Friday, October 17, 2014

Enduring Temptation -- Is It a Matter of Exercising the Power Within?

“Enduring Temptation”

Does it depend on exercising the power within us?

October 18, 2014

Larry Evans


“The Devil made me do it!” or did he?  This is an expression we sometimes say in jest when we give in to a temptation but is it really true? Is that always the case? Do we sometimes try to take ourselves off the hook by saying this?  What part do we have in being tempted and when does temptation become a sin?  Where do our own desires fit into the picture?

“A story tells of a man who always blamed Adam and Eve for sin.  Growing tired of hearing his complaints, a friend invited him to housesit while he went on vacation.  He left everything in the house at this disposal except a small box sitting in a corner.  That was off-limits, the friend said, and he shouldn’t open it.  The first man agreed to the terms.  Unfortunately, he couldn’t contain his curiosity or control his desire to see what the box contained.  Within a half hour of his friend’s departure he had opened the box.  When he did, a rat jumped out and disappeared.  The man spent the rest of the time in turmoil; he tried to locate the rat or get another one for the box, but couldn’t.  When his friend returned and saw what curiosity and desire had done, he admonished him to stop blaming Adam and Eve for sin, since he was just as guilty.  That’s how desire works.”  -- Bertram L. Melbourne in The Practical Christian, p. 37.

Reflective Questions

1.             To be tempted or not be tempted is a choice we make?  (James 1:14,15; Rom. 13:14) True or False?
2.             “The Devil made me do it,” explains how we are tempted.  (James 1:13-15; Gen 3:1-6) True or False?
3.             To meet each temptation successfully, we must “permit” God to intervene?  (James 1:16,17; Titus 3:5-7)  True or False?
4.             The control of our words begins by first listening to God’s words. (Ps 46:10; Isa 50:4-9) True or False?

Our Study Notes
1.             To be tempted or not to be tempted is a choice we make?  (James 1:14,15) True and False

As we begin our study about “temptation” lets remember how James begins his letter.  Here it is in the Message:

2-4 Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don't try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.

Through tests, challenges and/or temptations our faith experience will be exposed.  James is writing to encourage us.  We may want to ask “Why is this happening to me” but James is saying that even more important than “why” is “how” – “’How’ we respond is of even greater significance.”  I am reminded of what one author wrote:  We often pray that our circumstances will change but God is more interested in changing us than our circumstances.  So as we give study today to facing temptations that come to us, we need to keep in mind what James says the real outcome of meeting temptations and trials are.  Through these temptations or tests we are to become “mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (Jas 1:4)

The Greek word for trials/temptations has two basic meanings: (1) The inner pull to sin (1 Tim. 6:9 – “harmful desires”) and (2) External afflictions or difficulties such as persecutions (1 Pet. 4:12 – fiery ordeal).  In some passages like Mat 26:41 (“Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”) both meaning are included.

Now back to the question:  Is being tempted a choice we make or is it a consequence of being a product of being part of the human family?

Consider Romans 13:14
14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

Or as the NKJV
14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.

2.             “The Devil made me do it,” explains how we are tempted.  (James 1:13-15; Gen 3:1-6) True or False?

It is true sin originated with Satan.  The root of pulling away from God and His plan for us is certainly rooted in Satan’s own rebellion.  But the question is really this – Do we manufacture some of our own temptations?

Note what James says in 1:14,15

14 but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full–grown, gives birth to death.

Dragged away from what?  Verse 12 says that the Lord has a “crown of life” for those who “love Him.”  Would it be fair to say that at the root of all temptation is the pulling away from our love and allegiance to the Lord?

Consider Adam and Eve. They were placed in a garden where all that God had created for them surrounded them.  They had no needs.  They had everything except one thing – they were not God!  So Satan began his temptations there by challenging God and what He had said to them.  Eve listened and  the Bible says her temptation was three-fold:

1.             She saw that the fruit was good for food. [Did she need food!  What God had said was not good for her she concluded differently.]
2.             Eve found that her senses (sight) overrode God’s instructions:  the fruit was pleasing to the eye.
3.             Eve desired a wisdom that came from outside of God’s plan for her.  She chose a source of wisdom that was contrary to God’s. 

Eve’s choices progressively led her away from trusting in God and His word.

3.             To meet each temptation successfully, we must “permit” God to intervene?  (James 1:16,17; Titus 3:5-7)  True or False?

There is a popular preacher today who is blanketing the airways with advertisements about his books and sermons. “You have the power within you to overcome your circumstances.” Is the power within us our outside of us?  Does it really matter as long as I overcome? But this pastor isn’t the only one saying this.  Note the following quote:

“Now in Sahaja Yoga you have to know that you have the power within yourself. It is there, it exists there, and it is to be just awakened in some people. It takes time to be awakened, in thousands I have seen it takes no time, the only thing that I would suggest is to keep your mind open not to become obstinate about things.

Here is another:
You do have special powers - the only reason why you're not living the life you want is because you don't know how to use those special powers.
I call it the power within - and once you learn how to apply the awesome power that you have within yourself - you will be able to dramatically change or improve your life faster than you thought possible.—Karim Hajee, Creating Power

Rhonda Byrne writes:
“All good things are your birthright! You are the creator of you, and the law of attraction is your magnificent tool to create whatever you want in you life. Welcome to the magic of life, and the magnificence of You!” (The Law of Attraction, p. 41)

Joel Osteen
I want to talk to you about the power of I am. What follows these two words will determine what kind of life you will live.  I am blessed. I am slow. I am a terrible mother. The I am’s that come out of your mouth will determine either success or failure.  Whatever follows “I am” will always come looking for you.

In contrast to these motivational speakers we find the insightful words of Ellen White,
“If God is an essence pervading all nature, then He dwells in all men; and in order to attain holiness, man has only to develop the power within him.  These theories [pantheism, etc.] followed to their logical conclusion, . . . do away with the necessity for the atonement and make man his own savior. . . . Those who accept them are in great danger of being led finally to look upon the whole Bible as a fiction. . . .  (Faith I Live By, p.40)

These theories regarding God make His word of no effect, and those who accept them are in great danger of being led finally to look upon the whole Bible as a fiction. They may regard virtue as better than vice; but, having shut out God from His rightful position of sovereignty, they place their dependence upon human power, which, without God, is worthless. The unaided human will has no real power to resist and overcome evil. The defenses of the soul are broken down. Man has no barrier against sin. When once the restraints of God's word and His Spirit are rejected, we know not to what depths one may sink.  (Ministry of Healing, p. 429)

James 1:14-18

14 but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full–grown, gives birth to death.

16 Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. 17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

The power to endure trials and to overcome temptation lies outside of ourselves.  It is true that the Holy Spirit will dwell in our hearts but our “hearts” or our “minds” must be informed by God’s word not by our sheer desire to think differently.  We submit to God’s objective Word and not to our subjective emotions.

The solution for temptation is to be found in a close relationship with the Father and a constant response to His Word. He does not promise a life without trials but He promises His presence with us as we meet trials and temptations. One must rest in the unchangeable Lord of light and rely on His life-giving “Word of truth” (cf. Eph. 1:13; Col. 1:5; 2 Tim. 2:15).
            There is no reason why one of God’s chosen firstfruits, or regenerated believers, has to yield to temptation. He must learn to resist its deadly force, or he can never grow into the spiritual maturity God desires of His children of light (Eph. 5:8; 1 Thes. 5:5).

            Ultimately the key to responding to trials and resisting temptation is be found in one’s reaction to God’s Word. Receptivity to the Word, responsiveness to the Word, and resignation to the Word are essential to spiritual growth. One must accept God’s Word, act on it, and abide by it.

4.             The control of our words begins by first listening to God’s words. (Ps 46:10; Isa 50:4-9) True or False?

James 1:21
 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

Is it the word that saves us? Is it the word that controls our words?

James advises us to get rid of all that is wrong in our lives and “humbly accept” the salvation message we have received, because it alone can save us.  Hanging onto that which degrades us while trying to overcome that which we want to put out of our lives only makes the battle more difficult and even impossible.  The fight of faith is not so much “doing” as it is “submitting” or “surrendering” our wills to God.  It begins by “listening” to Him.

4 The Sovereign LORD has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught.

5 The Sovereign LORD has opened my ears, and I have not been rebellious; I have not drawn back. (Isa 50:4,5)
James 4:7,8

7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double–minded.

Concluding Thoughts

While the Christian invites Christ to come into his/her heart, the power to overcome sin and the strength to meet the trials that will come are not “within” us.  Scripture consistently directs our attention to the sanctuary (Ex 25:8), to the sacrifice of Jesus (Rev. 12:11), to the dwelling place of God (Ps 121:1,2).  The “spiritualism” that confronted Adam and Even in the garden sought to displace God with an alternative.  Eve sought the desires within her heart, the wisdom within her mind, rather than God’s.  Such a course led not to prosperity but to heartache.  Such is the temptation today.

But there is good news!

The sinner may resist this love, may refuse to be drawn to Christ; but if he does not resist, he will be drawn to Jesus; a knowledge of the plan of salvation will lead him to the foot of the cross in repentance for his sins, which have caused the sufferings of God’s dear Son. (Steps to Christ, p.27)

Overcomers, then, are those who do not “resist” God’s intervention into their lives.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Our Mission

Sligo Sabbath School Class
Larry R Evans
August 30, 2015
In 1959, the USSR leader Nikita Khrushchev made unprecedented visit to America.  This was soon after the death of the Russian dictator Joseph Stalin.  Khrushchev had already caused a global stir by denouncing Russia.  He spoke strongly against the many atrocities of his former leader: his genocidal policies against the Ukraine, cold-blooded assassinations of anyone who could no longer serve him.  When Khrushchev appeared before the National Press Club in Washington he was expected to repeat the denunciations of Stahlin and he did.

As he finished, someone shouted out from the crowd, “Mr. Khrushchev, you have just given an account of Mr. Stalin’s many crimes agains humanity.  You were his right-hand man during much of that.  What were you doing?”

When the question was translated, Khrushchev exploded in anger and responded:  “Who said that!”

No one answered. And again Khrushchev bellowed out the question but still no answer.

Then once again he raised the question again but this time low and quietly.  Everyone looked down.

After a few moments of quiet and non-interrupted silence, Khrushchev said, “That’s what I was doing.”  (See Hidden in Plain Sight by Mark Buchanan, pp.41-42)

We sometimes give the impression that we only witness when we speak up and say or do something but this is a false impression.  Even our silence is a witness.  This week we will be directing our study and reflection to “Our Mission.”  But the question I am asking myself is this:  “Is this ‘my’ really mission?”  If so, then have I dwarfed the Great Commission into something I do or don’t do?  Perhaps “my mission” is best understood when it is seen as part of a bigger mission, God’s mission.  When that happens there is greater confidence that it will be completed.  And what about my silence in the face of such a mission?  The words of Khrushchev to the question “And where were you? strike at the core of who I am and what kind of disciple I am.  In the midst of the greatest conflict and “genocide” the universe has ever known, I find myself asking:  “How can I remain silent?”  I want to respond, “Here I am, send me!”

Reflective Questions

1.    Our mission differs from God’s mission.  True or False? [Isa. 6:1-8]

When Jesus was recruiting His disciples He simply said, “Come, follow me.”  Then he added, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” (Mt 4:19, NIV)  “Follow me” literally means “come behind me.”  The disciples didn’t start out on their own mission.  Their mission was to become  and do what God was already doing. In fact, they didn’t even fully understand the mission of Jesus.  They would only learn what their mission was by following Him and seeing Him mission in action.  So it is with us.  This “calling” carried with it a cost.  It meant more than leaving one’s profession.  It also meant setting aside one’s family responsibilities. In verse 22 we see that James and John left their nets and their “father” behind.  I don’t believe God intends for us to neglect family responsibilities but at the same time it does mean certain family priorities may change with the particular mission God calls us to.

2.    We are the light the world needs to see in times of distress. “Let your light shine.” (Mt 5:14)  True or False? True and False [Jn. 8:12, 12:22; Isa. 43:10-12]

“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.” (Mt 5:14)

It has been said that the church is indeed like a city set on a hill – it is inaccessible and unapproachable!  I often mention this when presenting seminars on ministries for the disabled.  Unfortunately this is more true than we would like. No one that I know of intentionally wishes to make access to God difficult.  It happens but its not intentional.  The “light” that Jesus is speaking about is rooted not in ourselves but in the Source of light or revelation.  Note Isa 60:1

1 "Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.

The light of the glory of the LORD is both an objective reality (a new dawn) and a subjective experience (your light). The Lord’s redeeming work is the light or blessing that falls on Israel who in turn shine light into the nations around them.  We, as Israel of old, are to reveal God’s word and glory to others and in so doing we share the “blessings” that He has given to us.  So while the “light” in one sense is ours it didn’t originate with us.  It was shared with us.

In fact in Jn 8:12 Jesus says He is the light and then in 12:22 we find the Greeks coming to Philip at worship and making that famous request, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.”

3.    Our witness is about us. True or False (but with explanation) ? [Rev. 12:11; Isa 43:10,12]

In Isa. 43:10 we see the Lord prompting His people by reminding them, “You are my witnesses.”  But the amazing thing is that God says this after what He has said about them in chapter 42.  In 42:7 we have an important insight into God’s mission and ours!  God’s people were to be “a light for the Gentiles.”  But according to verse 18 and following these very Gentiles can look around and see God’s witnesses as being as “blind” and “deaf” as they are and even being plundered or punished by God.  What kind of “light”, what kind of “witness” are God’s servant witnesses?  Isaiah is doing two things:  He is pointing out the need for a Servant that supersedes his people servants but he also points out the deep spiritual need Israel has.  Israel hasn’t been forsake but Israel is neither the light nor the witness God needs.  The nations of the earth need to know from God’s people whether it be in good times or in bad that God is God!  He says of the mission given to His chosen and called people:
“You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, that I am God.”

In whatever experience(s) we are going through, can God point to us and with confidence say, “You are my witnesses?”
Our witness is about us in the sense we have personalized how God has intervened and brought us hope and confidence in the midst of our chaotic lives:

“They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.”  -- Rev. 12:11

4.     Those sent will do greater things than the One who sent them.  True or False? [Jn 14:12; 11:11; 20:12; 17:17-19]

“Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” – Jn 14:12

Before we answer our questions we need to review what works Jesus had been doing.  In other words, in context what “works” had Jesus been doing that the disciples would be doing “even greater things” than Jesus had been doing.  We find the ministry works of Jesus as being  #1 the evangelizing of the Samaritan won (4:34); #2 the healing of the lame man at the Pool of Bethesda (5:20); #3 the healing of the man born blind (9:3,4); #4 the miracles of Jesus in general (eg. 7:3, 10:25, 32, 33); #5 Jesus’ teaching (chp 10) and #6 Jesus’ entire ministry (5:36; 17:4).  How could the work of any disciple exceed these works!!  Jesus says this would be possible “because” of what will happen when He returns to the Father.

When Jesus went to the Father His disciples now empowered by prayer (vss 13-14) and obedience (v. 15). The Holy Spirit (vss16-17) extended the work of Jesus on a scale not possible before.  Of John the Baptist it was said he was the greatest but he was also the least.  How so? 

John was the the messenger spoken of Malachi 3:1. In Malachi the wording is ‘before me’, and his role is to prepare for the coming of God for judgment. Jesus’ application of this text to John implies that his own (Jesus’) coming, for which John prepares, is the coming of God himself.  In our passage (Jn 14:12) we see Jesus’ ministry preceding another divinely appointed and even greater expansion of God’s work in preparation for His 2nd coming!  That next expansion is the coming of the Holy Spirit in a new and exciting way.  This was of special comfort to the disciples then but would be an even greater encouragement after the cross and partially fulfilled at Pentecost!  

5.    When leading someone to Christ, the process ends with the person’s baptism.  True or False? [Mt 28:19,20]

18 Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."  (Matt 28:18-20)

The all-universal authority given to Jesus (v.18) now demands a universal mission!!  The issues raised first in heaven and then transferred to the earth are being resolved.  An integral part of this ongoing battle and ultimate victory is the testimony or witness of God’s people.  The going, the teaching and the baptizing (all participles) underscore the one verb:  make disciples!  Disciples of “all nations and peoples of every language” (Dan. 7:14) are possible because of the universal authority given to Jesus!  Indeed the climax of both Daniel 7 and Revelation 14 is the worship of Jesus and the supreme universal God, Saviour and King!  It becomes clear, then, that witness and worship are linked and together speak to the vindication of God to the charges brought against Him.  The witness of His disciples is indeed a voice that needs to be heard.

6.    Privileges given to disciples protect them from judgment. [Rom 2:17-29; Isa 58:1-3]True or False?

We must never assume that because we have been entrusted with a special message from God that we ourselves are not also judged by the same message we deliver to the world on His behalf. Note the sobering words of Paul to the Jews:

17 “Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and boast in God; 18 if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; 19 if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of little children, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— 21 you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself ? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? 24 As it is written: "God's name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you." (Rom. 2:17-24)

Concluding Thoughts for Reflection

John the Baptist had preached, he had warned and rebuked.  He counseled those who had become curious and even alarmed to “Look” at the Lamb of God. (Jn. 1:29).  He himself said, “I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.” (v. 34).  No doubt such teaching had its impact but when Jesus was asked if He was asked about His activities He simply said, “Come and you will see.”

There is something powerful about the way we live, the way we interact with life’s challenges and the way we related to others, which speak louder than words!  Our mission needs living proof that once Jesus is accepted into one’s life a difference can be seen.   Words of teaching, yes!  Going into all the world, yes!  Baptizing, yes!  But our mission is best told, shown and experienced when we can say, “Come and see!”