No Stumbling Blocks

Romans 14

May 30

One of my all time favorite movies from childhood is Finding Nemo. One of my favorite scenes is when Marlin and Dory meet the group of three sharks who vow not to eat fish anymore. The line that is continually repeated by the sharks is “Fish are friends not food”. The three sharks are attempting to help Marlin and Dory on their quest to find Nemo. Marlin and Dory have a moment where they are arguing over the diving mask that has the address to where Nemo could be. They are pulling the mask to and fro and it snaps against Dory’s nose and she bleeds. The largest of the three sharks, Bruce the Great White, catches a whiff of her blood and he forgets the new motto that he’s trying to live by. A wild chase ensues with one of the most intense scenes from the movie, while the shark who vowed to help lost his way with his desire to eat them.


There are times in our lives where we forget who we have become in Jesus. There are moments where we forget the new life that comes from having a relationship with God and we are tempted to sink back to our old ways. After getting a faint scent of blood Bruce was ready to turn back to his natural shark ways.


In Romans 14 the term that Paul uses is “stumbling block” to refer to areas of temptation in a believer’s life that might not be a hindrance to our siblings in Christ. In fact Paul says to “not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother…so then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (Romans 14:13-19). The blood that came from Dory’s nose was not a temptation that everyone fell for in that scene. Bruce was the weak one who was struggling the most with his new life. The blood was a hindrance and stumbling block that sent him in a frenzy in which he fell into his natural temptation.


If there’s an area that really tempts a brother or sister in Christ, but does not tempt us, we must go out of our way to help our siblings not fall into temptation. Our job is to be our brother’s keeper and to come alongside one another so as to not allow ourselves to fall into sin. Paul implores us and shows the seriousness of bringing temptation to our siblings in Christ by making the statement: “Do not…destroy the one for whom Christ died.” (Romans 14:15). The context of this passage is concerning food and drink that might be a hindrance in the lives of ancient Christians, but the wider application encompasses all temptation that we might face for all time. The greater rule here is that temptation, no matter how insignificant it seems for us, is a big deal to someone who struggles in that area. We must be sensitive to the areas of temptation for our brothers and sisters and make diligent efforts to pursue peace for the mutual upbuilding of the body of Christ.


One of the most practical ways we can limit temptation for those around us is to practice modesty. Modesty is not some old out of date stuffy ideology. Modesty is the pursuit of holiness in Christ through our dress, speech and conduct. Choosing modest clothes, words and actions is something that is so foreign to our world today. God desires us to be set apart and one way we can do that is to make sure that we are honoring God and one another through our appearance, our choice of language and the way we live our lives. This is a way to bring peace to those around us and to make sure that we are not being a stumbling block and a hindrance to those who see us, hear us and live their lives in proximity to us.


Sin and temptation are both extremely serious. They are also both difficult to deal with. But with the help of God and the help of one another we can remove the stumbling blocks from each other’s paths. We can also make sure that we are not hindering one another’s walk with God, but rather enhancing our walks with God by building up one another in Christ.

-Nathan Massie


Application:

  1. Have intentional conversations with your friends about what temptations they struggle with and how you can help them.
  2. Identify your own weaknesses and struggles and ask for help from a trusted and mature Christian friend and/or mentor if you keep falling into the same temptations.
  3. Ask God for guidance on what steps you should take to help your friends with their walks with God.
  4. Build up one another in Christ through accountability. It is nearly impossible to deal with temptation and sin without the help and accountability from mature Christian friends and/or mentors.

Do Do

Romans 7

May 22

As someone who is trending towards 40, I realize there is still some time to grow up.  I am not a lost cause.  However, the longer I teach middle school, the further delayed my coming of age may be.  I still laugh at a lot of immature things.  Body noises. People falling.  General potty humor.   But nothing quite gets me like a “do do.”  I remember sitting in an interview for an open position at my school, intently listening, taking notes, giving confirming head nods, and then out of nowhere came “do do.”  “I am very aware that I do do…”  Every muscle in my body clinched to remain professional.  I hid my smile with my hand, furrowed my brow, and increased the quantity of affirming head shakes. I was no longer listening, only trying to hide the fight going on within.

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.  Romans 7:15-18

In a similar way, Paul makes it clear in Romans 7 that our body and mind aren’t always on the same page.  In our innermost being, we desire the things of God.  We desire to be holy.  We desire to know His will for our life. We want to ponder, study, and worship.  Unfortunately, what we desire and how we act follow different paths. We don’t do the things of God, but we “do do” the things that grasp for the attention of our immature faith, paving our way to fiery judgment with good intentions.

So why are we like this? We are not slaves of sin, but we are very much subject to the circumstance and condition we find ourselves, living in this present evil age.  We are sinners, living amongst other sinners, in a sinful world; it’s what comes to us naturally.  If we try to fight the battle alone, no matter how valiantly we fight or resiliently we hold the line, we will ultimately crash and burn.  It takes the man, Christ Jesus, who fought against sin and came out victorious bringing death to its knees.  We must ask and allow him to intercede and succeed in all areas of our lives, but especially in the places we leave ourselves vulnerable.  He must be Lord of our screens, and our pride, and our money, and our idols, and our drinks, and of all our vices.

Bind yourself to Him. Cling to the cross of our Savior. Until Jesus returns, temptation will surround us, but praise be to our Heavenly Father, it is Christ who lives within us.  Don’t do it any other way. Do do what he says. Bear your cross, increase Christ, and cultivate a mature faith. In turn we will have actions that match the greatest ponderings, pinings, and pursuits of the heart that is completely submitted to God.

-Aaron Winner

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Choose one area of your life in which you know what you want to do in order to be pleasing to God, but you (often) find you do something else instead. How can you bump up your fight against this temptation? How can you make Jesus the Lord of even this area of your life?
  2. Reading through Romans 7, what verse would be a good one for you to post in a significant location and work on memorizing to bring to mind when faced with what you will do – and not do?

Be Careful that You Don’t Fall

2 Samuel 11

March 11

The story of David and Bathsheba is probably familiar to most of us.  King David, described elsewhere as a “man after God’s own heart”, had a little too much time on his hands while his army was away fighting.  One evening, he got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of his palace; and from his roof, he saw a beautiful woman taking a bath.  I’m reminded of 1 Corinthians 10:12, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!”

You might be tempted to stop right there and ask what this beautiful woman was doing taking a bath in public. Wasn’t she inviting unwanted attention? Presumably, she was in her own fenced backyard, and nobody could see her unless someone was on the roof of the palace next door – and who would be walking around on a roof?  Regardless, she isn’t the real topic of the story, David is.

The fact remains that David took a long look at her.  David lusted after her.  David violated one of the 10 commandments: “Don’t covet your neighbor’s wife…”.   Lust is a trap, especially for men – even for a “man after God’s own heart”.  David should have stopped right there, confessed, and asked God for forgiveness.  Instead, he asked one of his servants who she was.  He was definitely showing too much interest.

Once he found out that she was the wife of Uriah, one of his bodyguards, and the granddaughter of Ahithophel, his chief advisor, he certainly should have walked away.  But she was gorgeous, so instead, he invited her over and slept with her.  David violated another of the 10 commandments: “Don’t commit adultery” – and the punishment for this one was supposed to be death.

When David found out that Bathsheba was pregnant, he recalled her husband from the battle so he could go home – to try to hide the fact that David was the father.  But Uriah didn’t cooperate; he didn’t go home.  Ultimately, David then schemed to have Uriah put on the front line of the battle, and have everyone else withdraw, so Uriah was killed.  And so he violated another of the 10 commandments: “Don’t kill”.

David seemed to successfully hide all of this until after the son was born.  But God sent Nathan, the prophet, to confront David.  Nathan told David that God was going to discipline David, according to his sins.  

David wrote Psalm 51 after Nathan confronted him about his adultery with Bathsheba.  In this psalm, we find in verse 1, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion, blot out my transgressions.”  In verses 11-12, “Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your Salvation…”  David’s heart was broken, he confessed, and was reconciled to God.

The discipline came a little later.  During Absalom’s rebellion, Absalom slept with 10 of David’s concubines in public;  David’s daughter Tamar was raped by her half brother Amnon; four of David’s sons died: this baby, Amnon, Absolam, and Adonijah; and David had problems for the rest of his life.  God forgave David’s sins, but David still had to live with the consequences of his sins.

God’s discipline isn’t punishment handed out by an angry God bent on vengeance, it’s difficulty allowed by a loving Father who wants to see his children develop godly character.  Otherwise, it would be too easy to just accept and live with sin, and God loves us too much to let that happen without a fight.

This brings us to our application for us today.

Do you consider yourself to be Godly?  If so, “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!”  If you don’t consider yourself to be Godly, what do you think your long-term future (eternity) looks like?  Isn’t today the best time to solve that problem?

Look at the progression in David’s life.  A glance, lust, adultery, then murder.  Are there places in your own life where you are at that “glance” stage?  The “lust” stage?  Further down the path (to destruction)?  Wherever you find yourself, don’t continue down the path of sin.  Turn around.

Was David’s wild fling worth it?  Absolutely not!  Is the pleasure of your sins worth it?  It never is!  I’m reminded of Hebrews 11:25-26, where we’re told that Moses “chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time… because he was looking ahead to his reward.”  Are you strong enough to forgo “the pleasures of sin for a short time” and instead look ahead to your reward?  If not, ask God to help you.

And when you do sin, don’t just try to hide it.  Remember 1 John 1:9, where God promises, “If we confess our sins, he [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”  It was only after David’s confession that he was reconciled with God.  The same is true for us.

You may be tempted in similar ways as David, or you may be tempted in other ways, but you will be tempted.  1 Corinthians 10:13 reminds us, “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.”

-Steve Mattison

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. In your own experience, have you ever observed (or are currently in) the downward spiral of sin where one sin leads to another? Where would have been the best place to stop? How? How do you turn around now – look at David’s example (Psalm 51 is a beautiful place to start).
  2. To avoid the painful and long lasting consequences of sin in your own life how can you build your resolve to forego the “pleasures of sin” which last a short time? What can you do now to help yourself stand strong when you are tempted? What can you do when you are right in the the middle of a strong temptation? How can you help others stand firm against their temptations?
  3. Like David, sometimes we need our sin pointed out to us before we reach a point of confession. Read 2 Samuel 12. Have you ever needed a Nathan to help you see your own sin? Pray to see your own sin clearly. Then confess it. Have you thanked those who have helped you see your sin. Then, as David said in Psalm 51 – with a pure heart he could, “Then…teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you.”

Knowing to Trust

Exodus 32

February 14

When the people didn’t know what was going to happen with Moses, they turned to Aaron to create new gods. God was very angry.

We have struggled with plenty of fear just in the past few years. Not knowing is a great fear of mine. I struggle with not knowing which college I should go to or what I should do with my life.

The people were dancing and worshiping a golden calf. It says in Exodus 32 that the people are prone to evil. They asked for gods that will go before
them. Do we all struggle with evil or dirty desires? Most likely, but how we handle those desires is what matters the most.

Just because you can’t see what has gone over a mountain or you don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t push for greatness. The kingdom is our goal. It is our motivation. We must trust in what we can’t see or can’t understand at the moment. We must understand that just because God sent Moses over a hill and we couldn’t see him and his plan – we must know there is one.

-Genesis Dylewski

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. The people were quick to take (sinful) action when they felt like they had been abandoned by God and Moses. Have you ever felt (even for a moment or a day) like you were abandoned by God and/or those who have represented Him to you? What options did you have in how you reacted? What would have been the best course of action?
  2. How can you build your trust in God so that even when He is harder to see, you know He and his plan can be trusted?
  3. What false gods or unhealthy practices are you tempted to turn to when you battle fear? What consequences are there in these actions or attitudes?

A Dare

Genesis 3

January 31

      I had an art teacher in elementary school who was used to students making mistakes, and at the start of a school year he would advise his students about the need to be careful in his classroom. He told us about the student who spilled a pot of melted wax on his pants. He told us about the student who was sliced with the paper cutter. He told us about the student who, having been warned that the pottery kiln remains hot long after it shuts off, chose to unlatch and open it to see how the artwork looked. Our teacher wanted to make sure we would not be harmed, and he used the damage that others had suffered to warn us. He knew about the risks, and his knowledge had been proven and tested.

      I think that is part of the problem we see played out in Genesis 3. Adam and Eve were like inexperienced children, so unused to the risks they faced they would not take them seriously. And what could God point back to? No one had ever died, it seems, so saying that they risked dying may not have meant much to them. It even seems like somewhere along the way someone started trying to expand on the rules, not just saying the fruit wasn’t supposed to be eaten but that it wasn’t supposed to be touched. We don’t know whether Adam invented that idea in passing on the rule to Eve, or if Eve created that rule as a reminder for herself to keep herself mindful not to do what God said not to do. But making extra rules can just be a distraction from what God wants, they are hard to justify. When she looked at the fruit it seemed like the kind people could eat, which was totally beside the point – nobody ever said the reason people shouldn’t eat it was because it was poisonous. God entered into this situation like my art teacher if he had simply said “don’t touch these pieces of equipment in these ways” – and students would have invented reasons for why that mattered, and worked out their own solutions for how to avoid the problems they thought were the issues.

      The whole scene with the serpent reminds me of someone getting dared. It isn’t how it is presented, but it is how it comes across. The nudging, suggesting ideas that wouldn’t have come into the mind otherwise, and like so many dares getting a person to cross lines into a bad idea.

      I hate dares.

      And the results of the situation are such incredible losses we can’t really understand them, because we are only used to the results. A world with death and suffering. A world with toil and sweat. One of the most disturbing is what happened to Eve, she had been created to be an appropriate helper for Adam. In chapter 1 they had been blessed and told to rule over the animals of the world. But by chapter three we are told that the man would seek to rule over the woman, and the desire of the woman would be for the man – perhaps meaning she would desire to return to the closeness and openness they previously had.

      Happily, I see no rule requiring us to treat these words as a command. Just as farmers can use pesticides and herbicides rather than letting the struggles of the soil continue as they were originally set up, we can try to improve our situation as humans with each other. Jesus offers us a new pattern for living, based not on rule but on self-giving. The core promise of this passage is that a child would come who would allow changes to be made, breaking the head of the serpent. This is part of the classic “now and not-yet” that affects so much of what the Bible teaches, we know that the ultimate fulfillment is for later, but the start of what we have been offered is already with us and we can rejoice to have it.

-Daniel Smead

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. In what ways today does the Deceiver still use the line, “Did God really say…”? How are God’s words and commands being questioned, twisted and discarded?
  2. What are your greatest temptations? What excuses have you used when you gave into them? Any blaming? How can you better fight the urge to give in to these or other temptations? What do you think would have happened if Eve would have taken her new questions raised by the serpent back to God before eating the fruit? How can God be a part of your fight against temptation?
  3. In their guilt they tried to hide from God. Can you think of a time your guilt has led you to try to distance yourself from God, the church, your family or your Christian brothers and sisters? What was best for Adam and Eve when they were ashamed? What do you think is best for you?
  4. How has the serpent attacked Jesus, the child prophesied? In what ways has Jesus already beat the serpent? What battle is yet to come – with what results? Which side will you be on?

How-To-Do-It Manual

James 1

We begin a new book of the Bible today—James.  James is one of my favorite Bible books.  I participated in Bible quizzing on James as a teenager in IL, and coached Bible quizzers on James in IN and MN.  More than half of the verses of this first chapter of James are underlined in my Bible.   

James’ writing style differs from the author of Hebrews.  He is blunt and forthright in his writing.

The author of James was most likely the son of Joseph and Mary, which made him the half-brother of Jesus.  Interestingly, James and other family members did not initially accept the teaching of Jesus.

In Mark’s account of Jesus, we find these verses.    

 “He came home, and the crowd gathered again, to such an extent that they could not even eat a meal. And when His own people heard about this, they came out to take custody of Him; for they were saying, ‘He has lost His senses.’” Mark 3:20-21

The book of John tells us “For not even His brothers believed in Him.” John 7:5

However, after Jesus had risen from the dead, (“then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles” I Cor 15:7), James’ life was transformed.  He became an important leader of the church in Jerusalem and the surrounding early churches.

The first verse of James ties in with his widespread influence to the churches.  He addresses his letter “to the twelve tribes which are dispersed abroad.”  This audience was actually Jewish Christians, many of whom had been forced to leave their homeland due to persecution.  They were new in their faith and needed instruction and encouragement that was straight forward and easily understood. 

Think about the opportunities and choices available today for people who want to be a “do-it-yourselfer.”  Whether it is home building or remodeling, cooking, gardening, crafting, “you name it,” there is a book, a manual, a TV program, a YouTube video, or a website that can help you out.  (DIY network, HGTV, Craftsy, are a few that come to mind.)  Paul A. Cedar calls the letter of James a “how -to-do-it manual for the Christian life.”  James offers solid, practical instruction for Jesus’ followers.

“Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials,knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” 

Verse 2 tells us to be joyful when we face trials.  It seems like a difficult thing to do, but remember, the Christians who first received this letter had experienced extreme trials to the point they had fled their homes to survive. 

Paul writes in I Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you except something common to mankind; and God is faithful, so He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”

This is the joy we should have when trials confront us.  And, as verse 3 says, “the testing of your faith produces endurance.”  When we experience trials, our faith grows in the Lord, as we work towards our “perfect self” in God’s Kingdom.  (verse 4)

James’ brother Jesus, our Savior, often told parables, or simple stories to help his audience understand his teaching.  I find it interesting that James, like his brother, uses several illustrations in his letter to further explain his instructions to his readers. 

If you lack wisdom, ask God for it, but don’t doubt you will receive it.  One who doubts “is like the surf of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.  Let not that man expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”  (verses 5-8)

Blunt and to the point!  No commentary by me needed! 

Story/illustration #2–Verses 9-12

“Now the brother or sister of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; but the rich person is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so also the rich person, in the midst of his pursuits, will die out.  Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”

A Christian with limited means for livelihood “glories” in his coming inheritance in God’s Kingdom.  A rich man/Christian should glory in the fact that his wealth is temporary, only of this world.  Verse 11 gives us a visualization of the fleetingness of this life—hot sun, scorching wind, dead grass and flowers.  (This picture reminds me of the drought areas around the US this past summer.)  Both men are equal in their future reward, a “crown of life,” IF they “persevere under trial.”

James continues with straightforward, sensible instruction.

“No one is to say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it has run its course, brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers and sisters. Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”

God, the Father of Lights, loves us, and is a generous giver.  His greatest gift was His Son Jesus and the plan of salvation, but He has also given us the beautiful natural world to delight in and discover its wonders each day.  God has given us our families, friends, jobs, food, homes.  How blessed we are.  And His care, His protection, His love never changes—“with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”  This phrase reminds me of one of my favorite verses, Malachi 3:6a. “For I, the Lord, do not change.”

James continues with his direct approach in verse 19.  He tells his readers to be “quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.”  Why? Verse 20 says, “For the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” (Insert drum rimshot here!)  Obviously!

Quick, Slow, Slow.  In other words, 30 seconds to think and respond during a contentious conversation.  Even Thomas Jefferson had this sage advice.  “When angry, count to 10 before you speak.  If very angry, a hundred.” 

Verses 21-25 bring us another story/illustration to make James’ point, if we still don’t get it!  The guidance is repeated with action words this time to begin the illustration. 

  • Put aside filthiness and the remains of wickedness.”
  • Receive the word”
  • Prove yourselves doers, (not merely hearers, who delude themselves.)”

Don’t hold back, James! 

Here comes the explanation/story.  “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who has looked intently at the perfect law, the law of freedom, and has continued in it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an active doer, this person will be blessed in what he does.”  (verses 23-25)

A man looks at himself in a mirror, walks away, and immediately forgets what he looks like.  This man is like a person that listens to God’s Word, hears what “the preacher says,” and then leaves church on Sunday and lives his life the rest of the week not connected to God. 

However, one who not only looks into God’s Word, (the perfect law of liberty) abides in it, and follows through with appropriate actions, is truly blessed in his life.  Paul said it this way, “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” Galatians 5:4.  Where do you start? 

James gives us an example in the last verse of James 1, verse 27.  “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” 

Simple love in action.  The Bible is our guidebook/how-to manual.  We can’t just read it and not follow through.  James 1 is direct instruction for the do-it-yourself generation. 

-Paula Kirkpatrick

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Jeremiah 45-46 and James 1

Take Heart! I have overcome the world.

Reading for today: 2 Chronicles 35-36 & 1 Corinthians 1

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33

You might wonder why our focus verse for today is from John when the daily readings are in Chronicles and Corinthians. This week is FUEL, a National Youth Camp in which young people from all over the country gather to learn and grow in their faith. And the theme for the camp this week is ‘hupernikao’ … a Greek word that means ‘overwhelmingly conquer’.

Every day this week, except for today, we will pull from the daily readings as well as the daily FUEL themes, to explore this theme of overcoming or conquering.

Today, I want to focus on the big picture a bit. Overcome what? How?

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33

This verse in John is rich in helping to answer those questions. We might think that Jesus, who is the speaker here, is being kind of a downer if we just look at part of the verse. In this world you will have trouble? Not much of a pep talk, Jesus.

But if you’re anything like me, this is exactly the kind of pep talk you need.

The truth.

A little aside: A pet peeve of mine is people who sell things who won’t admit that their products have flaws. Their company is the best thing ever, producing the best products ever, which will of course give me the best results ever…Every. Single. Time. Am I the only one who would always be more likely to believe someone who is honest about the limitations of their product line or who is able to admit that while there are great options, there are also some weaker products to avoid? Rant over.

Jesus is laying out the truth here. “You’re a human person living in this world? Yup, you’ll have trouble. Pain. Sorrow. Heartache. Difficulty. Expect that too.”

But he doesn’t leave us there. “Yes, life is hard. Really hard sometimes. … BUT … hold on! You can make it because I have overcome all of it!”

Do you know that in other places in Scripture we’re given specific assurances of overcoming the hard stuff Jesus warned us we would face? Here are a couple of examples:

1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us that God will provide us the means to overcome temptation:

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humanity. God is faithful, and He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape so that you are able to bear it.

And Romans 8:31-39 paints a beautiful and poetic word picture of overcoming a variety of troubles. Spend some time while you read this thinking about what you could use some overcoming in… Are you feeling separated from God’s love? Do you feel pain, even anguish that feels unbearable? Persecuted? Hungry for something but you don’t even know what so you keep going after the wrong thing? Are you in need, bare before Him? Or even feel in danger of slipping out of His grip?

Take heart.

What then are we to say about these things?
If God is for us, who is against us?
He did not even spare His own Son
but offered Him up for us all;
how will He not also with Him grant us everything?
Who can bring an accusation against God’s elect?
God is the One who justifies.
Who is the one who condemns?
Christ Jesus is the One who died,
but even more, has been raised;
He also is at the right hand of God
and intercedes for us.
Who can separate us from the love of Christ?
Can affliction or anguish or persecution
or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?
As it is written:
Because of You
we are being put to death all day long;
we are counted as sheep to be slaughtered.
No, in all these things we are more than victorious
through Him who loved us.
For I am persuaded that not even death or life,
angels or rulers,
things present or things to come, hostile powers,
height or depth, or any other created thing
will have the power to separate us
from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!

-Susan Landry

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 2 Chronicles 35-36 and 1 Corinthians 1

My Sinful Nature

Romans 4-7

I’m skipping right to the end of chapter seven, to a dilemma that many Christians wrestle with.

Starting in verse 15, Paul says, I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.  And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

Paul really nails what I and so many other Christians struggle with – the question of why do I continue to sin if I have turned my life over to Christ?  Certainly all Christians still sin.  I know my sins, and you know yours.  But why do we continue to repeat certain sins over and over, if we know they are wrong, and we want to change our behavior?  It’s frustrating.  Many new Christians especially think they have left sin behind once they have accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior, only to be discouraged to discover that their sin nature is alive and well within them, as Paul points out.

I cannot begin to attempt to explain or examine every facet of sin, and why Christians still find themselves caught up in various sins, but I can offer at least one strategy that has worked for me, dealing with a specific sin.  We should all have strategies for overcoming our biggest sin obstacles. 

The following is an excerpt from the marriage book From This Day Forward by Craig and Amy Groeschel.

-“I have a special software installed that, although it allows me to get on the internet when I need to, filters what sites I can get to.  And it sends reports of everything I see to my accountability partners.  Maybe this sounds extreme to you (which doesn’t bother me at all).  Maybe it sounds like a lot of trouble.  It is.   An obvious question might be, “So are you really that weak and vulnerable Craig?  That if nobody was watching, you’d look at things that were immoral or impure?”  I can honestly say the answer is, “No, not really.”  Right now as I’m writing this, and as I’m thinking about these things, I’m in a really good place.  My resolve is strong.  I’m confident in my relationship with Christ, and everything is going really well.  So why bother?  Because if you are honest, you know that not every single moment of your life looks like that.  Sometimes I get tired.  Sometimes my feelings get hurt, or I get angry, or I feel like I’m not getting everything I deserve.  And then, in those fleeting moments of weakness, every door to temptation that I might otherwise try to turn to is completely, thoroughly, securely locked.  Strong Craig of this moment is looking out for weak Craig of those other moments.”

This is great advice.  (By the way, the software he is speaking of is likely called Covenant Eyes, which we use in our house).  When we are strong, we often don’t think about our weaknesses.  But that is the best time to acknowledge them and plan what to do in case they return.  If we can cut off access to committing some of the sins we have struggled with, then do it, if at all possible.

But when we do sin, whether large or small, habitual sin or not, we need not be discouraged to the point of giving up.  Remember that Christ died for us while we were still sinners.  And Paul humbly acknowledged that even he struggled with continuing to commit sins after accepting Christ.   Our sin nature will not be completely shed until, Christ returns, and he delivers us from it.  Until that day, we should be working to sin less and less.  There are certainly strategies we can employ to try to accomplish that, as mentioned already.  But thanks be to God that Christ’s blood covers us, despite our sins. 

-Greg Landry


Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Romans 4-7.

Tomorrow we continue with Romans 8-10.

Heavyweight Battle:  The Brain Versus the Heart

Proverbs 7-9

Proverbs 7 25 NIV sgl

We have already covered the first six chapters of Proverbs and they all center around wisdom.  We are now moving on to chapters 7 through 9, which focus on……..drum roll please…….wisdom.  Wisdom must be really really important.  Proverbs 8:19 says wisdom is better than pure gold and Proverbs 8:35 says those that find wisdom find life and obtain favor from the Lord.  Wisdom is clearly something everyone should have and use, but why do so many people come up short in this area?

Where is wisdom stored?  In the brain.  Wisdom is the ability to process information correctly and that is all done in the brain.  Many people actually have a pretty good brain that correctly tells them the difference between right and wrong, but they do not always follow the right path because of the brain’s nemesis, the heart.  We have many sinful desires in our hearts because we are selfish beings.

There are some people that have evil desires in their heart and their brain is lacking wisdom, so they are going to struggle in life until they search out some wisdom.  They will always do the wrong thing because their brain and heart are in agreement and working together.  They can accomplish a lot together, but none of it is good.

The rest of us are in another group that are wise enough to know something is right or wrong, but struggle to always do what is right because of our heart’s selfish desires.  That is called temptation and we all have it.  When temptation arises, our heart and mind go in to battle.  Our heart has two main tactics in this fight.  First, it may try to get us to ignore what our brain might say about the sin.  Second, it sometimes engages the brain and tries to convince the brain that the sin is ok.  This is called justifying the behavior.  The heart is very strong and can be very persuasive.  In order to do the right thing, the brain must be stronger, which is where wisdom comes into play.

The brain must know the difference between right and wrong to stand any chance of beating the heart (don’t be confused here – we still want the heart to keep beating).  That wisdom is found in the Bible and it needs to be searched out, but that is just the start.  If you want to make sure your brain is strong enough to defeat the heart, you can’t just “know” what is right and wrong, you need to “understand” why it is right or wrong.  Understanding comes with a lot of reading, thinking, learning from others, and praying.

Proverbs 7 tells of a story where a man is seduced by a married woman who was not his wife.  He gave in to the temptation because he lacked enough wisdom to fight it.  He probably knew it was wrong, but he didn’t understand all the consequences.  The lost trust and ruined reputation that he may never get back, the pain he caused his family, sexually transmitted diseases, getting the woman pregnant, a broken nose from the husband when he finds out, and the guilt he will feel because he let God down are just some of the reasons why God tells us not to have sex outside of marriage.  Once you take the time to understand why something is right or wrong, the brain will be much more powerful and most likely will win the fight against the heart.

But wait, it gets even better.  When a brain has enough wisdom and understanding, the brain can convince the heart to change its desires.  The heart can be trained to agree with and follow the brain!  This is the ultimate goal, and this is why wisdom is so important.  James 4:2-3 says that you do not have because you do not ask God.  It goes on to say that you do not receive when you ask because you ask with the wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.  Simply put, your heart is not right.  So, it stands to reason that if your brain convinces your heart using Godly wisdom, you will get what you ask for because your desires will line up with God’s desires.  In this case, when the brain and heart are in agreement and working together, they can accomplish a lot together, and it is all good.

Rick McClain

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Proverbs+7-9&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be Proverbs 10-12 as we continue seeking God’s wisdom on our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Over and over and over

Monday – Judges 3-5

Judges Devotions (1)

Judges reminds me of the movie “Groundhog Day”—the one where Bill Murray, the local weatherman, relives the same day over and over and over. While not a single groundhog makes an appearance in Judges, the book does repeat itself over and over and over. You see, the Israelites are in a downward spiral, stuck in a vicious cycle of sin. In the reading for today, Judges 3-5, we see this cycle play out three times, once under Othniel, again under Ehud, and finally under Deborah. Today, we’ll take a closer look at this cycle using the example of Othniel:

1. SIN – “The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD; they forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs” (Judges 3:7). The Israelites neglected to kick out all the bad people from the Promised Land, and they often find themselves tempted by the Canaanite’s sinful ways. Their temptation leads to habitual sin, tearing themselves further from God.

2. OPPRESSION – “The anger of the LORD burned against Israel so that he sold them into the hands of Cushan-Rishathain king of Aram Naharaim, to whom the Israelites were subject for eight years” (Judges 3:8). I think, perhaps, God uses oppression as a tool to bring His people to their knees. His people become so desperate with no other choice but to turn to Him.

3. REPENTANCE – “But when they cried out to the LORD…” (Judges 3:9a) In their newly humbled position, the Israelites cry out to God. They recognize their sin and run from it, towards a God whose arms are always open.

4. DELIVERANCE – “He raised up for them a deliverer, Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, who saved them. The Spirit of the LORD came on him, so that he became Israel’s judge and went to war” (Judges 3:9b & 10a). God works for His people through His people. He fills people with His Holy Spirit to accomplish His work.

5. PEACE – “So the land had peace for forty years” (Judges 3:11a). With a newfound trust in God and a godly leader to follow, the Israelites find peace. Unfortunately, after Othniel passes, this peace leads to complacency which leads right back to sin.

As a soon-to-be English teacher, this literary structure of the book of Judges is impressive. As a follower of God, this repetition is alarming. Why do the Israelites keep finding themselves back in a stage of sin? Why am I a repeat offender of the same sins?

Temptation and habit.

First, just like the Israelites were tempted by the corrupt and wicked ways of the Canaanites dwelling in the Promised Land, we, too, are surrounded by temptation. Set healthy boundaries from whatever may be luring you towards sin because the more distance we give between ourselves and temptation, the less likely we are to fall into sin.

Second, the Israelites were caught sinning over and over and over—their sin became their habit. Recognize the power of your habits and work diligently to set healthy rhythms that honor God. Ever since I read this quote, I’ve been convicted of the power of my own habits: “People do not decide their futures, they decide their habits and their habits decide their futures” -F.M. Alexander

Let the boundaries and habits you set lead you away from sin and towards God.

 

Mackenzie McClain

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Judges+3-5&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s Bible reading will be Judges 6-7 as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan.  Reading God’s Word daily is one healthy habit to pursue.  Keep at it!  It has the power to determine your future.

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