Overcoming Temptation

“Temptation may even be a blessing to a man when it reveals to him his weakness and drives him to the almighty Savior. Do not be surprised, then, dear child of God, if you are tempted at every step of your earthly journey, and almost beyond endurance; but you will not be tempted beyond what you are able to bear, and with every temptation there will be a way of escape.” – F.B. Meyer

Maybe you have heard it said that opportunity only knocks once, but temptation knocks continually. It never stops trying to find a way into our lives. We all face temptation, the question is how effectively do we deal with it. There are some very simple and effective things we can do to grow stronger and smarter in our struggle against sin. 

First, recognize your tendencies in your struggle against temptation. James 1:14 explains that we are tempted when we become enticed by our own natural desires. The first step toward overcoming temptation is to recognize where, when, and how we are most vulnerable. The temptation to sin is a given, so don’t be surprised by it. Expect to be tempted daily, and be prepared for it. The apostle Peter reminds us to stay on the lookout: “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)

Secondly, avoid what tempts you. When you come face to face with temptation, look for the way out—the way of escape—that God has promised. Then skedaddle. Avoid it like the plague; flee. Run as fast as you can. Thirdly, resist temptation by leaning on the word of God. Hebrews 4:12 says “For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.” Jesus overcame the devil’s temptations in the wilderness with the Word of God. While it can be helpful to read God’s Word when you’re being tempted, it is better still to practice reading the Bible daily so you are ready whenever temptation strikes. If you are reading the Bible regularly, you will start to have the mind of Christ.  

Finally repent from sin. When we fail to flee temptation, eventually we will give in and fall. Temptation is not a sin in itself, but giving in to it is. We need to acknowledge the sins we committed and repent of them before God so that He will forgive us. We can’t ignore the wrong we did and act as if nothing happened – God won’t forgive them unless we confess them as sin. “But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” (1 John 1:9)

Discussion Questions:

  1. What times in your daily or yearly calendar are you tempted to sin? Who in your life tempts you to sin? What places or practices offer you more temptation? 
  2. Why do you give in to your temptations? What are some things that you could do or strategies you could use to resist temptation?

Trials And Temptations

“And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else. Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death. So don’t be misled, my dear brothers and sisters.” – James 1:13-16. 

Though they may feel the same, there is a distinct difference between a trial and a temptation. Discerning between moments of trials versus moments of temptation is an important element of the Christian life. The Book of James provides one of the most concise definitions of a trial. In James 1:2-3, the Bible says, “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.” So a trial is a testing of our faith. It is a moment used by God for our growth, and to draw us closer to Him. Trials come in many forms, but they typically come in the form of an outside force beyond the individual’s control. Illness, fire, accidents, and job loss are easily recognizable as bad moments in life. The Bible makes it clear to us that we will face the duality of both trials and temptations.  

Temptation, by comparison, is internal. Individuals can only be tempted with that which is individually tempting to that person. Some struggle with stealing, some with lust, others with lying. Once again the book of James clarifies in chapter 1 verse 14, “Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away.” Temptation strikes where someone is weakest. God never tempts us: “And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else.” (James 1:13). The devil is behind every pull and persuasion toward temptation.

There is the promise for the tempted in 1 Corinthians 10:13: “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.” The first step to victory over temptation is your attitude towards it, not to fear it, but by faith to accept it; the second step is this: to realize that in God there are limitless resources and power to overcome. Now, why is that so important? It is important because I know, as well as you do, that when the devil comes along with a tantalizing temptation that you remember that nothing is more powerful than your God. When you’re in Christ, sin shall no longer have dominion over you.

It can still be difficult to discern when we are being tempted, and when we are being tried. Sometimes the temptation comes in the trial, wanting to respond in anger, rather than in a Christ-like fashion. Go to God with your trials and temptations, and He will guide you best.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you differentiate between trials and temptations? 
  2. What can you do this week to avoid temptation in your life?  

Resting In Times Of Unrest

Three times I pleaded with the Lord to relieve me of this. But he answered me, “My grace is always more than enough for you, and my power finds its full expression through your weakness.” So I will celebrate my weaknesses, for when I’m weak I sense more deeply the mighty power of Christ living in me.” – 2 Corinthians 12:8-9 (TPT)

Paul was a great man of God. But Paul had something that was bothering him.  It bothered Paul so much that he prayed three times for a “thorn in the flesh” to be removed. Jesus’s response: “My grace is always more than enough for you, and my power finds its full expression through your weakness.” Paul concludes, “So I will celebrate my weaknesses, for when I’m weak I sense more deeply the mighty power of Christ living in me.” 

Said a different way: because of my weakness, God can vividly display His divine power. As with Paul, His grace supplies more than we need to endure whatever it is that threatens us. His grace is more sufficient than your strength. His grace is sufficient to carry you through whatever your own unique “thorn” may be. When Paul surrendered, God could shine brightly through him— which wouldn’t be seen when he relied on himself. But with all that is going on today, how do we do a good job at letting Jesus take over when we are weak. How do we find rest during the COVID-19 pandemic?   

During this pandemic, many us of us deal with the daily temptation to put our faith in hand sanitizer and public policy rather than in God. With all that is going on in the world and in our individual lives, is there a place to turn for rest and stability? These are days when we need to rest in God, the one constant. “Do not tremble; do not be afraid. Did I not proclaim my purposes for you long ago? You are my witnesses—is there any other God? No! There is no other Rock—not one!” (Isaiah 44:8)  God is always there. He can be counted on. God can give us peace of mind through Him, setting our hearts securely at rest. Remember Jesus’ words: “My grace is always more than enough for you.”  Jesus’ favor, or blessing, for me is undeserved and enough to get me through anything. And more, when I am weak, His power rests on me and I can rest in Him. 

One truth we’ve seen proven over and over as we trust God through hard times: God is faithful. He has provided and will continue to provide for us in difficult times. But the good news is this: when we are weak, He pours His strength into us, which gives an entirely new perspective on pain and suffering, hardship, and pressure. Those stresses and strains drive us to our knees. It’s at that point our God comes through, takes us by the hand, and by His grace lifts us up.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does it mean to you to find rest in God? 
  2. What can we do this week to find rest in God during these uncertain times? 

Jesus And Levi (The Tax Collector)

“Later, Jesus went to Matthew’s home to share a meal with him. Many other tax collectors and outcasts of society were invited to eat with Jesus and his disciples. When those known as the Pharisees saw what was happening, they were indignant, and they kept asking Jesus’ disciples, “Why would your Master dine with such lowlifes?”When Jesus overheard this, he spoke up and said, “Healthy people don’t need to see a doctor, but the sick will go for treatment.” – Matthew 9:10-12. 

If you lived in Capernaum in Biblical times and asked the people to name a lowlife, they would most likely have pointed to the man sitting in the tax collector’s booth—Levi (Matthew). Back then, you did not want to be a tax collector. They bunched the tax collectors together with the criminals, with the murderers and the thieves. In New Testament days, a tax collector would buy his job and then use all the tricks of the trade: lying, fraud, extortion, cheating, bribery to make a handsome profit. Tax collectors. including Levi were notorious for squeezing the little guy and swindling the government. And Levi chose to be a tax collector. When the Pharisees saw Levi, they would turn their heads and spit. They hated sinners. They hated Levi. They thanked God that they were not like this tax collector. 

What does the fact that Jesus was attracted to sinners say about Him? Over and over we find Jesus, God in a body, interacting with people who were far from God. Yet there they are, face-to-face with righteousness personified.  

Jesus’ first response to sinful people, other than some religious leaders, was not judgment, condemnation, or even a counseling session. He offered something infinitely better. The account of the sinful woman at the well in John 4 is a good example as is the woman caught in adultery in John 8 or even Jesus calling Levi (Matthew) to join His entourage and dining with sinners and tax collectors in Matthew 9.  

Jesus sees value in all people. That’s why He came to earth to redeem as many as would respond to His rescue plan. Jesus saw beyond race, gender, cultural divisions, and especially sin. The spirit of Christ indeed dwells in all those who follow Christ. John 1:14 (ESV) tells us “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” 

Full of grace and truth, Jesus did not come to strike a balance between grace and truth. He brought both. John had seen this firsthand. He had watched Jesus apply the perfect blend of grace and truth to each individual He encountered. Jesus doesn’t just love sinners in some generic, abstract way. He extended His customary grace-filled invitation to the most unusual candidate imaginable: a tax collector named Levi, and to each one of us. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What in your mind is the difference in loving and liking someone? 
  2. Since God is gracious to undeserving sinners, what can we do this week to do the same?  

Embrace What God Is Doing In Your Life

“As we journey through this life – through the easy times and the painful times – God is fashioning us into people who are like his Son, Jesus. That means God is in the process of changing what we desire far more than He is in the process of giving us what we desire.” –  Charles Stanley, Finding God’s Blessings in Brokenness.  

Peter tried to help Jesus escape being arrested in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus rebuked Peter saying, “But this is all happening to fulfill the words of the prophets as recorded in the Scriptures…” (Matthew 26:56) Jesus submitted himself to God’s will and plan for His life and endure what was to come next. Rather than try to avoid or escape the troubles we are facing, we should embrace God’s will, just as Jesus did. We may never fully understand why troubles come into our lives, but God doesn’t ask us to fully understand, He asks us to trust Him. And we may have difficulty understanding His will for our life, but God’s will isn’t for us to worry, it is to trust His will. Everything we go through is part of God’s plan for us. 

It is understandable that we would feel unsettled in times of trouble and as a result, we stop embracing the life God had called us to because we want things on our own terms. In times like this we need to remember that God sets the terms and He, not us, has an amazing plan for our lives. But before we can fully embrace God’s plan for our lives we have to come to grips with the concept that His plans may not always be logical. They may require us to step out into the unknown through faith. It may be quite an adventure. It may be strewn with some potholes. It will not be a life free of suffering, but it would be a life that God wants us to live. 

But to embrace God’s plan means we have to set aside our plan, our agenda. We need to stop using our own logic to determine what I should (or should not) do. That is not what God wants. He wants our whole life. He wants to be the Potter and we are the clay. “O Israel, can I not do to you as this potter has done to his clay? As the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand.” (Jeremiah 18:6) What if we let God take our whole life and shape it into what He designed it to be? There would be no safer or more joyful place to be than inside His plan for each one of us.

Our time on this earth is fleeting.  If we spend too much time trying to interpret God’s plan for us, we will never implement His plans us. That is where faith and trust and wisdom come in. We don’t know what the future will hold, but we know that He is good and will bring what He began to completion (Philippians 1:6).  

Trust the Lord, His promises, and His plan to direct your path. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.” (Proverbs 3:5–6).

Discussion Questions:

  1. What plans have you been making for yourself? How well do they reflect your trust in God and His destiny and purpose for your life? Why do you think God lets us make decisions about our destiny?
  2. How does truly trusting God for your destiny affect your prayer life, your relationships with other people, and your perspective on world events?
  3. How can you find joy in the reliability of God—despite your circumstances? 

Ask And You Shall Receive

“If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.” –  James 1:5-8. 

James is an incredible book.  James, perhaps more so than any other New Testament book, calls on us to put into practice what we believe on a daily basis. James talks a lot about the importance of synchronizing faith and works. He tells us that faith should be alive, energetic, fruitful, and productive.  

The greater barrier or threat to that kind of faith is suffering. Nothing will cause us more quickly to question the attention or goodness of God than times of trouble. Pain and adversity and various trials and challenges often cause us to wonder: “God, are you there? God, do you care? God, can I really trust You with my life?”

James 1:2 tells us, “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.” It is an opportunity for great joy.  Easier said than done that is for sure. Sometimes it seems out of the question for anybody who is a realist. James was one of those. James knows from his own experience that to respond to pain and suffering with joy doesn’t come naturally to us. He knows that when we are faced with hurricanes, pandemics, tragedy, and disillusionment, the idea of joy can seem like mission impossible. During times of real trouble, it is difficult to see a good God or a beneficial purpose or anything that feels redemptive. It is times as these that we need to remember that joy in times of trouble is a divine gift as James talks about in verses 5-8 of chapter 1.  

If you struggle to see your suffering and heartache from God’s perspective, if you are among those who see no purpose or value in the countless obstacles you confront each day, or you are wondering about what God might be up to in your life, ask Him. Ask Him for wisdom. Ask Him to supply you with spiritual eyes to see what He’s trying to accomplish in your life. James clearly indicates that the key to enduring trials with joy is our ability to “know” or “understand” that God’s purpose in them is to transform us to look more like Jesus. 

There is a promise found in James 1. The promise is for wisdom to “know” that your trials are not without meaning or value but that God can use them for your ultimate welfare. Embracing that promise will help you see the opportunity for great joy in times of trouble.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. How can I choose joy during life’s trials?
  2. How can I find joy when I don’t feel joyful?
  3. How can I trust God to turn my trials into joyful blessings? 

What Is Wisdom

“I want them to be encouraged and knit together by strong ties of love. I want them to have complete confidence that they understand God’s mysterious plan, which is Christ himself.  In him lie hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” – Colossians 2:2-3. 

Most people view wisdom as the appropriate application of knowledge learned over time. The Bible has a lot to say about wisdom. Proverbs for example is replete with verses about wisdom. The Bible views wisdom as immeasurable, priceless, and rare. But in the age of computers on your wrist and the internet containing all the world’s information, how important is wisdom and how do we live a wise life? 

Wisdom is a who more than a what. Jesus is wisdom. He is the Proverbs wrapped in flesh. Jesus lived the Proverbs for us. 1 Corinthians 1:30-31 says, “And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:30–31 ESV)

Wisdom is not smarts. It’s not knowledge to ace out the SATs. D.A. Carlson  said, “Wisdom is not intellectual enlightenment, but insight into the will of God and the ability to apply it to everyday life.” If we want to know what wisdom looks like, there is one place to look. Jesus. We cannot live wisely without Him, the cross, the resurrection, and the Holy Spirit.  If we want wisdom, if we want the Christ-empowered life, we must hear from Him in the Scriptures. “Listen to me! For I have important things to tell you. Everything I say is right,” (Proverbs 8:6 ). We must take His counsel. “Choose my instruction rather than silver, and knowledge rather than pure gold.” (Proverbs 8:10). We must listen to our own counsel far less and His counsel far more.  

Jesus is our wisdom. And in His grace, He freely offers it to us. “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.” (James 1:5) Proverbs 8:17 says, “I love all who love me. Those who search will surely find me.”  If we go to Jesus for help, we will not find a cold shoulder. Instead, we will find the love grace and wisdom we need in these troubling times. 

For followers of Jesus, there is a surpassing source that changes everything when it comes to wisdom. This reality transforms our pursuit and practice of wisdom. Wisdom is no longer about insightful principles for a successful life but about an indwelling power shaping a significant life. Because of Jesus’ redeeming work on the cross and resurrection we have a relationship with the source of the highest and best wisdom. So, for the Christian, wisdom is not the art of figuring it out but the adventure of following Him. The pursuit of wisdom is more than comprehending concepts; it is knowing Christ. 

But to those called by God to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.” – 1 Corinthians 1:24. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How would you define wisdom?
  2. How can Christ be our source of wisdom this week? 

Running From God

“The Lord gave this message to Jonah son of Amittai:“Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh. Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.” But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord. He went down to the port of Joppa, where he found a ship leaving for Tarshish. He bought a ticket and went on board, hoping to escape from the Lord by sailing to Tarshish” – Jonah 1:1-3.   

We all know the story of Jonah.  God told Jonah to go to Nineveh. Jonah went in the opposite direction. Jonah was not content to simply tell God no. He went in the opposite direction. He was attempting to run from God. 

Jonah boarded a boat and probably breathed a sigh of relief as the coast of Israel disappeared below the horizon. But the voyage was barely underway before a sudden squall threatened to reduce the ship to splinters. The ship’s crew began throwing supplies and cargo overboard to lighten the load. Eventually, the sailors decided the storm must be a supernatural punishment for someone on board and set about trying to discover who that person was.  When the sailors asked what they should do, Jonah said in verse 12, “Throw me into the sea,” Jonah said, “and it will become calm again. I know that this terrible storm is all my fault.” The sailors tried battling the storm but eventually threw Jonah into the sea.

Verse 17 says, “Now the Lord had arranged for a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was inside the fish for three days and three nights.” Three days and nights in the pitch-black, seaweed-filled belly of a fish is a long time. I don’t know this for sure, but I don’t think it took Jonah three days and nights to realize that one, God did not run away from him when he ran away from God; and second, that he needed to rethink his decision to go to Nineveh. 

We all have the urge to run now and then. Maybe you’re running from broken relationships when God is clearly directing you towards reconciliation. Maybe you’re running from economic troubles that seem too big or too impossible to fix. Or maybe there is pressure closing in on every side and you can’t possibly see how it can possibly work out. Maybe it is the coronavirus.  

We can run but praise God, He won’t let us get too far. He is a God who relentlessly pursues; a God who mercifully forgives; a God who extends such amazing grace that we’re never, ever too far. One day we’re rebelliously taking off in our own direction, and the next – when we’re desperately in need of rescuing – we identify as His: “I am a Hebrew, and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.” (Jonah 1:9) Jonah realized that the purpose of God’s discipline was not to pay him back, but to bring him back.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are the barriers to doing something every day that requires faith?
  2. What can we do this week to overcome those barriers?

If Any Of You Lack Wisdom

“And if anyone longs to be wise, ask God for wisdom and he will give it! He won’t see your lack of wisdom as an opportunity to scold you over your failures but he will overwhelm your failures with his generous grace.” – James 1:5 (TPT).  

Everybody wants to be wise and some people think they’re wiser than others, but does everyone know what it is to be wise? How many people can admit they are lacking wisdom…at least in some areas? Do we seek the wisdom only God can give? And do we find the wise things to do in God’s word?  The Bible certainly has a fair share of things to say about wisdom. 

Now, consider just a few passages of Scripture that deal with the subject: Consider, for example, 2 Timothy 3:15: “You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus.” Notice how wisdom functions. It is a means to a goal. Wisdom is always a good means to a good goal. The Scriptures make you wise unto salvation. Or consider Proverbs 3:13, “Joyful is the person who finds wisdom, the one who gains understanding.” Biblical wisdom is a path to deep and lasting happiness. Or consider Proverbs 24:13–14: “My child, eat honey, for it is good, and the honeycomb is sweet to the taste. In the same way, wisdom is sweet to your soul. If you find it, you will have a bright future, and your hopes will not be cut short.” If you find true wisdom, it will lead you to a happy future. And that future will last forever. Proverbs 8:32–36 sums it up beautifully: “And so, my children, listen to me, for all who follow my ways are joyful. Listen to my instruction and be wise. Don’t ignore it. Joyful are those who listen to me, watching for me daily at my gates, waiting for me outside my home! For whoever finds me finds life and receives favor from the Lord. But those who miss me injure themselves. All who hate me love death.”  

Looking over the circumstances of the past few years, it is clear that gaining Godly wisdom is not just a one time deal, but a choice each and every day. It’s daily, intentionally going to Jesus first with our worries, hurts, and utter desperation and asking for wisdom. A life full of God’s wisdom looks a lot like Jesus. God allows different situations in our lives, we have a choice if we want to humble ourselves and learn to grow in Godly wisdom or go the other way. Living lives full of Godly wisdom takes time and it takes intentionality. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How can God give us wisdom daily?  
  2. What can we do this week to seek wisdom from God? 

Our Attitude Toward Troubles

“And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.” – Philippians 4:8-9.  

Trouble comes in all forms – family problems, financial problems, emotional stress or personal illness, just to name a few. What should our attitude be during these times of trouble? 

A prophet named Habakkuk had the attitude we all need: Habakkuk 3:17-18  says, “Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord!”

First, the fig tree didn’t blossom. That meant no figs. Figs served as a delicacy, so losing them posed more of an annoyance than anything else. The people missed out on something they enjoyed, but not on something essential. Next, they lost the grapes. Grapes provided the daily beverage, so losing them posed a major inconvenience. Losing the produce of the olive was worse. They had no oil for cooking or for lighting lamps. That significantly hampered their ability to function. Even more critical was the loss of grain. That meant starvation for large segments of the population. The final blow was the loss of the livestock, as this not only deprived them of food but also of their ability to produce it. Given a catastrophe of this magnitude, things looked very bleak indeed.

However, regardless of how bad it got, Habakkuk was determined to keep his heart from sinking into despair. How? By focusing on the bigness of God rather than the bigness of the problem. Habakkuk responded to this really, really bad crisis by rejoicing in God. Even in the most horrible scenario possible, he knew that God would see him through.

It’s not easy to be grateful when we face challenging circumstances. It’s even tougher to be grateful when things go from hurricanes to pandemics. The problems that branch off from these two things seem without end. It can seem like there is little to be grateful for.  For Habakkuk, and for us today, we have to choose how we are going to react.  Even though everything that was familiar to him was about to collapse, Habakkuk still chose to rejoice in his salvation. The prophet was reaffirming his commitment to the Lord. “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord.”

The question for us is what attitude will we chose if difficulties arise today? We can choose very little in life, but we can decide how we will respond to adversity and storms. We can choose our own attitude. Will we be joyful even though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls?  Will our attitude be good regardless of our circumstances? 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Does your attitude toward God change in times of trials or problems? 
  2. What can we do to have an attitude of trust and faith this week regardless of all the negative happening all around us?