Posts Tagged With: temptation

 
 

Storing Up God’s Word—Psalm 119:9–11

How can a young man keep his way pure?
By guarding it according to your word.
With my whole heart I seek you;
let me not wander from your commandments!
I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.

(Psalm 119:9–11, ESV)

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I first encountered Psalm 119:9 early in my relationship with Christ, while in college. At first, I found Psalm 119 incredibly boring: It contains 176 verses, almost all of them include some mention of God’s Word, and after a while they seem to be repeating themselves a lot. The fact that this is the longest chapter in the Bible made it difficult to read in one sitting; I usually felt like I had just read for 15 minutes and gained nothing from it. However, a few of my friends had favorite verses in that psalm. One of my friends had even adopted Psalm 119:9 as his life verse. It was a motto or slogan that guided his heart and life.

Years later, my earlier dislike for Psalm 119 has dissipated. I rarely try to read it in one sitting. Usually, I limit myself to one to three of the eight-verse stanzas. This allows particular verses to take greater prominence. A passage like Psalm 119:9–16 is pretty easy to digest. I can usually find at least one nugget of wisdom in each stanza.

Although it refers to “young men,” this passage is not reserved for a certain age group. All can benefit from this wisdom. Young men, young women, old men, and old women all need to keep our ways pure, and the answer is true for all of us.

So, why did the psalmist specifically refer to “young men” here? Probably a major reason is the fact that young people are setting the trajectory for their lives. Lessons learned and habits developed early in life will guide one’s future path. Young people face new temptations as they enter puberty. They make major life decisions as adolescents. They may choose a career and remain with it for 50 years. Sometimes, they begin to pursue a career and modify their decisions as they grow; someone may begin college wanting to become a lawyer, only to find that they are more interested in, and have more of the skills for, a career as a psychologist. Others make poor or ill-advised choices early in life, and spend decades trying to recover from bad decisions.

Many think of youth as a time when we face especially unique challenges. However, many of the temptations and trials we face continue throughout life. I remember a college psychology professor pointing this out. During a lecture, he asked us to list some of the ways teens and young adults surrender to peer pressure. Then, he got us thinking about the ways peer pressure would affect us in an adult working environment. He helped us realize that even as working adults, we would face the temptation to fit in, to go along with the crowd. While teenagers risk being “uncool” if they do not drink or smoke with their friends, a working adult can risk missing out on job promotion and raises, or may even lose their job, if they do not go along with the crowd at the office.

We do not outgrow temptation or difficulties. They merely take new forms throughout our lives. That is why it is important to develop a habit of guarding ourselves with God’s Word early in life.

Wherever you are in life, develop a habit now of storing up God’s Word in your heart so that you may not sin against Him. If you are not reading the Bible regularly now, start reading. Set a time every day and devote it to reading. If you never read the Bible outside church, maybe you should start by reading a chapter per day. If you are reading a chapter per day, consider increasing it to two chapters.

Over the years, I found consistency was a challenge. About 10 years ago, I started trying to pray the Daily Office from the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) at least once per day. The BCP provides four Daily Offices: one in the morning, one at noon, another in the evening, and a final “compline” prayer before bedtime. I usually consistently pray three times per day, and would like to get into the habit of including compline as well. It did not come easily, but over time the Daily Offices became a more consistent part of my life. Having a regular goal and plan, and setting time for prayer and Bible study, has enabled me to be more consistent and seek more growth in this area. For those who are interested in trying the Daily Office, you can visit The Mission of St. Clare’s website.  Every day, it will guide you through a Daily Office of prayer, using recommended Bible readings from the Book of Common Prayer.

However you choose to seek God’s wisdom through the Bible, be proactive. Do not wait for hard times to come; start learning God’s Word now. Build a habit of prayer and Bible reading now. Learn to meditate on God’s Word. Allow it to become a central part of your psyche. When trials and temptations come, you will be ready to face them with the Word of God.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Renewing the Mind Reflections, Spiritual disciplines | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Man Does Not Live by Bread Alone

And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord (Deuteronomy 8:3).

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Jesus fasting and praying: “Christ in the Wilderness,” by Ivan Kramskoi [1837-1887, Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Those who fast during Lent reflect on Jesus’ fasting and temptation in the wilderness for 40 days after His baptism in the Jordan River. As Jesus prepared to begin His public ministry, He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, and ate nothing for 40 days. At the end of those 40 days, Satan tempted Him to use His divine power for personal gain, daring Him to turn stones into bread. Jesus responded, as He would to each temptation, by quoting Deuteronomy, responding to the first challenge by saying “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4).

That verse highlights one of the lessons learned during fasting, a lesson God taught the Israelites during their 40 years of wandering after they escaped from Egypt. Fasting calls our attention back to God, and reminds us of our need and His provision.

The wilderness wanderings were a time for the Israelites to learn how to live out their covenant relationship as the people of God. It did not start well. Even though God protected them during a series of plagues, until Pharaoh let them leave, they grew fearful as soon as they saw the Egyptian chariots chasing them at the Red Sea. Despite God’s previous signs, they would not believe that He would rescue them this time.

After God parted the Red Sea so they could escape, they complained at the waters of Marah, believing God would not provide clean drinking water. He provided it anyway (Exodus 15:22–27).

Soon thereafter, they complained that they did not have enough food, and accused Moses of leading them into the wilderness to starve. God provided bread from heaven, “manna” (Exodus 16). Before long, a miraculous (and free) supply of bread was not good for them; they demanded meat, so God provided quail (Numbers 11:1–15, 31–35). However, the quail came with divine discipline, as God sent a plague among the people while they were eating.

Much of this was probably on Jesus’ mind as Satan tempted Him. Jesus answered all three temptations by quoting from chapters 6 or 8 of Deuteronomy. He probably spent a lot of time during those 40 days meditating on the first few chapters of that book.

God had tested the Israelites, to give them a chance to trust Him. They failed each test. Every time, God provided opportunities to remember how He had provided for them in the past. Every time, they failed.

Many Christians can relate. How often do we immediately worry when a problem arises? Do we have faith to cast all of our cares upon the Lord, knowing that He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7)? Do we remember the times He has been faithful in the past: the times He answered our prayers, healed our illnesses, or provided for our needs? Or, do we anticipate a catastrophe and forget that He even exists?

God wanted His people to learn to look to Him for all their needs, and to recognize that every good and perfect gift comes from Him (James 1:17). The testing was designed to prepare them to remain grateful all of their days (Deuteronomy 8:11–18), so that they would remember to thank Him for all that He provides.

Yet, they failed the gratitude test. Manna was not good enough for them; they demanded meat. God’s provision was not sufficient: It was too boring, the same thing day after day. They wanted something exciting, something new, a change of pace. So, they told Moses that God could do better.

Ingratitude, distrust, and disbelief showed they were not ready to claim the promised land. God extended a trip that should have taken less than two weeks and forced them to wander for 40 years.

As Jesus prepared for His ministry, He must have reflected on these lessons. He had to remember who He was, why the Father had sent Him, and what He would do. He would look to the Father to protect, provide, and direct over the next few years. Every step in His ministry would be guided by the Father and would bring Him glory. At no point could Jesus afford to grow impatient or seek an easy way out.

For those of us who participate in a Lenten fast as we follow Jesus, the following questions are significant. Let us each reflect on them:

  • When difficulties arise, do I trust God or gravitate towards doubt, unbelief, fear, distrust, and anxiety?
  • When has God met my needs in the past?
  • Are the things He provides sufficient for me, or do I crave more? Do I demand more from God than He provides?
  • What mission, passion, ministry, or calling has God placed on my life? How can I pursue it His way, rather than trying to do things in my own strength?
  • Will I be grateful for His goodness?
  • Will I remember God’s mercy in good times, or will I forget about Him when life gets easy or comfortable?

Not long after His season of fasting and temptation, Jesus would travel with His disciples through Samaria, where He would minister to a woman with a troubled past and, most likely, a questionable reputation (John 4). When His disciples arrived with food, He did not have much of an appetite. It was as if He had already enjoyed a feast. He knew a satisfaction in the soul that natural food could not meet.

Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34).

As Jesus’ soul was nourished by doing the work that His Father required, may we be satisfied in His blessings, provision, and the joy of serving Him.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, Spiritual disciplines | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Guarding Your Heart

“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23, ESV).

27489072214_02bc4c08ac_bOne of the greatest dangers in the Christian life is the temptation to focus on rules rather than on the relationship with Jesus Christ. We think rules will keep us from sin. Often, they can lead us into sin, because we focus on what we cannot do rather than how a particular area of our life is related to our walk with Christ.

Much of the book of Proverbs contains wisdom that King Solomon sought to pass on to his children. One of his key instructions is, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flows the springs of life.”

Keep your heart: Not your activities. Everything we think, say, and do flows from our hearts. When our hearts are in the right place, we will do the will of God.

John Wesley wrote that heart means “thy thoughts, will and affections.” It sums up our inner life. What do I choose to think about? What do I want or try to do? What spurs my emotions? Define these, and you have described your heart in this biblical sense. Wesley writes that the second part of this verse means “From thence proceed all the actions, as of the natural, so of the spiritual life, which lead to eternal life.”

If we do not guard our hearts, our outward behavior can suffer. Many Christians focus heavily on rules rather than this heart-protection, and as a result they may approach life trying to see how close they can get to sin without actually falling into it. The unmarried couple can try to see how far they can go without actually falling into sexual sin—and then their hormones take over, driving their emotions to take charge and forcing their intellectual agreement with the Bible into the background. The person who is struggling to overcome alcohol addiction may decide, “I can go to the bar if I don’t drink”; but, his desire to fit in and be accepted overtakes his desire for sobriety and he falls off the wagon. Similar examples can be given for a host of human weaknesses.

What are some ways to guard our hearts, so that we do not fall into this trap?

First, change your standard. Numerous churches have a canon of moral and ethical rules they demand of their members. Some are biblical (“do not commit adultery; do not lust; do not steal”); some are logical extensions of biblical rules (“don’t spend time alone with a woman to whom you are not married”); some are man-made rules (“don’t dance; don’t listen to rock music; don’t smoke”). Rules tell us what we can get away with.

The New Testament standard is different: “‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up” (I Corinthians 10:23). Instead of asking, “What can I get away with?” we can ask, “What will strengthen me spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, etc.? What is the best way to use my time and resources? How can I best glorify God and build up his people?”

Proverbs 4 adds a few other ways to guard our hearts. Take charge of what you say and hear. Proverbs 4:24 tells us, “Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you.” Do not allow yourself to give in to dishonest, perverted, negative, or hate-filled speech. To do that, one has to avoid listening to such speech. We will end up treasuring the things we focus on in our hearts: “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).

This should probably be the real guiding principle in our entertainment choices. Many preachers talk about the sensuality and vulgarity in popular music, movies, and television. These are serious issues; they influence the values of their audiences. But, what about the anger and negativity on many talk and news shows? What about the quick rushes to judgment whenever a rumor pops up about a celebrity or politician? We seem to think the command to “not bear false witness against your neighbor” does not apply if it involves bad news we want to believe about a celebrity we have never met. However, that constant barrage of negativity into our ears is bound to corrupt our thoughts and feelings and come out in our attitudes and speech.

Finally, let us keep our eyes on Jesus and walk in His direction:

“Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you.
Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure.
Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil” (Proverbs 4:25-27).

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Renewing the mind is all about learning to think like Jesus and know Him better. To do that, we must keep our eyes on Him. We do that by reading the Bible, praying, and worshiping Him. He should be the vision that we place directly before us and, as we follow Him, we must choose not to deviate to the right or to the left.

Following Jesus should adjust our priorities. When we place our eyes on Him, we know the most profitable way to use our time and abilities. It becomes easier to say “No” to good options when we know God’s best plan for our lives. I could easily overburden myself, making more commitments than I can fill. Before I take on a responsibility, I bring it to the Lord in prayer and ask, “Is this Your will? How does this tie in to Your mission for my life? Have you equipped me with the abilities to pull this off?” Being overburdened leads to burnout, which leads to tiredness, depression, and discouragement, along with other negative attitudes that leave one open to temptation.

Temptation hits us hardest when we do not guard our hearts. When we allow Satan to nail us with negativity and discouragement, or hit us in our weak spots, we open ourselves up to temptation, sin, discouragement, and defeat. We can deceive ourselves into thinking that we can play with fire without getting burned. Guard your heart!

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Renewing the Mind Reflections | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tempted from Within—James 1:13–15

“Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” (James 1:13–15, ESV)

“The devil made me do it.” Those words were made famous by Flip Wilson’s brash female character, Geraldine Jones. They have been repeated by numerous people, including many Christians. They echo Eve’s excuse for eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:13).

The devil gets a lot of free advertising these days. A recovering alcoholic yields to temptation, gets drunk, and has a car accident. “I don’t know what happened. I was doing OK, and then the devil got a hold of me.” I recently spoke to a friend who was afraid his church could split because somebody had left, and a few other people were having conflicts. (By the way, there are several hundred people in this church.) In his mind, Satan was causing division.

The devil is real, but he probably had little to do with any of these circumstances. For one, unlike God, he cannot be everywhere all of the time. At most, maybe one of his demon friends could be involved in one of these situations. However, if they are present, they are merely providing added influence. The real problem arises with the people in the situation.

The alcoholic drank because, to some extent, he wanted to drink. Maybe there was a false sense of comfort in the bottle; perhaps he felt like he needed beer to relax. Satan was not in the bottle, though. He had been lured and enticed by his own desires.

When relationships are strained, it is usually not a demon who is to blame. It is the sinful attitudes, or the history of hurt in the hearts of the people. One person is overly sensitive and takes it as a personal attack if things do not go their way or if people disagree with them. Another assumes they know what is best for everybody around them. Still another is easily offended if people do not do the things they ask. Often, past hurts are replayed in current conflicts. Friendships, families, and fellowships fall apart.

So, just to be clear:

  • If your car breaks down, it is probably not caused by a demon. It is a mechanical problem, caused by the laws of physics. It may have been expedited by your careless stewardship of the things you own (e.g., if you were too cheap or lazy to do regular maintenance).
  • Your emotional reaction to the car breaking down is not caused by a demon. You said those words yourself. A demon did not jump into your mouth to say them.
  • If there is fighting and division in the church, it is caused by the same things that cause fighting and division throughout society (James 4:1–3). Greed, pride, ego, passion, selfishness, hatred, unforgiveness: These are human character defects, manifestations of sin, and indications that people are not perfect. Hostility and fighting are manifestations of human sin: you do not need a demon to break up a church. [Besides, Jesus Himself said that the church would prevail against the gates of hell (Matthew 16:18); if Satan is defeating your church, it is still a reflection of weakness in the congregation. The Body of Christ should have the victory, because Jesus said we would!]
  • If you are in financial trouble, make sure it is not caused by your sin. Yes, there will be hard times when money is tight. But, many people get into financial problems because they buy things they want when they cannot afford them. If you are living beyond your means, the problem is probably your greed: It is not a demon eating your bank account.

I hope you get the point. The root of your temptations usually lies within your heart. Yes, demons and circumstances may edge us closer to temptation and sin, but only by exploiting our own weaknesses. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8–9, ESV). “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16, ESV). Acknowledge that it is truly YOUR sin, YOUR temptation, YOUR weakness, and then turn to Jesus to receive the forgiveness that He is offering to YOU.

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Character and Values, Christian Life | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Scripture Sabbath Challenge—1 Corinthians 10:13

“No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13, NASB)

1-corinthians-10-13-1024x768This verse does not say that your temptations are easy. It just promises us that God will provide the way of escape out of your temptations. I share that observation right from the beginning, because there are times when I have been discouraged by temptation. If this verse is true, why did I fail? Did God actually allow me to be tempted beyond what I am able to handle?

The temptations Paul’s audiences faced were, at times, incredible. Corinth has been called “the Las Vegas of the Ancient World,” due to the prevalence of brothels, saloons, and other forms of wickedness and immorality. With top-flight athletes competing nude at the Isthmian Games, a temple devoted to the worship of the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite, etc., sin was rampant. A committed Christian would find it difficult, if not impossible, to walk out of his or her house without being offered the sinful pleasures of this world.

Actually, as I wrote that last paragraph, I thought, “That sounds like New York!” Professional athletes here may not compete naked: We have the Internet and cable TV to provide that temptation. So, we do not even need to leave our houses; debauchery can get pumped directly into our homes if we are not careful.

In addition to such moral challenges, Christians in Paul’s day faced other temptations. Christianity was viewed by many as a threat to the social order, so persecution was a real concern. Christians were not only tempted to drink excessively, engage in sexual immorality, or things like that. They were tempted, by public pressure and government force, to denounce Jesus and return to their pagan roots.

In spite of that, Paul told them that they had not encountered any temptation except those that are common to people, and that God would provide the way of escape. That does not mean the temptation will be easy: Some temptations are ruthless, and we cannot face them alone or in our own strength. A few of our escape routes from temptation may be:

  • Flee the temptation: 1 Corinthians 6:18 urges us to flee sexual immorality, but the “flee” principle applies to a host of other sins. Are you tempted by internet pornography? Get away from the computer: Go for a walk (leave your smartphone home, if necessary). Are you tempted to get drunk? Do not stick around in a bar or at a party where there is a lot of alcohol.
  • Phone a friend: In Galatians 6:1-2, we are told to restore a person who is caught in a transgression “in a spirit of gentleness.” I will take it one step further: Find that gentle fellow believer—someone you can trust—and ask them to pray with you. Perhaps you know someone who has struggled with your temptation in the past and found victory. (Do not look for the person who will tear you down and treat you poorly: Look for the person who understands your temptation, knows how to overcome it, and will love you through it all.)
  • Renew your mind: James 1:14 tells us that a person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own evil desire. Before we blame the devil, we need to remember that he will only use the ammunition we have placed in our own minds. Therefore, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2). Studying Scripture and prayer are a great place to begin. As we allow the Holy Spirit to renew our minds (transforming our thinking) through the Word of God, we defuse some of the ammunition that Satan will try to use against us.

I would love to hear some other suggestions for resisting temptation. Feel free to share your spiritual resources and escape routes in the comments.

This post was written as part of the Scripture Sabbath Challenge.

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Scripture Sabbath | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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