You can’t claim obedience until you’ve had the choice to disobey

Have you ever wanted something wrong so badly you couldn’t think about anything else? You can’t sleep. You can’t get anything done. It could be anything–person, place, or thing. Food or drink or money or power or fame or toys. Has the desire for that thing ever taken over and lured you into rationalizing that it’s okay for you to have it or to do it?

Everybody goes through that. Everyone has experienced that. Even Jesus did. He let Himself be put in a situation where He was extremely vulnerable to temptation, but He had a secret weapon. Know what it was?

AppleTemptToday’s verses are Matthew 4:1-11.

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil. For forty days and forty nights he fasted and became very hungry. During that time the devil came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become loaves of bread.” But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ” 

Then the devil took him to the holy city, Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! For the Scriptures say, ‘He will order his angels to protect you. And they will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.’ ” Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the Lord your God.’ ” 

Next the devil took him to the peak of a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. “I will give it all to you,” he said, “if you will kneel down and worship me.” 

“Get out of here, Satan,” Jesus told him. “For the Scriptures say, ‘You must worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’ ” Then the devil went away, and angels came and took care of Jesus. 

Firstly, it’s not a sin to eat bread. Let’s just get that little thing out of the way.

People sometimes wonder why Jesus put Himself in this situation. Well, I think it’s because He had to have the opportunity to disobey. Adam and Eve were tempted the same three ways (the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, which repeats over and over throughout Scriptures) and failed. Jesus passed.

You can claim to be an obedient servant of God all you want, but until you’ve had the opportunity to disobey, you’re making stuff up. If you haven’t had the chance to choose between doing what God says versus doing what Satan wants or what you want, you can’t say you’re obedient or disobedient. Now, in our world, there’s ample opportunity to disobey, so it’s not like we need to go out looking for situations where we can face this choice. But it’s the principle we need to remember. Just because you believe in Jesus doesn’t make you obedient.

You realize, Jesus could have disobeyed if He wanted to. But He didn’t. He pulled out His secret weapon for overcoming the temptation. He stared Satan in the face and quoted Scripture at Him. Can you imagine what that scene must have looked like?

But does that really work? Can you quote a Bible verse and make temptation flee in terror? Honestly, Bible verses are just words. They’re like any other statement until you take them to heart and start living by them. Jesus believed that we need God more than we need food. He believed that He was secure enough in God’s love that He didn’t need to test the Lord. He believed that only God deserves to be worshiped. But more than just believing it, He let those beliefs direct His life choices. That’s what made the difference.

I think of Jesus as this conquering King who’s coming back to take over the world any day now, and He’ll ride across the skies in glorious splendor and take us all home where we won’t have to put up with this crazy world anymore. So it’s easy for me to forget that Jesus was human just like me. He faced the same temptations I do, but when he had to choose, he chose to obey the Bible, to depend on God, because God is right and true.

I am subject to the same passions and desires, but I don’t have to obey them. Instant gratification, insecurity, and pride are temptations that we all experience — but that doesn’t mean we have to accept them. I can choose not to sin. Jesus gave me that ability. Thanks to God, I have the power to do what is right, which will allow God to bless me.

You can quote all the Scripture you want, and it’s good to know it by heart. But until you actually live by it, they’ll just be words on a page. Jesus followed God’s Word–what God had revealed to the people at that time. So I need to do the same. Not just saying I know it, but doing it. Just like Jesus did.

My home office at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Delete that email before it’s too late

Have you ever gotten a computer virus? They’re a pain in the neck. I got a notice about a new one yesterday that experts are calling CryptoLock. It’s a type of ransomware apparently. It’s a nasty piece of work. Once this thing gets into your system it looks for commonly named Word documents and PDF files and encrypts them so you can’t access them without a password, leaving the crazy hacker programmer types on the other side of the planet free to extort you. Basically, if you want your files back, you have to pay them for the password.

I was curious about this one, so I went looking for more information on it. I found a bunch on the US-CERT web site, a special bulletin even. It very helpfully lists some bulleted points about how to prevent being infected by it, and–like most lists–it goes in order of importance, starting with the most important point. What do you think that most important point is?

Don’t think too hard. It’s pretty obvious. But maybe it’s too obvious and that why they have to list it first because people don’t think about it enough.

The first preventative method to keeping your hardware safe from viruses? Do not follow unsolicited web links in email messages or submit any information to webpages in links. In other words, don’t click on links you didn’t ask for in emails from people you don’t know. And the second method? You’re going to love this. Use caution when opening email attachments. I’m serious. I’m pulling these directly from the US-CERT web site.

The top two preventative methods for protecting your computer? Don’t click on things you don’t recognize and don’t open attachments you don’t recognize. Am I wrong? Or are those the two most basic level rules of navigating the internet?

The third point is fairly obvious too. Maintain up-to-date anti-virus software. But I would have thought it would be higher up on the list. After all, the best offense is a good defense, right? Well, apparently not. Because it doesn’t matter how up to date your anti-virus software is. If you click on a link or open an attachment that infects your computer, the game is up.

My home office at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

My home office at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is James 1:13-15.

And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else. Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death.

It’s easy to blame God for everything that’s wrong in our lives. I mean, He’s in control, isn’t He? So if He’s in control and He’s good, then why does He let all these horrible things happen in our world? Personally, it’s easy to get frustrated too because I never seem to learn the lessons I need to learn. Why else would I have to keep experiencing the same difficult situations over and over and over again?

But the Bible says very clearly that God isn’t the source of our trouble. God is the source of our help. When you’re struggling with the choice whether to do something you know is wrong or to turn away from it, that’s not a problem God has sent into your life. That’s just life. And it’s not God who makes you want to do wrong; it’s your own heart.

I didn’t plan to post this today, but this really struck a chord in me. I get so discouraged sometimes because I feel like God is testing me. I feel like He pushes me to the very edge of what I can endure, and He’s just waiting on the sidelines to see how I improvise to get myself out of it. But I don’t think that’s how God views us at all. Remember, because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, God looks on us like His children. And no parent in his or her right mind stands on the sidelines and enjoys watching their child flounder around helplessly–even and especially if that’s the way the child likes it.

No, God is standing by waiting for me to call on Him to ask for His help. He’s standing close ready to send help when I ask for it. He’s watching over me because that’s what He does.

So what about letting sin into my life? What about letting those things into my heart that I shouldn’t? Well, it comes down to a pretty simple explanation; don’t follow the link. Don’t download that attachment. If you don’t recognize it, or if you are fairly certain it’s going to be damaging, don’t do it. You have a choice laid out before you when it comes to email. Open it or delete it, and if it’s a sketchy email, deleting it is always the best course of action.

And if that’s how we handle a sketchy email, why is handling the sketchy parts of life any different?

What choice is before you right now? What temptation are you staring in the face? It could be anything. But whatever it is, you don’t have to do it. You don’t have to follow through. You don’t have to take that step or make that choice or turn that direction. Nothing and no one is forcing you to do it.

You can know the Bible cover to cover. You can go to church seven days a week. You can know all the names of the disciples. But none of that will do you a lick of good when you’re staring your temptation in the face and you have to choose whether you’re going to sin or not. Just remember that you don’t have to sin. You have a choice.

Believe me, you’re much better off deleting that email before you even read the first line. It may seem like any other email. It might even look harmless. But it will only bring you trouble and heartache to the people who love you most.

The devil made me do it?

 

This month I’m studying prayer, and I started with the most famous prayer (probably) in history, the Lord’s Prayer. But it’s not a prayer to be prayed as our only conversation with God. It’s a format or an outline of how to pray, using your own words. And one of the parts of prayer is asking God for help in dealing with temptation before it gets here.

Stone dragon statue looking out over the pool at the Chinese garden at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Stone dragon statue looking out over the pool at the Chinese garden at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Today’s verse is Matthew 6:13.

And don’t let us yield to temptation,
    but rescue us from the evil one.

You’re going to be tempted. If you’re human and you’re breathing, Satan is going to throw something at you to get you to take a wrong step, to get you to compromise your faith, to get you to lose your testimony. That old phrase, “the devil made me do it” doesn’t really play. Maybe he suggested it, but if you’re a Christ-follower, you have the power to say no. That makes sin your choice.

Understand that being tempted isn’t a sin. Everyone is tempted. Even Jesus was tempted when He walked on the Earth, but when you’re tempted, you can choose to yield or be strong and stand against it. Yielding to temptation is where the sin comes in.

So many times I think I fall when I’m tempted because I don’t anticipate it. It sneaks up on me, and I give in because I wasn’t ready to defend myself. That’s the trick with our enemy. He knows us better than we know ourselves, and he knows exactly what to throw at us to get us to cave. And if we don’t expect it, we’ll give in.

Now it’s true that sin has no power over a Christ-follower. Even if you do yield to temptation, you won’t lose your salvation. But you will have consequences in this life. It’s a natural law, like sowing and reaping, that actions have consequences. And if you choose to do something wrong, you’ll experience wrong circumstances as a result–maybe not today and maybe not even tomorrow but eventually. And if you don’t experience it, someone you love will.

Sin always has a price. And it always has a harvest.

But God has given us the power to resist temptation. That’s one of the reasons why we have the Holy Spirit, and it’s another reason why we have each other to help us stay accountable. I’m not saying to see Satan under every rock and shrub, but be aware.

It’s foolish for a woman to walk through a dark alleyway at night, even if she has mace. That’s just asking to be attacked. But so many of us treat our lives that way. We go through our daily business, not even thinking about the fact that there is a spiritual war going on around us, where the forces of God and the forces of Satan are locked in combat. The things that are real are the things we can’t see, so what does that say about our lives?

Don’t be naive. You’re going to experience temptation. That doesn’t make you a bad Christian. It makes you human. But if you don’t want to be a fool, anticipate it. Understand that it’s coming. Learn to recognize the tools Satan uses to throw you off track, and ask God to help. He will.

Path through the wheat - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

God will give us more than we can handle alone.

Sometimes I feel like God trusts me too much. I don’t think He understands how fragile I am some days, and those seem to be the days when He gives me more emotional trauma than I can handle. And I get frustrated with Him. Because if He really knew how much I was going through, wouldn’t He take it easy on me?

Path through the wheat - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Path through the wheat - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is 1 Corinthians 10:12-13.

If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.

This is one of the most misquoted verses in the Bible. For starters, people usually miss the parts of this verse that really matter. I’m not sure if it’s just because of other translations, but many Christians interpret this verse to mean that God won’t give you more than you can handle.

That’s not what this verse says. That’s not even what this verse is about.

This verse is about temptation. And what Paul is saying here is that everyone experiences temptation. No matter who you are or how long you have followed Christ, you will be tempted to sin. Why? Because we have an enemy and because that enemy wants to make trouble in our lives, so he is going to do everything he can to see that we struggle.

But according to this verse, when we are tempted, God is faithful to help us. When we are tempted to do things we know are wrong, God will provide a way for us to fight back or to escape. He won’t let us be tempted beyond what we can handle.

No where in Scripture does it say that God won’t give us more than we can handle. Life is more than we can handle. That’s why we have God. So why does God insist on giving me issues and problems on the days when I’m too weak to handle them?

Because He does know me.

He knows that I’m a control freak. He knows that I’m a fixer. He knows that I am an insufferable people pleaser. So He allows things into my life to remind me that I don’t have control over any of it. Because the more I try to control my life, the faster I’m going to lose it (Mark 8:35).

It’s easy to focus on everything that is going wrong in your life because it’s directly in front of you. It’s an inescapable truth you have to face every day when you look in the mirror. And if you’re a perfectionist, all you will see is your failures. Your flaws. The times you could have succeeded but didn’t.

But instead of focusing on everything that’s wrong, maybe we should try focusing on what’s right. Because no matter how bad we think we have it, there is always something to be thankful for. Maybe I’m not where I thought I would be at this point in my life, but that doesn’t mean God’s done with me. Maybe I haven’t accomplished all the things I wanted to accomplish yet, but that doesn’t mean those things won’t happen tomorrow or next week.

Putting God on your timetable is always a bad idea. He invented time. So He’s not bound by it, and He moves at His own pace.

So when everything blows up today (and it probably will), instead of wondering why God is throwing all this crap at me at once when I don’t have the strength to keep standing anymore, I’m going to focus on the fact that He’s the one holding me up to begin with.

Yes, He’s giving me more than I can take by myself. But I’m not by myself.

There’s a reason General Patton has never been a cartoon character.

Sometimes I forget that we’re fighting a war.

Life is pretty good, really. I have enough to eat, clothes to wear, a house to live in, a car to drive. That’s more than most people in the world can say. All in all, I live an incredible life. I have everything I need and most everything I want too. And I’m so very thankful. But living so comfortably makes it very easy to forget about the war that we’re fighting.

No, not in Afghanistan or Iraq or Libya. I’m talking about the invisible war between good and evil, God and Satan. It’s a strange war because it’s already won; it’s already over. But we’re still stuck in the middle dealing with an enemy who won’t quit even when he’s been defeated. It’s easy to forget about this war when you’re comfortable and when you’re not struggling. And then sometimes its hard to remember it even when troubles come your way and we blame God for our pain.

Fighting a war isn’t something that we should forget, especially when we have an enemy dead set on destroying us. And if he can’t destroy us, he’ll do what he can to wreck our lives and our testimonies. And if we’re not ready for his attacks, he’ll catch us unsuspecting and we’ll fall.

I don’t feel like I’m really communicating well this morning, so I’ll just go ahead and let the Bible speak for me:

Ephesians 6:10-11

 10 A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil.

I’ve read this verse over and over and over again all my life, but today the phrase all strategies of the devil really stood out to me.

Satan is a student of us. He’s a student of me. He knows my weaknesses and my insecurities. He knows exactly what to throw in my path to make me doubt God, to make me doubt God’s plan, to make me doubt what God has for me. Satan knows exactly how to get to me. And if I’m not ready for him, if I’m not prepared for his attacks, there’s a danger that I might start believing him.

This verse reminds me that Satan is a strategist. He has a playbook on each of us and knows exactly how we’ll react in most situations. He knows how to manipulate us. And if we don’t know the Scriptures well enough, we’ll end up following him, even if we don’t realize it.

Please don’t think though that because he’s a defeated enemy that we don’t have to take him seriously. That’s ridiculous. Defeated enemies are ten times more dangerous than ones who are winning.

We also need to remember something very important. Culture has taught us that Satan is a cute little creature with horns and a tail and a pitchfork. Comics make light of him. Cartoon shows joke about him. No one takes him seriously. And I think that’s one of his manipulations. Why should we be concerned about a cute little cartoon character in a costume?

No. Satan is an angel. One of the most powerful angels ever created. Beautiful. Awesome. Raw power. Intelligent. And so very very dangerous.

If you read Scripture, you know that even the archangel Michael wouldn’t rebuke Satan; I think that’s in the Revelation. Do we even have any concept of what that means? In the book of 2 Kings, chapters 18-19, one angel completely annihilated 185,000 Assyrian soldiers. 185,000! And, of course, there’s the story of the angel of death who crossed over Egypt and killed every firstborn. Angels are creatures we don’t want to mess with. And Satan was the most powerful of all of them. And just because his pride got him kicked out of heaven doesn’t mean he lost any of his power.

Satan is a brilliant warrior, an incredible strategist, and a forceful leader of an army of demons. Not taking him seriously is foolish.

So what can we do?

If Satan really is as powerful as Scripture says, how do we deal with him when he comes after us? Fortunately, this is a question that God has provided an answer for. Not once. Not twice. But three separate accounts in Matthew, Mark and Luke.

Satan came after Jesus when He was on Earth, tempting Him to do things He knew He shouldn’t do. Satan tempted Christ to turn stones to bread when He was fasting. Satan tempted Christ to throw Himself off a building to demonstrate His power and control over the angels. Satan tempted Him to worship him in return for all the kingdoms of the world. And every time, do you know what Jesus did?

Did He call down fire from heaven? He could have. But He didn’t. Did he wave His hand and make Satan disappear? He could have. But He didn’t. Did He punch Satan in the face? He could have. But He didn’t.

Jesus quoted Scripture.

For every thing Satan tried to convince Him to do, Jesus had a Scripture verse ready that told Him why He shouldn’t do it.

Why did Jesus allow Himself to be tempted? Why did Jesus let Satan do this to Him? Well, I think it was to give us an example of how to handle temptation when it comes.

Satan is a strategist. He’s hell bent (pun intended) on taking as many of us down with him as possible, and he’s going to throw everything at us that he can to get us to turn our backs on God. And even if our eternal souls go to heaven, Satan can pester us and bother us until we turn our lives on Earth into unproductive, miserable messes. But if we know Scripture, if we take the time to immerse ourselves in what God has said, when those times of temptation come, we’ll have a weapon that both protects and defends us. Why do you think the Bible is called a Sword?

So how is Satan tempting you today? Is he tempting you to worry? God says don’t be anxious for anything. Is Satan tempting you to stress out about things you can’t control? God says that even if a situation is bad, He can make it beautiful if we trust Him. Is Satan tempting you to make a foolish decision because you feel lonely? God says that He never leaves us.

God is truth. The Bible speaks God’s truth. And it’s the only weapon that can tune Satan out. It’s the only force that can stop him.

So get in it. Read the Bible. Memorize it. Learn it cover to cover. And be ready. Because if Satan hasn’t come after you yet, he will, especially if you want to do great things for God. And when he comes after you, remember the verses that you’ve learned, remember the promises that God has made, and believe them. Don’t just say them. Don’t just memorize them. Believe them.

Then Satan has nothing to say, and he can’t hurt you. Not because of your own power but because you’re putting your faith and trust in the power of God. And compared to God, Satan really is little more than just a cartoon character.