Sunday Morning Word: Overcoming Temptation

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)

Temptation. We all face it. It’s a natural part of being human. That inner battle that results in us choosing to either do good, stay the course, and continue walking in the Spirit, or veer from the path and stop at a little dive bar off to the side, where we can fulfill the desires of our flesh for just a couple of minutes.

Sometimes we are able to overcome temptation. Other times, the call of the flesh is just too loud and it gets the better of us. If you succumb to the temptation, don’t make the mistake that I often do and go silent, as if to say, “If I don’t say anything, maybe God won’t know.” That is only the tricks of the devil, and you have to kill that thought before it even arises. God is everywhere. He sees all and He knows all. He knows what you’re going to do even before you do it. Hiding from God because you’re ashamed, like Adam and Eve did when they ate from the forbidden tree and saw that they were naked (Genesis 3:10), won’t get you anywhere. It’s almost as if you’re making a fool of Him to think that he doesn’t already know. What’s done in the dark will come to light, but that doesn’t mean He won’t forgive you when you finally do come to Him. The question is will you?

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. (James 1: 13-15)

Sometimes it’s hard to admit when we do wrong. We fight it with all our might. Deep down, we know we’re good people; we just had a moment of weakness. We know we’re better; we can do better. So we’ll pretend this moment of weakness never happened. We’ll continue to be the “good Christian” people we know we can be. But what happens when that temptation returns? Will we be able to resist it, or will we again have a moment of weakness and try to fix it ourselves by sweeping it under the rug and hoping that God won’t find out?

We are doing ourselves a true disservice when we don’t let God into our problems. David shows us in Psalm 32:5 how truly forgiving God is if we only confess: “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.’ And you forgave the guilt of my sin.” Then again in Proverbs, we see what covering up our sins gets us. “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy”  (Proverbs 23:13). But for those of us who like to put on our “good Christian” faces even when we know our actions show the opposite, John brings that conviction that we need to finally kneel before God and tell him all our troubles.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10)

So what happens after you confess, after you finally include God in your life, showing Him your troubles and asking Him for help? Don’t expect Him to wrap you up in a bubble so that you’re never tempted again. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have over come the world” (John 16:33). Let us not forget that even Jesus was tempted (Matthew 4:1-11), but He was able to overcome it. If He hadn’t, if He had fallen to the deceit of Satan, He couldn’t have become the Savior of the world. You don’t have to wait until after you’ve messed up to go to Him. Run to him while the temptation is still strongly pressing down on you. He knows exactly what you’re going through because He’s been through it, and He can provide you with a way out.

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

Your way out of temptation is the word of God. If we look back to the temptation of Christ, we see that each of Jesus’ responses to the devil comes directly from Scripture. When Satan tells Jesus to turn the stones to bread for food, Jesus says, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’ ” (Matthew 4:4). When Satan tells Jesus to throw himself off the highest point of the temple to see if the Lord’s angels will catch him, Jesus responds, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’ ” (Matthew 4:7). When Satan promises Jesus the kingdoms of the world if He will only bow down and worship him, Jesus answers, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only’ ” (Matthew 4:10).

If we are to resist the temptation of the enemy, it is important that we know the word of God, and not just have it memorized—because Matthew 4:6 shows us that even Satan can quote the Bible—but know it and understand it. Ephesians 6:11 instructs us, “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” Part of that armor is the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:17). The King James translation of 2 Timothy 2:15 says, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” We must study the word so that we can discern what is of God and what is not. And for the things that are not of God, we can use His word to resist them violently.

In closing, I’d like to reiterate, for you and for me, how important it is to stay under God’s authority when dealing with temptation. Trying to do it all ourselves only leads to our own self-destruction. My home pastor teaches us that the spiritual principle of authority is God’s plan to protect our lives. So let God protect you. Galatians 5:16 says to “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” I encourage you again and again, to walk in His Spirit, immerse yourself in the studies of His word, resist the devil and his tricks and temptations with the tongue of Christ, which is a double-edged sword (Revelation 1:16), and he will flee from you.

Happy Sunday.

Sunday Morning Word: The Prodigal Son Returns

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20; NIV)

Good Sunday morning! I wake up to gray skies and a blanket of damp leaves covering my lawn. It’s been a surreal past few days, all of it coming to a head when I heard the news that a wayward family member was recently arrested for allegedly . . . robbing a bank. I honestly can’t say I’m surprised. The only time we ever hear from him is when he needs money, and once he has it, he’s gone again. He’s been walking the edge of this path for five or six years now. Still, I’m disappointed, because he won’t be able to wriggle himself out of this jam. He is most definitely going to prison, possibly serving an extended sentence.

“The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.” (Luke 15:12-13)

Since hearing the news, my family has been spinning on their heads, crying waterfall tears, making themselves sick with worry. My reaction (if you could even call it that) hasn’t been quite so dramatic. For the past several months, I’ve been training myself not to react with my emotions to thing that I know are in the Lord’s hands. I and my family and even a few prayer partners at church have been praying hard that he has a dramatic, soul-changing encounter with God, similar to Saul on the road to Damascus, or Jonah being swallowed by the whale (he’s spent all his time running from Him, we prayed that he would instead run smack into Him), and this just might be that encounter we’ve been praying for.

I hate that it means he might go to prison, possibly for a long time. This society wasn’t created for black men to be successful. They dangle a false promise of the “American Dream” in their faces, then throw them behind bars for the tiniest of infractions. Once tied up in the justice system, it’s so hard for them to break free. I know he’s a good kid. Deep down, he’s a softy. He breaks down and cries the second he gets in trouble. But this world, and the people he’s chosen to associate himself with has made him desperate. And desperate people do desperate things.

“So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.” (Luke 15:15-16)

But then I am reminded of the parable of the prodigal son. How he went out into the world and lost everything he had, even down to his own dignity and self-respect. With his tail firmly set between his legs, he travels back home to his father feeling shameful and unworthy.

“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.” (Luke 15:18-19)

But he isn’t met with judgement or ridicule. When his father sees him, he is filled with compassion. He runs to him, kisses and hugs him. He instructs the servants to kill the fattest calf. They were going have a feast to celebrate his son’s return home.

My unfortunate dear loved one is no saint. He’s made mistakes, he’s hurt a lot of people, including me. But when he does come home, even if it’s just for money, I welcome him in my arms. I forget everything he’s done and plant a wet one right on his cheek, because I’m happier to see him alive and breathing (for the longest time, I feared he was dead), and back home with his family. That’s how I’ll be when he gets out of jail, whenever that will be. I’ll welcome him home as if nothing’s happened. Because what’s more important is that he was lost, and now he’s found, and that is a cause for celebration.

“Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” (Luke 15:22-24)

This is how our Father in Heaven will react when we finally dedicate our lives back to Him. The Bible says that Heaven rejoices when just one person is saved (Luke 15:7; 15:10). Nobody’s perfect, and there’s no sense in trying to be because when you fall short, that failure will eat you alive. But God loves you anyway. We talk so much about wrath, fire, and damnation, but we don’t talk enough about His love. Jesus Christ died on the cross because God loves us. He rose from the grave on the third day because God loves us. His precious blood washed us free from sin because God loves us. I don’t know if you know this, but when you return to Him, there’s a party going on in Heaven, and it is LOUD.

And please don’t be like the prodigal son’s brother, who was jealous of the welcome his younger brother received; “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with, my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him” (Luke 15:29-30). Sometimes we as Christians don’t realize the treasures we already have in Christ. We get impatient in our prayer, and when we see someone, who hasn’t be saved for nearly as long as we have, get their heart’s desire, we cry out to God for our cut.

But remember that “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:8-10). God gave us salvation through Christ. He already loves you for your faith, your enthusiasm to do the work of ministry. Everything His has is already yours. Jesus says to the people, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7). Paul tells the Philippian church, “My God shall supply all your needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).

God celebrated just has hard for you, whether you noticed it or not, and He doesn’t love anyone else any more than he loves you or I. So rejoice in your brother’s/sister’s coming home. Our family is expanding to greater sizes everyday.

“My son,” the father said, “you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”

Happy Sunday.