Oct 15, 2018
Common Sense for Extrodinary Times: Tempted

October 15, 2018

James 1:12-18 & Mark 1:9-13

We have all experienced being tempted because it is part of life and happens to us every day. We can be attracted to people, things, behaviors that may not be right for us, that can harm us. When tempted, it is easier to follow our usual response and not question the results. We usually don't stop to think about the consequences but choose what gives us comfort at the moment.

The book of James recognizes that we struggle with being tempted. In the 4th chapter, there is the description that we have cravings that battle within us. We long for what we don't have, and it disrupts our lives.

In our Scripture today from James 1:12-18, there is the important clarification that God does not tempt anyone. God does not set traps to trick us and see if we will mess up. Instead, temptation comes from our own desires, our own wants, our own “gotta have it or else.” Our days are filled with decisions, and we can feel caught between what we know we should do and what we would really rather do. To be who God wants us to be and to live an abundant life is

shaped by the choices that we make....all the yes's and no's.

Our sermon series has emphasized the practical wisdom of the book of James. I hope that today's message will be practical and helpful for all of us in dealing with our temptations. We want to teach our children ways to set boundaries, to make good choices, to be aware of their needs. We earnestly desire that self-control will be a fruit of the Spirit in our lives.

First guideline: Ask God to give you an awareness of yourself, an understanding of your behavior and what may be drawing you away from God's will. Hopefully, those who love us will help us see ourselves as we are.

A young woman had the habit of checking her phone constantly at work, at meals, when she was with her boyfriend, at late hours when she needed to be resting. This was affecting her work, her health, and her relationships with others. She said that to be on her phone was necessary to keep up with life and she would be too stressed if she didn't. However, when she seriously evaluated her use of the phone, her phone time did not give her peace, but actually stressed her out more. Her desire to be on the phone was overwhelming. The lighted screen was always available and enticing. She was beginning to see that the amount of time on her phone was not the best for her, and she wanted to change.

An important self-evaluation: What are my true needs that God will help meet? What gives life to me and what doesn't?

There are a variety of things that we can choose to help us cope with life: electronics, overworking, shopping, drugs, money, food, alcohol, the Internet, gambling, relationships, etc.

With all these options, we pray that God will help us see what will lead us to peace and what doesn't.

Another guideline: be aware of your limits. There are times when we seem to have a strong will power and other times when we give in so easily to whatever attracts us. Our willpower can be affected by the stresses in our lives. Our brains can become fatigued. When you have had a full day of making decisions, of being under many demands, and maybe skipping lunch, when you get home, you are more likely to be impatient/angry, to snack too much, to watch too much tv, to get too little sleep, in general, to make unwise choices.

A classic case of this is the Biblical story of Esau and his brother Jacob. Esau had been out hunting all day and came in tired and famished for food. Jacob had been preparing a delicious lentil stew. When Esau asked for some, Jacob was willing to ease his hunger. But there was a price: Esau had to forfeit his inheritance to his brother. In this situation, Esau had little self-control. To get the stew, he would agree to most anything.

There is a common sense warning from 12 Step groups: When you are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired, be aware of how vulnerable you may be to things that are tempting. Don't be overconfident of what you think that you can handle. There may be situations and people that you should avoid. Likewise, there are places and people that you should turn to for support and guidance.

There was a woman who prayed “Lord, if you really want me to get a dozen donuts, then there will be a parking space for me in front of the store.” And she said: “Sure enough, the Lord provided, after going around the block 8 times, a parking space opened up.”

We are surrounded by ads, commercials in the media that speak right to our weaknesses and get our eyes off of our intended goals.

The Lord can give us strength by helping us to be prepared. Before we are faced with a temptation, we need a strategy for responding. If you are anxious, bored, feeling down, what will you do? What is your plan B if Plan A doesn't work so well?

When you are in the midst of saying “maybe” “yes” or “no”, ask yourself:

“If this action is not leading to what I hope for in my life, then why say yes?”

In the 1960s, Dr. Mischel at Stanford University did a test with pre-schoolers to see their reactions to being tempted. A favorite treat was put in front of them. The teacher was to leave the room, and the child was told that she could choose to eat the one marshmallow in front of her whenever she wished. However, if she waited for 15 minutes until the teacher came back into the room, she would get two marshmallows.

Some children ate the one marshmallow as soon as they were alone. Others used all kinds of self-control actions. They closed their eyes, they pushed the treat away, they encouraged themselves by talking or singing. They waited for the bigger reward. That is a perspective of strength also in our Christian walk-to have the patience for all that God will provide. For those little children who were successful, their focus was on what would be if they waited.

Responses to temptation varied among the children, as it does among us. I admire folks who seem to be so disciplined and have no problem in saying no. I would guess that all of us have areas in our lives where we struggle and make choices that are harmful for us and the people around us. What tempts me may not be a problem for you, and yet we can empathize with one another and encourage one another in our battles.

When Dr. Mischal was working with the children and testing their endurance, he discovered that a big factor in being able to wait was that the child had to have confidence and trust in the teacher. They trusted that the teacher was telling the truth and would really give them the promised marshmallows.

Trust is important for us also: that God is the giver of good gifts and will provide what we need. Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth and said: “God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength, but he will provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it.”

We look to God to help us, to guide us out of harmful situations, to give us a vision of a better future. He rescues by providing family and friends to support us, by understanding our prayers, by showing us new ways to know his joy and peace.

Self-control is a partnership between us and God. We grow in strength as we choose wisely. We grow in humility when we fail. Through it all, God continues to be faithful.

I have found comfort in this description of Jesus in the book of Hebrews which says: “Jesus understands every weakness of ours, because he was tempted in every way that we are”. Jesus knows what it is like to be to be presented with options that seem on the surface to be right, but are wrong. In His choices, Jesus remained faithful to his mission, always trusting in God's love above any other way.

Jesus stands with us; we are not alone in facing our formidable desires.

Good news is that change can happen, that new habits can replace the old tired ones. I believe that there can be victories! When you thought that you couldn't say “no” one more time, but you did. When you felt pressured to go along with the crowd, but you made a better choice. When you were ready to give up, through God's grace you were able to keep going. Small victories every day that gives our lives more joy. Small victories today that lead to victories tomorrow.

The poet in the book of Lamentations wrote these words which I feel as if they could come from our hearts:

“I remember my wanderings away,

I remember them well, and my soul is downcast.

Yet I also know this and I have hope.

Because of the Lord's great love, we are not destroyed.

God's compassion never fails.”

Take heart, the Lord's strength will bring us through.

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  • Oct 15, 2018Common Sense for Extrodinary Times: Tempted
    Oct 15, 2018
    Common Sense for Extrodinary Times: Tempted

    October 15, 2018

    James 1:12-18 & Mark 1:9-13

    We have all experienced being tempted because it is part of life and happens to us every day. We can be attracted to people, things, behaviors that may not be right for us, that can harm us. When tempted, it is easier to follow our usual response and not question the results. We usually don't stop to think about the consequences but choose what gives us comfort at the moment.

    The book of James recognizes that we struggle with being tempted. In the 4th chapter, there is the description that we have cravings that battle within us. We long for what we don't have, and it disrupts our lives.

    In our Scripture today from James 1:12-18, there is the important clarification that God does not tempt anyone. God does not set traps to trick us and see if we will mess up. Instead, temptation comes from our own desires, our own wants, our own “gotta have it or else.” Our days are filled with decisions, and we can feel caught between what we know we should do and what we would really rather do. To be who God wants us to be and to live an abundant life is

    shaped by the choices that we make....all the yes's and no's.

    Our sermon series has emphasized the practical wisdom of the book of James. I hope that today's message will be practical and helpful for all of us in dealing with our temptations. We want to teach our children ways to set boundaries, to make good choices, to be aware of their needs. We earnestly desire that self-control will be a fruit of the Spirit in our lives.

    First guideline: Ask God to give you an awareness of yourself, an understanding of your behavior and what may be drawing you away from God's will. Hopefully, those who love us will help us see ourselves as we are.

    A young woman had the habit of checking her phone constantly at work, at meals, when she was with her boyfriend, at late hours when she needed to be resting. This was affecting her work, her health, and her relationships with others. She said that to be on her phone was necessary to keep up with life and she would be too stressed if she didn't. However, when she seriously evaluated her use of the phone, her phone time did not give her peace, but actually stressed her out more. Her desire to be on the phone was overwhelming. The lighted screen was always available and enticing. She was beginning to see that the amount of time on her phone was not the best for her, and she wanted to change.

    An important self-evaluation: What are my true needs that God will help meet? What gives life to me and what doesn't?

    There are a variety of things that we can choose to help us cope with life: electronics, overworking, shopping, drugs, money, food, alcohol, the Internet, gambling, relationships, etc.

    With all these options, we pray that God will help us see what will lead us to peace and what doesn't.

    Another guideline: be aware of your limits. There are times when we seem to have a strong will power and other times when we give in so easily to whatever attracts us. Our willpower can be affected by the stresses in our lives. Our brains can become fatigued. When you have had a full day of making decisions, of being under many demands, and maybe skipping lunch, when you get home, you are more likely to be impatient/angry, to snack too much, to watch too much tv, to get too little sleep, in general, to make unwise choices.

    A classic case of this is the Biblical story of Esau and his brother Jacob. Esau had been out hunting all day and came in tired and famished for food. Jacob had been preparing a delicious lentil stew. When Esau asked for some, Jacob was willing to ease his hunger. But there was a price: Esau had to forfeit his inheritance to his brother. In this situation, Esau had little self-control. To get the stew, he would agree to most anything.

    There is a common sense warning from 12 Step groups: When you are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired, be aware of how vulnerable you may be to things that are tempting. Don't be overconfident of what you think that you can handle. There may be situations and people that you should avoid. Likewise, there are places and people that you should turn to for support and guidance.

    There was a woman who prayed “Lord, if you really want me to get a dozen donuts, then there will be a parking space for me in front of the store.” And she said: “Sure enough, the Lord provided, after going around the block 8 times, a parking space opened up.”

    We are surrounded by ads, commercials in the media that speak right to our weaknesses and get our eyes off of our intended goals.

    The Lord can give us strength by helping us to be prepared. Before we are faced with a temptation, we need a strategy for responding. If you are anxious, bored, feeling down, what will you do? What is your plan B if Plan A doesn't work so well?

    When you are in the midst of saying “maybe” “yes” or “no”, ask yourself:

    “If this action is not leading to what I hope for in my life, then why say yes?”

    In the 1960s, Dr. Mischel at Stanford University did a test with pre-schoolers to see their reactions to being tempted. A favorite treat was put in front of them. The teacher was to leave the room, and the child was told that she could choose to eat the one marshmallow in front of her whenever she wished. However, if she waited for 15 minutes until the teacher came back into the room, she would get two marshmallows.

    Some children ate the one marshmallow as soon as they were alone. Others used all kinds of self-control actions. They closed their eyes, they pushed the treat away, they encouraged themselves by talking or singing. They waited for the bigger reward. That is a perspective of strength also in our Christian walk-to have the patience for all that God will provide. For those little children who were successful, their focus was on what would be if they waited.

    Responses to temptation varied among the children, as it does among us. I admire folks who seem to be so disciplined and have no problem in saying no. I would guess that all of us have areas in our lives where we struggle and make choices that are harmful for us and the people around us. What tempts me may not be a problem for you, and yet we can empathize with one another and encourage one another in our battles.

    When Dr. Mischal was working with the children and testing their endurance, he discovered that a big factor in being able to wait was that the child had to have confidence and trust in the teacher. They trusted that the teacher was telling the truth and would really give them the promised marshmallows.

    Trust is important for us also: that God is the giver of good gifts and will provide what we need. Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth and said: “God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength, but he will provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it.”

    We look to God to help us, to guide us out of harmful situations, to give us a vision of a better future. He rescues by providing family and friends to support us, by understanding our prayers, by showing us new ways to know his joy and peace.

    Self-control is a partnership between us and God. We grow in strength as we choose wisely. We grow in humility when we fail. Through it all, God continues to be faithful.

    I have found comfort in this description of Jesus in the book of Hebrews which says: “Jesus understands every weakness of ours, because he was tempted in every way that we are”. Jesus knows what it is like to be to be presented with options that seem on the surface to be right, but are wrong. In His choices, Jesus remained faithful to his mission, always trusting in God's love above any other way.

    Jesus stands with us; we are not alone in facing our formidable desires.

    Good news is that change can happen, that new habits can replace the old tired ones. I believe that there can be victories! When you thought that you couldn't say “no” one more time, but you did. When you felt pressured to go along with the crowd, but you made a better choice. When you were ready to give up, through God's grace you were able to keep going. Small victories every day that gives our lives more joy. Small victories today that lead to victories tomorrow.

    The poet in the book of Lamentations wrote these words which I feel as if they could come from our hearts:

    “I remember my wanderings away,

    I remember them well, and my soul is downcast.

    Yet I also know this and I have hope.

    Because of the Lord's great love, we are not destroyed.

    God's compassion never fails.”

    Take heart, the Lord's strength will bring us through.

  • Sep 16, 2018Common Sense for Extraordinary Times: Small but Mighty
    Sep 16, 2018
    Common Sense for Extraordinary Times: Small but Mighty
    September 16, 2018
    James 3:1-12 & Psalm 19

    It is exciting when a baby says her first words: mama, daddy, ball, milk... phone!

    We celebrate their vocabulary with lots of praise. Last Saturday, one of our grandsons who is 1 ½ was staying with us. He was wandering through the house calling out my “grandma name” which is “Nono.” Hearing him say my name made me happy. Between our first efforts at speaking as a toddler and our last words in life, we say thousands and thousands of words. Some of those words we are glad that we said. There are other words we still regret saying because of the damage we caused. Words have lasting consequences. We know this because we’ve been scarred by and have hurt others with our speech.

    In our present sermon series, we are studying the book of James. James is a short letter to Christians that contains cautions about our behavior. One of his main concerns is about talking. Words are powerful because they can influence lives. What we say is important. You may forget a few sentences you once said, but the words may be remembered by someone else for the rest of their life.

    James uses the image of fire to describe the effects of our words. Words can spread like wildfire and cause much more harm than we ever imagined. A fire can start small and spread and cause the loss of hundreds of homes, of forests, and lives.

    We remember this past summer there were wildfires out West with tremendous damage. Read again James' description:

    “A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it!

    It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that.

    By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it.”

    In 2004, a movie came out entitled “Hotel Rwanda.” The film tells a portion of the story of what happened in the country of Rwanda in 1994. There were growing tensions and conflicts between two groups of people who lived there: the Tutsis and the Hutus. The President of the country died in a plane accident which was then blamed upon the Tutsi rebels. The movie brings out the role that words had upon the political situation.

    A radio station broadcast news of the day and they referred to the Tutsi people as “cockroaches.” They were an infestation in the country. People listened on their transistor radios to the derogatory words spoken, words which became slogans and fanned the flames of hate. In the movie's story, the manager of a hotel there is a Hutu and his wife is a Tutsi. Circumstances lead him to try and save as many Tutsi people as possible from genocide. He offered them sanctuary inside the hotel, and later tried to lead them to safety. His efforts did save some people, but in the Rwandan war, over half a million Tutsis civilians and their supporters were killed. Over half a million people.

    Words spoken can influence how we think about other people, how we look at them, how we treat them. Our tongues can ignite a fire that could possibly burn out of control.

    Gary Chapman is a pastor and author whose writings focus on relationships. In one of his books, he used a unique metaphor for words saying that words can be like “bullets or seeds”. As bullets, words are meant to harm, to injure, to leave a mark, maybe even destroy. Words as seeds bring support and respect. They nurture and promote well-being. Words that encourage life take root inside and help the listener to thrive. What do your words accomplish?

    In our time, almost anyone can send out their words to a large audience. Through social media, we can instantly share our opinions, our likes and dislikes. We can pass on what others have shared with us: true or false, for better or worse. What started out as one comment can easily snowball into an avalanche.

    We can make fun of and degrade people we will never even meet! A young man who was being bullied at school said that he could never escape, the taunts from school followed him home on his phone.

    Kate Bowle is a professor at Duke Divinity School where she teaches those who are studying to be ministers. She is also a wife and mother of a little boy. In 2015, at age of 35, she discovered that she had Stage 4 cancer and is undergoing cancer treatment weekly trying to extend her life. In her public writings, she has expressed what she is going through when you are in your thirties and facing your death.

    She has received many responses from friends and strangers everywhere telling her what she should do and what she should feel, with many responses coming from other Christians. As you will see, some of their words have not been particularly helpful to her soul.

    They give her reasons for her illness; they said that God is teaching her a lesson, that her sickness is a consequence of her sin. They point out that she is whiny and that you can't always get what you want. Someone told her to just keep smiling, that her attitude will determine her future. Words were shared that tear down faith, not build it up.

    She has also received the gift of words that lift her up and bring healing to her soul. Words from those who have also walked through the valley of the shadow of death. People who have expressed to her how, even on the darkest days, somehow they knew that God had not abandoned them. They pray for her journey, her healing and for her peace.

    The acronym THINK was constructed years ago but I believe it is still an excellent guide whether you are talking on the phone to your Aunt Sue or on Twitter. It is attributed to Alan Redpath who was a British evangelist and pastor in the 1900s.

    Simply ask yourself before speaking/writing: is what I am about to say True -Helpful -Inspiring-Necessary -Kind?

    Pay attention to your words. How often do we justify our destructive words by saying that the other person deserved it, that they started it, or that they unloaded on us and so we paid them back?

    Notice how others react to what you say. When someone is upset by our words, do we respond by saying they are just “too sensitive or they can't take a joke.” Let's listen to ourselves. Remember to think. Be careful in what you write and what you say. Look again to verses 9-10 —“With [the tongue] we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. No more should we bless God and curse people who have been made in God's image.”

    James calls on us to examine ourselves closely -- to focus on the words that come out of our mouths – words that reveal who we truly are.

    This is the most convicting thing I will say today. Our words reveal our hearts. We may deny it, but it is true.

    In one of Jesus’ teachings, He said we will know what kind of tree it is by its' fruit. Words show the condition of our hearts. Jesus taught “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” Anger, jealousy, insecurity, pride, hatred, hurt, bitterness, can come out of our hearts and be revealed in our words.

    We will face moments when we think “Where did that come from, I can't believe I just said that!” Then is the time to ask God to show you what is not right in your heart and ask God to give you His guidance and power to deal with it. It is also the time to apologize for the hurting words you have said.

    This spring, there was a young boy named Harrison in Chesterfield, England who made his debut as a goalie for his soccer team. Harrison has had quite a few health challenges in his life, and it means a great deal that he is able to play soccer.

    Unfortunately, in that first game, his team lost 11-0. His dad, Allan, posted a video of the game which featured all the saves that his son had made as a goalie. The dad did a very vulnerable thing. He asked if soccer fans would share some words of support with his son Harrison. This was a risky request because anyone can be ridiculed o line, even children.

    Wonderfully, soccer fans from Canada, America, and India sent messages of support. Dozens of professional soccer players responded. One player wrote: “Brave as a lion and kicks it a mile. Keep up the good work.”

    Why did his father ask for their input? He said that he just wanted to get the message to his boy to keep on playing, to not give up.

    I believe that our heavenly father wants us all to pass on messages to the rest of His children: messages of wisdom and guidance, messages of hope and encouragement, messages of truth and forgiveness.

    To share words that bring life, and not words that diminish another human being.

    My grandmother died when I was eight years old, but fortunately, she wrote notes and letters to me. I still have a few of them. She shared words of love and support with me that still are affirming after all these years.

    Words do last a lifetime. What legacy are we leaving?