Sunday, February 17, 2013

Keys To Overcoming Temptation

“One is tempted by one's own desire, being lured and enticed by it; then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death.” (James 1:14-15)

Being a Christian doesn’t exempt us from temptation, nor does it say that fleeting thoughts of temptation by themselves make us evil or sinful.  No. Temptation itself is part of the human experience (remember that Jesus himself was tempted - read Luke 4). 

But as the scripture above points out, what can truly destroy us in the long run is our welcoming and nurturing of those thoughts that can lead us to act upon them in ways that are harmful to our relationship with God, others, and ourselves.  As it’s sometimes been said, “it’s the not first glance [or first drink, or first bite) that’s bad, but the second, lingering one!”

So, while God does not cause temptation, He is the one that can help us overcome it.  Here’s a few keys I’ve found helpful in standing firm against the power of temptation in life:

1) Be grounded in God (Ephesians 6:10-17).  It’s often said that “the best defensive is a good offense.” Being ground in your relationship with God and in God’s word will provide you with the tools you’ll need to help stave off temptation when it comes your way.  The scriptures by themselves are not a guarantee of safety, but they provide a safe place to go when we’re tempted, providing we know which ones to go to!  So, tend to your prayer life, your devotional life, your Bible reading.  Attend worship at church regularly and participate in a small group -- these will help you stay grounded in God.

2) Avoid and Flee temptation (Genesis 39:6-13).  Whoever it was that tried to sell our culture on the idea that we can just “dabble” a bit with temptation and stop whenever we feel like it doesn’t really know very much about the subtle power of temptation.  The best way to get yourself out of temptation is (if at all possible) not to go there in the first place!  Don’t put yourself in compromising places, locations, websites, etc. -- don’t think of yourself as a “super Christian” by seeing how close to the edge you can go without falling over, because you’ll find it very difficult once you’re there to “just say no.”  And if you do find yourself there through no fault of your own, try to mentally or even physically “flee” as quickly as possible -- do something else, turn the radio on, change the channel, close down the computer.  Do what Joseph did in Genesis 39.

3) Focus on the power of God (not on the power of the temptation) (James 4:7-8).  Someone once said “if you spend your time doing the do’s of life, you won’t have time to do the don’ts!” Don’t fixate on the temptation and how strong it is, or on what you plan to do to say “no” to it -- doing so only feeds it’s power and keeps you focused in the wrong direction.  Instead, focus on the power of God in your life, and your focus there will by default means the temptation won’t have power over you.  Don’t try to be a “big man” or “big woman” to overcome it in your own strength.  Instead, throw yourself on the power and safety of God and let Him fight the battle for you!  When the temptation enters your brain, don’t try to fight it off, but instead acknowledge it and give it to God by praying something like “God you know I want this. But I want you more! So, please take it”

4) Be accountable to others in honesty (James 5:16).  As a wise friend of mine has said, “Secrecy kills, but honesty heals!  The best antidote to persistent sin in our life is having others we know and trust lovingly hold us accountable to these behaviors and thoughts. In my own experience, you can do the other three things and still fall prey to temptation fairly regularly UNLESS you do this fourth and final thing -- loving accountability with “safe” brothers and sisters is THE KEY to successfully using all the others.

May these keys be beneficial to you as your practice them.  Remember, God loves you and so do I!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Listening To God

"Your ears shall hear a word behind you saying, 'This is the way, walk in it,' whenever you turn to the right hand or to the left" (Isaiah 30:21)
There are many voices that speak to us in our world today, telling us where we should go, what we should do, and how.  As Christians we know were supposed to listen to God for this kind of direction.  However, many of us are either so confused by the many other voices around us that we cant discern Gods voice, or we may not really have an idea of how to recognize His voice in the first place.

So how exactly do we listen to God?  How can we recognize His voice in the midst of so many competing voices around us?  Ive learned to use at least five basic filters to help me determine which things Im hearing are from God or not.  I offer them to you now: 

1) Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17): Is what were hearing consistent with Gods word?  The voice of God will never contradict holy scripture.

2) Gentle Impressions of the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 8:10-11):  Sometimes we sense certain nudges or impressions in our inner heart/spirit that are an indicator of the voice or calling of God.  With practice using the other filters (along with our own experience), well increasingly come to recognize the ones that are from God vs. the ones coming merely from us.

3) Godly counsel from others (Proverbs 11:14):  Sometimes Gods voice speaks through the wisdom and advice of others.  What are others telling you about Gods voice?

4) A sense of Gods peace (Colossians 3:15):  The voice of God can often be determined after the fact by a sense of peace about a decision or direction that youve stepped out on faith to take.

5) “Coincidental” confirmation through circumstances (Matthew 18:16 and Acts 18:1-3):  Sometimes things just “happen” to us at the right time -- timing that seems fortuitous and very coincidental.  In my experience, the eyes of faith help us see that there are really no “coincidences” -- that God works through all things that happen to us in life (even the things that He didn’t cause), and often these seeming “coincidences” are God’s way of confirming our direction; of saying “this is the way; walk in it!”

Of course, it hopefully goes without saying that all of these filters are merely tools that need to be used in conjunction with PRAYER -- intentional time to both talk to God and space to listen for God.  As we practice these more and more, we’ll come to increasingly be able to correctly discern the voice of God in our lives.  Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Give Thanks For Friends

“Friends come and friends go, but a true friend sticks by you like family” (Proverbs 18:24)

Several years ago, my family and I were on a vacation with some good friends.  Normally if I am gone over a weekend, I actually take the weekend off and don’t “preach.”  This particular weekend, however (and with these particular friends), I was inspired to write a short devotional for our time together based on the word “FRIENDS.”  I want to share it with you now:

God gives us F.R.I.E.N.D.S. for...

Fellowship - simply “to be” with; they are people with whom we do not to have to “put on airs” or be anything but our true selves.

Refreshment - from the challenges and hurts of life; they help refresh our hearts, souls, and spirits.

Inspiration - they inspire our hearts and minds and inspire/challenge us to be and do our best.

Enjoyment - we enjoy them for their own sake, rather than for what we think that they can do for us or give to us.

Nostalgia  -- they help us remember who we are and whose we are in God.

Dreaming - friends help us to have and to remember that there is always hope for the future, no matter how bad or challenging the present might seem.

Safety / safe place - true friends are “safe people” both to talk to and be with; we can “be ourselves” around them without fear of gossip or ridicule.

This week, why not give thanks to God for the friends of your life.  Find a way to tell them how you feel -- send them a note, email, card, e-card, text, etc.  And remember, God (your very greatest friend!) loves you and I do, too!