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.

Sunday Morning Word: Give From Your Heart

Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:7; NIV)

After my little rant yesterday about how a little old woman in the grocery store conned me out of $20, I knew “giving” would have to be my message today. For Sunday Morning Word, I usually take some inspiration from whatever sermon my pastor preached that week. If I already have an idea brewing, he usually confirms it with his sermon, and lo and behold, he did that again this week (I know it can only be the Holy Spirit aligning our hearts and minds to do His Will), leading us to Exodus chapters 35 and 36, when Moses asks the Israelites to give what they have to the Lord.

Then the whole Israelite community withdrew from Moses’ presence, and everyone who was willing and whose heart moved him came and brought an offering to the Lord for the work on the Tent of Meeting, for all its service, and for the sacred garments. (Exodus 35: 20-21)

With Thanksgiving finally behind us, it is officially the holiday season, which also means it is the season of giving. Yes, when the elaborate lights, decorative snowflakes, and Christmas trees come out, people start to feel just a little more generous than they do any other time of the year. If you shop at Food Lion, you’ve probably been asked at the register to donate a $5 hunger box to people in need. Any day now, the Salvation Army will be standing outside of all the major stores like Wal-Mart, Target, Macy’s, and others, ringing their bells. My local FOX news station sponsors “Give a Kid a Coat” and “Gifts for Kids” campaigns at this time, as well as a holiday concert where your only “ticket” is donated canned goods. My church even has an “Adopt a Family” program, where members give toward the program, as they feel lead to do so, during the offering, and the church uses that money to “adopt” a family in need and give them a Christmas they’ll never for get.

Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and He will repay him for his deed. (Proverbs 19:17; ESV)

Giving to the needy is such an integral part of Christianity. There are verses all over the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments, about how important it is to give. With Christ, we have the ultimate example. Jesus gave His life so that we all could live, if we just believe in him; “For God so love the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16; NIV). If Jesus was willing to die on the cross for little ol’ me, who am I to say I won’t give a dime to my brother in need?

The great thing about giving, and I’ve said this before, is that it feels so good, like the releasing of euphoria, when you do it. Remember, “God loves a cheerful giver.” However, if you don’t feel lead by the Lord to give, don’t do it. Don’t give “reluctantly or under compulsion,” like I did with that little old woman, but with compassion and an eagerness to help, and God will reward you. Going back to the scripture from Exodus, if you read through to chapter 36, you will see that the Israelites gave so much that Moses had to order them to stop giving because they already had more than enough (Exodus 36:6-7). We see this overflow of blessing again in Malachi 3:10. This is the only time God invites us to test him. “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house . . . and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.”

Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. (Luke 6:38)

With that being said, don’t be boastful about your giving. God loves a cheerful giver, but he detests the proud (Proverbs 16:5). Jesus said in Matthew 6:2-4, “When you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men . . . But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Everything we have belongs to God anyway, which is why we tithe—“Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s (Mark 12:17)—so when you give to someone in need you are essentially giving back to the Father.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me . . . Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. (Matthew 25:35-40)

Is there anyone out there today so generous? Would you sell all of your possessions to give to someone in need (Acts 2:45)? It truly bothers me when I turn on the news or login to social media and see so many of my fellow Americans act so cold-hearted towards people less fortunate than they. They ridicule people working minimum wage jobs—they call these people lazy, yet they work; they live in poverty, but they don’t deserve an increase in wages, they don’t deserve the wealthy’s increase in taxes to sponsor welfare programs that would put food on their tables to feed their families. These proud people sit on their high horses and look down their noses, they preach from their soapboxes that nothing is free when they themselves didn’t obtain their wealth on their own. “For what makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (1 Corinthians 4:7).

Remember, God detests the proud, but blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the pure in heart, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness (Matthew 5:3-12). Blessed are not the proud, blessed are not the boastful, blessed are not the content with their own wealth. Jesus himself said that “it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:21), because “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). Don’t let your treasure be in your earthly possessions. Humble yourselves; give to your brothers and sisters in need.

Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors Him. (Proverbs 14:31; ESV)

It bears repeating— Everything you have God gave to you. Ecclesiastes 5:19 says, “When God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work—this is a gift of God.” Honor God with your gift by giving to the needy. This is as much a message for me as it is for you. God is very reciprocal. Serve your brothers and sisters, as you would serve the Lord (Ephesians 6:7). Treat them with love, respect, forgiveness, and kindness, as you would have your Father in heaven do unto you. Give of your heart this holiday season and see if you should not receive a hundredfold from God.

Happy Sunday.

Sunday Morning Word: Be Kind to Someone

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
(Ephesians 4:32; NIV)

Good Sunday morning, my lovely new followers! (and potential followers—you know you want to click that “Follow” button. 😉 Go ahead, I’ll wait.)

I’m bringing back the series “Sunday Morning Word,” because with all that is going on in the world today, we need a good remindin’.

Since the Hair’s election, I’ve been hearing a lot of reports of despicable harassment. Trump supporters are painting swastikas on dormitory halls where Jewish students lay their heads. Others are wearing blackface, chanting, “Build that wall!” and “Go back to your country!” to citizens who were born and raised here and only know how to be Americans. A black veteran was denied a free meal at Chili’s on Veteran’s Day. Come on, guys, we can’t possibly this cold-hearted and evil.

Those who are kind benefit themselves, but the cruel bring ruin on themselves. (Proverbs 11:17)

I’d like to think there are good people in this country. People who don’t just hate because someone looks different, or speaks a different language, or practices a different religion. It is times like this when I am reminded of Jesus and the Samaritan woman. While the Jews would have nothing to do with the people of Samaria, the Bible tells us in John 4:4 that Jesus instead had to go through Samaria. That He had to have this encounter with this woman. This woman, who is clearly a sinner—five husbands, and the man she’s with now is not even her husband (John 4:18)—comes to draw water from the well at high noon, the heat of the day, when no one else would be around to judge her, or talk down to her about her lifestyle choices, and she meets a man, the promised Messiah, who tells her everything she’s ever done (John 4: 29), who speaks of living water, that she will never go thirsty again (John 4:13-14), and leaving her jar of water behind, she runs to tell the people about this man (John 4:28-29).

Jesus tells His disciples to “open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest” (John 4:35). There are people in this world who are thirsty for God’s grace. We can’t continue to be selfish and avoid them, dislike them from a distance, simply because they are different, or because they do things that we don’t like. God has sent us out into the fields to reap what He has sown, to evangelize and make disciples of His people. This life has never been about your or me, but it has always been about bringing glory and honor to our Father in Heaven.

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matthew 9:36-38)

Christ should be our example; “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:14-15). As followers of Him, we need to be that “light” in a very dark world. People are looking to us to be that example of Christ, and our actions will determine whether or not they will glorify our God in Heaven (Matthew 5:14-16). For God so loved that world that his sacrificed his only Son so we could all be saved (John 3:16). It’s time we showed that love to our brothers and sisters.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

I challenge all of you to be kind to someone this week, and to show them Christ’s unconditional love for them and every one of us. Happy Sunday!