentially destroy their marriage. Forming such a connection to someone else may seem unlikely, but may be easier than you realize. All it takes is one conversation, one innocent flirtation or one look. If you are vulnerable, the ball is rolling.

How do we succumb to an affair?

Easily! Like me, most of us never dream we are capable of such sin. Unfortunately, we are both capable and susceptible. I gave in because I was not guarding my heart. It never crossed my mind to be cautious about my relationships with other men because I never realized I could be so vulnerable. I started having an “innocent” conversation with an acquaintance of mine. I felt compelled to share with him the unfulfilled state of my marriage. Yet that evening was the beginning of the end of my marriage. I quickly developed a deep emotional connection with a man I barely knew! I falsely sensed that I was falling in love with a stranger.

I couldn’t stop thinking about him. I craved his voice. I couldn’t concentrate on anything else.  I was duped and falling fast. Within a matter of days, the negative feelings I had long been having for Jeff reached a heightened level. I somehow “knew” I didn’t love him and told him so.

Jeff was flabbergasted and caught completely off guard! What could have gone so terribly wrong overnight? In truth, I was completely deceived and I could not see  it. When Jeff asked if there was someone else, I denied it. The truth is that I’d allowed my heart to be stolen.

When do the symptoms start?

The warning signs often appear long before the actual fall into adultery: when our thoughts begin to derail; when we fail to take negative thoughts captive, constructively deal with them, and face the issues in our marriage. The emotional and physical disconnect is subtle and sometimes goes unnoticed until we find ourselves in the arms of another person.

What are some of the symptoms?

Symptoms are not easily pinpointed, but once you become aware, they are easy to recognize. Here are a few:

  • Unexplained discontent with your spouse
  • Feelings of being trapped in your marriage
  • An overwhelming sense that your needs are not being met
  • A desire to be away from your spouse
  • A reluctance to spend time at home
  • Fantasies about being married to someone else
  • Comparing your marriage to other marriages
  • Attraction to someone of the opposite sex
  • A constant preoccupation with  someone else
  • An unhealthy attachment to a coworker, friend or acquaintance of the opposite sex

How do you combat the temptation of an affair?

Once the temptation of an affair presents itself, many people focus on getting out of their marriage. They choose to stop working on their existing relationship and focus, instead, on this new and exciting relationship.

God gives us every opportunity to walk away from temptation, but many of us choose to walk toward it instead. God also offers us guidance and direction when we are tempted to have an affair. Most important, He reminds us that adultery is a sin.

We must not ignore this fact, rationalizing why we deserve to have an affair or why we think it is right. Bottom line: We do not deserve it, and it is wrong! Period.

To guard against this, two important things are necessary. First, submit to God’s Word instead of to the temptation. Ask God to show you the truth and what is right in His eyes. Second, share your struggles with a trustworthy friend, pastor or counselor! When a secret is brought into the light, the excitement of it lessens.

I regret not having told someone. It may have saved my marriage.

The Spiritual Armor of God: Pray It On

Source:  Bill Bellican

It is important to have a firm grasp of what it means to appropriate the spiritual armor provided by God.  To help with this understanding, the following information is taken from notes adapted from The MacArthur Study Bible (Eph. 6:10-18).  A brief devotional prayer follows this information that can be used as a daily reminder and conversation with God about putting on the armor of God.

First, we will consider biblical interpretation adapted from commentary on Ephesians 6:10-18:

A true believer having a Spirit-controlled life can be sure to be in a spiritual war. Paul closes the letter to the Ephesians with both warning about that war and instructions on how to win it.  The Lord provides His saints with sufficient armor to combat and thwart the adversary.

Ultimately, Satan’s power over Christians is already broken, and the war is won through the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ that conquered the power of sin and death.  However, in life on earth, battles of temptation go on regularly.  The Lord’s power, the strength of His Spirit, and the force of biblical truth are required for victory.

The armor should be the Christian’s sustained life-long attire.  This spiritual defense is necessary if one is to hold his position while under attack.  Satan’s deception and schemes are propagated through the evil world system over which he rules, and are carried out by his demon hosts.  Satan wants us to distrust God, forsake obedience, have doctrinal confusion, falsehood, be hindered in service, be divided, serve in the flesh, live hypocritically, be worldly, and reject biblical obedience in any way.   Wrestling with Satan and his hosts involves their use of trickery and deception.  Coping with deceptive temptation requires truth and righteousness.

Paul emphasized the necessity of the Christian appropriating God’s full spiritual armor by obedience in taking it up or putting it on.  Standing firm against the enemy without wavering or falling is the goal.

The pieces of this armor include the:

Belt –   The belt helps to pull together all the loose ends prior to battle.  In this sense, the belt pulls together any spiritual loose ends (i.e., hypocrisy, lack of devotion) through truth.  This tucks away anything that hinders victory.

Breastplate –   As a symbol of righteousness and holiness, this is the Christian’s chief protection against Satan and his schemes.  As believers faithfully live in obedience to and in communion with Jesus Christ, His own righteousness produces in them the practical, daily righteousness that becomes their spiritual breastplate.  Lack of holiness leaves them vulnerable to Satan.

Sandals –   This footgear pertains to the confidence of divine support that allows the believer to stand firm, to know that he is at peace with God, and to understand that God is his strength.

Shield –   The shield speaks to basic trust in God.  The believer’s continual trust in God’s word and promise is necessary to protect him from temptations to every sort of sin.  All sin comes when the victim falls to Satan’s lies and promises of pleasure, rejecting the better choice of obedience and blessing.

Helmet –   Satan seeks to destroy a believer’s assurance of salvation with his weapons of doubt and discouragement.  Although a Christian’s feelings about his salvation may be seriously damaged by Satan-inspired doubt, his salvation itself is eternally protected and he need not fear its loss.  Satan wants to curse the believer with doubts, but the Christian can be strong in God’s promises of eternal salvation.

Sword –   As the sword was the soldier’s only weapon, so God’s Word is the only needed weapon, infinitely more powerful than any of Satan’s.  It is used both defensively to fend off Satan’s attacks, and offensively to help destroy the enemy’s strategies.  It is the truth of Scripture.

Second, the following prayer regarding putting on the spiritual armor was adapted from online devotional material by Charles Stanley (April 28-29, 2007 entry):

Praying On The Armor of God

Prepare yourself for each day’s spiritual challenges by making the following prayer part of your morning routine:

Dear Lord, as I get out of bed today, I know I’m stepping onto a battlefield. But I also know You’ve given me everything I need to stand firm. So in the power of Your Holy Spirit, I put on the armor of God:
First, I place the helmet of salvation on my head. Protect my mind and imagination. Guard my eyes, allowing no sin to creep in. Focus my thoughts on the things of God.
Let the breastplate of righteousness keep my heart and emotions safe. I pray that I won’t be governed by my feelings, but by truth.
Wrap Your Word around me like a belt. And safeguard me from error.
I put on the sandals of peace to guide my steps. Plant my feet in Your truth. Empower me to stand firm against attack.
Next, I take up the shield of faith. Protect me from Satan’s fiery arrows. Place me shoulder to shoulder with Your army to oppose the Devil’s schemes.
Finally, I take up the sword of the Spirit, Your Word. Help me to read the Bible in a fresh, exciting way so I will always be ready to deflect attacks and pierce hearts with Your truth.
I know I’ll face assaults today, Lord. But You’ve empowered me to stand firm. Give me strength for the battle today.

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