Facing Fear! Trusting God! (2 Timothy 1:7)

Common phobias in our day and age include: Fear of Germs (Mysophobia), Fear of Heights (Acrophobia), Fear of Snakes (Ophidiophobia), Fear of Spiders (Arachnophobia), Thanatophobia (Fear of Death), and Glossophobia (Fear of Public Speaking). Jerry Seinfeld once stated: “According to most studies, the number one fear people have is public speaking. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’d rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy.” 

Why are so many of us afraid of so much? It’s because we are not trusting Jesus Christ. Christians should not be fearful. In 2 Timothy 1:7, the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy and told him: “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” This verse is comforting because God tells us that we do not have to be afraid. While there are many things we can be afraid of, God tells us there is nothing we should be afraid of. But what about sickness? What about death? What about this? What about that? What about the Coronavirus?! The list could go on and on because there is no limit to situations that tempt us to be afraid. While these things should concern us, they should not cause us to fear.  Let’s discover together why this is true.

Not a Spirit of Fear

First, notice that God does not take credit for the spirit of fear. “Spirit of fear” speaks of fearfulness and timidity. It is cowardice in the face of hostility and/or uncertainty. In Timothy’s case it was the fear of an unknown future that did not include Paul helping him in the ministry. Paul wrote this letter to Timothy shortly before he was executed for preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. Timothy, no doubt, was fearful of losing his father in the faith, Paul. He was afraid of ending up in a prison similar to Paul and afraid of receiving the same sentence of death as Paul. He might have even considered stepping away from his pastoral duties. Timothy felt as if he had much to fear. Paul wrote to Timothy to encourage him to continue on in boldness and humility and started by reminding him that the fear he is experiencing is not from God therefore it must be resisted.

The Holy Spirit

God has not given us a spirit of fear, but the Holy Spirit. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:5 that God “has given us the Spirit as a guarantee”. What does the Holy Spirit guarantee? The Holy Spirit indwells the Christian and is a downpayment/promise/guarantee from God that we will be resurrected (2 Cor 5:1-8). The Holy Spirit is active in our lives and one crucial aspect of His work is that of the Comforter (John 14:16). When Paul wrote 2 Timothy 1:7, he was speaking of the work and role that the Holy Spirit works in our life in three important ways for Timothy: power, love, and a sound mind.

Spirit of Power

God has not given us a spirit of fear, but the Holy Spirit (2 Cor 5:5). One characteristic of the Holy Spirit is power. His power is mighty and strong. The Holy Spirit was powerful at the moment of Creation as He “was hovering over the face of many waters” (Gen 1:2).  It was “by the Spirit of God that [Jesus] cast out demons” (Matt 12:28). It was the Spirit of God who overshadowed Mary so that she conceived Jesus without ever knowing a man (Luke 1:35).  It was the Spirit of God that rushed upon the timid, fearful disciples and transformed them into bold apostles. Peter, for example, went from being fearful and cowardly in the presence of a servant girl to being bold and powerful before the Jewish religious leaders as he proclaimed “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36).  The Holy Spirit brings power, not fear. Because we work according to the power of the Holy Spirit, we can be bold in doing everything God calls us to do.

Spirit of Love

Another characteristic of the Holy Spirit is love. Jesus said in John 15:12, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” This point is very important and 1 John 4:13-21 explains it perfectly:

By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as He is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because He first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

The Holy Spirit, who is given to us, gives us confidence (not fear) in this world because He gives confidence in the Day of Judgment. This perfect love of God casts out all fear because “there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1). Because we have received the love of God, we can love those around us.

Spirit of Self-Control

Another characteristic of the Holy Spirit mentioned by Paul is Self-Control (or Sound mind). The Holy Spirit gives us wisdom to know what to do and what to avoid. This wisdom manifests itself in a sound mind that exercises self-control. When we speak of spiritual maturity, knowledge of what God says is important, but without obedience, our knowledge just puffs up (1 Cor 8:1). Being able to answer all the questions in Bible Trivia is nice, but is not necessarily a sign of spiritual maturity. Remember, in the Great Commission (Matt 28”18-20) Jesus told us to teach others to obey all things that I have commanded you. Learn to trust Jesus. Learn to be content in all situations (Phil 4:11).   

Martyn Lloyd-Jones said fear is “our failure to realize what God has given us, and is giving us, in giving us the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Let’s be intentional this week in refusing to be afraid and having faith. Resist sin (and fear) and live a life pleasing to God because we have the Holy Spirit.

Home Bible Study Guide

Read 2 Timothy 1 and go through the following six questions as a family:

  1. What does the text say? (What other passages teach about this?) This question helps everyone better understand the details of the story. After the story is told, take your Bible and discover the details of the story. What was missed? Discuss the basics of the story.
  2. What does it tell us about God? This is a very important question that helps us reflect on the nature and character of God. What is God doing (or not doing) in the particular story? What does He like and dislike? How can we grow in our knowledge of our Creator?
  3. What does it tell us about ourselves? Another great question that forces us to see what the human characters in the story are doing (or not doing). Often we see the thoughts, words, and actions of characters and learn what to do and not to do in a particular circumstance. Because we are similar to the characters, we can often see ourselves in them.
  4. What do I like about this passage? This question causes us to think about what we like and address why we like it. This highlights the positive elements of the story and God’s good behavior for us to employ.
  5. What caused me to struggle? This question causes us to think about what we do not like and address why we do not like it. Usually this highlights the negative aspects of the story and the thoughts, words, and behavior that is sinful. It could also reveal good teaching that brings us conviction because of our failure to obey.
  6. How am I going to think, speak, and live differently because of what I learned? This is the application question. It is not enough to know what the story says, it is important to apply the truth of the story to our lives. James writes that we should be doers of the word and not just hears (James 1:22).

The Battlefield in Your Mind (Philippians 4:8-9)

Martin Luther has been quoted as saying, “While you cannot prevent birds from flying over your head, you can prevent them from building a nest in your hair.” You will never have a joyful, enduring faith if you surrender the fight raging on the battlefield in your mind. Far too many Christians have let the sinful birds of lies, deceit, immorality, etc. to build nests in their hair; allowing the enemy to run rampant among their thoughts. The tragic result is that many Christians are miserable, resentful, bitter, ineffective, and unfruitful in their service for Christ Jesus.

Think on These Things

In Philippians 4:8-9, Paul reminded the Church in Philippi of the importance of proper, Christian thinking. Your mind is an important battlefield and you cannot let the enemy control your thoughts. Paul listed eight (8) essential characteristics of Christian thought. These are not helpful suggestions for our thoughts but are to be taken in unison as essential characteristics of what we should dwell/meditate/think on as Christians who love Christ and are following Him. For example, something may be true, but is it also honorable? Is it also lovely? Christ followers are commanded by our loving Father to bring “every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:5). We must run our thoughts through the characteristics listed below and if any thought fails at any point, we reject it. We refuse to allow ungodly thoughts to occupy our thoughts. When I am thinking about something is it:

  • True – Am I dwelling on what is true? It rarely does any good to dwell on what is false. While it is important for us to think faithfully and wisely about future days; we must not be anxious about “What if’s and the What about’s”.
  • Honorable – Am I dwelling on what is dignified, worthy of reverence, and awe-inspiring? Or is it sinful and wicked?
  • Just – The justice of God and anything that is not injurious or defrauding to anyone else. Is it right and fair?  Is it deceiving?
  • Pure – Am I dwelling on what is morally pure and undefiled? Clean, pure thoughts, words, and deeds. Is it clean and holy?  Is it evil and impure?
  • Lovely – Something that is pleasing, winsome, and most importantly, excites love. Is it loving/pleasing or is it lustful and/or carnal?
  • Commendable – Anything that is of good report and it denotes fair-speaking about others. Would you feel embarrassed sharing it?
  • Any excellence – This is something excellent in a morally pure way. This speaks of virtue and moral excellence. Is it excellent in a morally pure way? Is it edifying?
  • Anything worthy of praise – This is anything that results in praise of God. Does this result in Christ being praised and worshipped?

Paul wrote, “meditate on these things.” We are to take the thoughts that pass the test and dwell on them in our thoughts. This should be a continual process as we develop this habit. Let us take our thoughts as they come, process them through this “filter” and dwell only on those that pass the test. This is a vital part of a life that is lived for the glory of God.

Practice These Things

Paul wrote, “The things which you learned and received and heard and say in me, these do…” Our minds are constantly thinking about something and left to our own devices it is usually something that makes us worry or anxious. Our Heavenly Father knows this and gives us the command to take every one of these thoughts captive and make them obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). Put this truth into practice:

  • Replace your anxious thoughts of the past and/or the fear of the future with the truth that Christ Jesus is always faithful.
  • Replace your sinful thoughts that are not honorable with honorable thoughts of repentance and love for Christ.
  • Replace your selfish thoughts with the righteous thoughts of doing the right thing.
  • Replace your impure thoughts of the “things of this world” with pure thoughts of love and respect.
  • Replace your bitterness and slander with lovely edifying words of encouragement.
  • Replace any thought that is not morally pure with the pure words of Scripture.
  • Replace your grumblings and complaints with praise and thanksgiving to God.
  • Think on these things and put them into practice because the God of peace has promised to be with you. Does that not stir your heart into action?

The Promise of These Things

When you do these things, God makes you a promise. At first glance it seems as if God’s promise is that He will give you His peace. This would be a great promise, but it’s actually better than that. Look closely at verse 9 and you will see that the promise is not that God’s peace will be with you but “the God of peace will be with you.” The two statements are similar but not identical. The promise in verse 9 includes peace, but the focus of the promise is God Himself. Yes, God will give you peace, but He will be with you as you put these things into practice.

When you put this into practice you demonstrate your faith and trust in Jesus. You will never have a joyful, enduring faith if you surrender the fight raging in the battlefield in your mind. If you allow the enemy to run rampant among your thoughts, you will be miserable, resentful, bitter, ineffective, and unfruitful in your service for Christ Jesus. Remember, while you can’t control the birds flying over your head, you can control those that want to land on your head and build nests. Take your thoughts captive, place your trust in Jesus, live for Him, and “the God of peace will be with you.

The Cure for Worry (Philippians 4:2-7)

This time last year, during our Sermon Series on the Sermon on the Mount, we discussed “The Cure for Anxiety”. We learned:

God hasn’t told you that you have nothing to worry about; He told you that there is nothing you should worry about. While there are a lot of things you can worry about, there is nothing you should worry about because God loves us, provides for us, and cares for us so perfectly, that we have no reason to be worried.

What is worry? It has been said: “Worry is a conversation you have with yourself about things you cannot change.” We are told in Philippians 4:6 that we should resist the temptation to worry by converting our worries to prayer. Prayer, in contrast to worry, is a conversation you have with God about the things He can change. In this sermon we shall discuss this vitally important topic and discover that God commands us to not worry, He provides an escape from worry, and He provides a better way than worry.

God Commands Us to Not Worry

Consider verse 6 and let the words “do not be anxious” sink in. Notice that God does not tell you to try to not be anxious, but to not be anxious. He makes it clear that anxiety and worry is not acceptable behavior and exhorts you to not be anxious. In fact, anxiety is a sinful response that must be avoided. Worry is sin because it is not done in faith.

The command is even more extensive when we read: “do not be anxious about anything.” No matter how justified you think you are to be worried, you have no legitimate reason to be anxious. This command is not a burden for us to condemn us for our failure, but a blessing for us. God is not condemning you but encouraging you. God says to you, “I know you are daily tempted to be anxious about many things, but trust Me. This is an opportunity to stop talking to yourself about what you cannot change and start talking to God about what He can. God understands the temptations we all face. Jesus understands our pain and can sympathize with us (Heb 4:15). God allows temptations to come because He wants us to trust Him and grow in grace, knowledge, and truth. 

God Provides an Escape from Worry

A common objection to prayer is that it doesn’t matter because no one can change God. Prayer cannot change God, but it can change you. God, in His great mercy, knows we are weak and prone to worry and therefore has graciously provided prayer as a means to soothe the anxious heart. We are told to turn our anxiety into prayer requests. Take the things you cannot change to the Almighty. Refuse to allow worry and anxiety to fester in your heart and entrust yourself and your worries to God. Worry comes in and should go right out in prayer to God the Father.  

Remember that you are not to be anxious about anything, “but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Remember, we have a faithful High Priest (Jesus) who can sympathize with our weaknesses and He calls us to boldly “draw near to the throne of grace” (Heb 4:16) in prayer to find the mercy and grace we need. He not only tells you not to be anxious but provides a way out and a better way. We should pray for every situation and make it with thanksgiving. We can always find a reason to be thankful. We make our requests known to God and rejoice that He cares about what makes us anxious and, most importantly, cares about us.

God Provides a Better Way than Worry

Verse 7 promises that when you make your requests known to God, you will receive “the peace of God.” God promises peace and you must receive it by faith.  This peace is rooted in God as He has revealed Himself to us through Jesus Christ. Remember, this peace is given to those who have an anxious heart and who have turned the anxiety over to Him. This peace is a confidence in God that He will work everything out for your good and His glory. 

The peace of God “surpasses all understanding.” There is no explaining it but there is no denying it either. The peace of God is unique because it is not dependent upon external circumstances. The peace of God is dependent on the internal conviction that Jesus Christ is Lord, that He cares for you, that He loves you, and that He is working good on your behalf (Rom 8:28). Even if your heart is broken, you still have God’s peace.  

The peaceGod gives “will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” It guards your heart and helps keep your emotions from running away from you. It guards your mind to keep your thoughts from wandering down perilous paths. You have an important God-given task. Keep fighting, keep praying, keep loving, and keep trusting in Jesus Christ. Remember the blessing of taking your worries to the One who loves you! What a friend we have in Jesus! As the old song, “What a Friend we have in Jesus” reminds us:

What a Friend we have in Jesus, All our sins and griefs to bear! What a privilege to carry Everything to God in prayer! O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry Everything to God in prayer!

Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere? We should never be discouraged, Take it to the Lord in prayer. Can we find a friend so faithful Who will all our sorrows share? Jesus knows our every weakness, Take it to the Lord in prayer.

Are we weak and heavy-laden, Cumbered with a load of care? Precious Savior, still our refuge—Take it to the Lord in prayer; Do thy friends despise, forsake thee? Take it to the Lord in prayer; In His arms He’ll take and shield thee, Thou wilt find a solace there.

The Cure for Anxiety (Matthew 6:25-34)

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Photo by Alexander Dummer on Pexels.com

God hasn’t told you that you have nothing to worry about; He told you that you shouldn’t worry about anything (John 14:1). Let me explain. There are a lot of things in this world that you can worry about. You can worry about your job, family, marriage, taxes, etc. Nowhere in the Bible does God promise you a life free from the temptation to worry. God knows that this present life contains many difficulties (John 16:33). While there are a lot of things you can worry about, there is nothing you should worry about. The testimony of Scripture is that we should not worry about anything because God loves us. He provides for and cares for us so perfectly, that we have no reason to worry.

What is worry? I heard it put this way recently: “Worry is a conversation you have with yourself about things you cannot change.” We are told in Philippians 4:6 that we should resist the temptation to worry by converting our worries to prayer. Prayer, in contrast to worry, is a conversation you have with God about the things He can change. There is a cure for worry! It’s found in Matthew 6:25-34. The cure for worry and anxiety is to remember that: 1) Your Life has Value and 2) Your Life has Purpose.

Your Life Has Value

Jesus said, “Don’t worry about your life.” In verse 26, Jesus uses an illustration to make His point: “Look at the birds of the sky: they don’t sow or reap or gather in barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them.” In verse 28, He uses another illustration: “Learn how the wildflowers of the field grow: they don’t labor or spin thread. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was adorned like one of these.” These two illustrations show us the love and care God gives to birds and flowers. This is an argument from the lesser to the greater because Jesus says, “aren’t you worth more than they?” (26) and “If that’s how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and thrown into the furnace tomorrow, won’t He do much more for you—you of little faith?” (30). If God cares for the birds and grass (the lesser) how much more shall He care for you (the greater). It is in verse 28 that Jesus makes the connection between worry and faith. He says that those who worry about these things are “of little faith” and those who trust are demonstrating great faith.

In verses 29-30, Jesus instructs His followers: “So don’t worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.” Jesus is not condoning or calling for laziness but is calling His followers to stop worrying about what they need and start trusting/believing that God will provide what they need. In verse 31, Jesus tells His followers to demonstrate their faith and “seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you.” In John 14:1, Jesus told His disciples, “Your heart must not be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me.” Life is more than food and your body is more than clothing. Consider the birds of the air and the flowers of the field. God provides for them and meets their needs. You are far more valuable than they are…so how much more will He provide for you.

Your Life Has Purpose

Your life is not only valuable, your life has purpose. You are created in the image of God (Gen 1:27). When you became a Christian, you were:

  • Given the right to be called a child of God (John 1:12),
  • Adopted (Eph 1:5),
  • United with the Lord (1 Cor 6:17),
  • A member of the Body of Christ (1 Cor 12:27),
  • Chosen and Special (1 Peter 2:9), and a
  • Temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19)

Your identity is in Christ. You were to love Him and enjoy Him forever. Your life is more than just eating and drinking, but for righteousness (Rom 14:17). You were designed for a purpose far greater than to enjoy momentary pleasures. What does this mean? It means you don’t have to worry about having enough money, what you will eat, or what you will wear. You don’t have to hoard. God knows what you need even before you ask (6:8). Rather than worry about your life, seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. Rather than greedily consuming all you have with little to give and less to save; give generously, save wisely, and live appropriately. We began our “Biblical Perspective of Possessions” series by saying:

It is one thing for you to own possessions, but possessions should not own you. When that happens, they’re no longer possessions; they’re idols. We must repent of and fight against a lifestyle of self-indulgence which is contrary to the Gospel. Self-indulgence breeds a hard heart towards God and others.

At the end of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, He says these words: “Everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on the rock” (Matt 7:24). The cure for anxiety is Christ. When you surrender yourself and all you have to Him, He will protect you, comfort you, and guide you. He will free you from your burdens (Matt 11:28-30) and give you joy and peace. Do you trust Him with everything? Do you trust Him with your money and possessions? Do you give generously? Do you save wisely? Do you live appropriately?

Dishonoring God’s Sacrifice (Malachi 1:6-14)

 

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In this section of Malachi, we read about the priests who dishonored God by permitting the offering of polluted (sick or lame) animals as sacrifices in the Temple. In the Law of Moses, the Lord made clear that animal sacrifices were required to be of a “male without blemish” (Lev 1:3). The Lord rebuked them for failing to show Him the honor He deserves and then called them to repent and ask Him to be gracious to them.

Where is My Honor? Where is My Fear?

True worship of God involves fear of God. When the Bible speaks of fearing God, it does not mean we are terrified of Him. Fearing the Lord means highly respecting Him. We have a deep appreciation and admiration of Him. When we fear God, we are careful to do what is pleasing to Him. Martin Luther illustrated this by speaking of “a child who has tremendous respect and love for his father or mother and who dearly wants to please them.”

The people, with the priests’ permission, brought lame or sick animals to sacrifice as part of their worship. What is the big deal? Alan Ross summarizes the problem, “To bring God an inferior gift would say that one did not think much of God, for the quality of the gift indicates the value the giver places on the one receiving it.” The people brought polluted animals because they did not fear the Lord. They offered their sacrifices out of convenience (what they wanted to get rid of) rather than on what God required.

What Weariness!

By permitting worthless sacrifices to be offered, the priests despised the Lord’s table; treating it as if it was worthless. This is why God says in verse 8, “Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor?” The obvious answer is ‘No’.  The people and the priests were more fearful of offending their governor (regional officials during the Persian period) than they were of offending God. They honored their fathers and feared/respected their masters, but God asks, “Where is My honor…Where is My fear?

As the people and priests despised the Lord’s sacrifice, they quickly became weary of the entire process. In verse 13, the people “snort at it” in disdain. They forced themselves to perform the outward tasks of worship while begrudging the entire act. They knew what rituals were required and they set out to perform it as conveniently as possible. If you must sacrifice an animal, why not get rid of the sick one?

My Name Will Be Feared Among the Nations

What is God’s response to vain worship? Look at verse 10, “Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain.” God is not pleased with vain worship. He would rather it cease than continue. He goes on to say in verse 10, “I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand.” The Lord calls them to cease their vain worship and to worship Him properly. In verse 11, He speaks of a day when “My name will be great among the nations.” In verse 14, He adds: “My name will be feared among the nations.”

Let every Christian take notice: God takes no pleasure in vain worship. Jesus said in Matthew 15:8-9, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me; in vain do they worship Me…” Let Jesus’ words echo in our ears, “in vain do they worship Me.” Vain worship is that which is professed with the tongue but not possessed in the heart. God takes no pleasure in vain worship and polluted sacrifices. Take a moment to reflect on the following:

  • Why do you pray?
  • Why do you read the Bible?
  • Why do you attend the weekly worship service?
  • Why do you give your tithes and offerings?
  • Why do you urge your friends and family to be reconciled to God through Jesus?
  • Why do you serve in the church?

Are there any of the above that you have stopped doing? If you still do these things, do you do them begrudgingly? Do you do them in a way that is most convenient for you? If so, you have lost the fear of the Lord.

Entreat the Favor of God

What is the answer to vain worship? In verse 8, Malachi writes, “Entreat the favor of God, that He may be gracious to us.” How does one entreat the favor of God?

  • First, pray earnestly for God to forgive. Acknowledge your sin of failing to honor and fear Him. Confess that your behavior has displeased Him.
  • Second, pray earnestly for God to be gracious. Trust that God is gracious by nature and is willing to forgive. Depend upon God’s desire to grant forgiveness according to His grace and mercy.

 

When Tempted (James 1:13-16)

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There is always free cheese in a mousetrap!

It is not a matter of “If” but “when”. In verse 13, James does not say, “If” you are tempted, but “When” you are tempted. Jesus said, “Temptations to sin are sure to come” (Luke 17:1) and we must always be diligent to resist every temptation. When we are tempted, we need to remember three very important truths: 1) God is not the source of our temptation 2) Sin has serious consequences, and 3) We must be on guard against deception.

  1. The Source of Temptation (13-14). God is not the source of temptation. This is important to know because we may believe that God is being unfair to us when we are undergoing a trial/temptation. God cannot be the source of temptation because He “is not tempted by evil, and He Himself doesn’t tempt anyone.” John wrote, “God is light, and there is absolutely no darkness in Him” (1 John 1:5). God is purely good and incapable of sin. Therefore, God cannot tempt anyone to sin because it would be completely against His own nature. God is not the source of temptation, but He is the One who allows trials to come in order that our faith may be tested and authenticated. James now reminds us that even though God permits the trial, He never tempts us to do evil. If we are not careful, our trials may lead us to question God’s goodness. Sometimes we may think that God is being unfair to us. As we have learned thus far in our study of James, trials are the testing of our faith and allowed by God to mature our faith. The source of temptation is our “own evil desires” (14). The reason we too often sin is because sin is enticing. In other words, we sin because we want to sin. If we had no desire to sin we would resist. Edmond Heibert wrote, “Temptation has its source not in the outer lure but in the inner lust.” Our inner lust desires to be satisfied and when we see something we greatly desire we pursue it. The danger with temptation is that we get more than simply pleasure; we get pain. This is like a fisherman using a worm to catch fish. The fish is enticed by the worm and oblivious to the hook. So too are we enticed by the pleasure of sin and unaware of the pain of sin.
  1. The Consequence of Disobedience (15). There are consequences for sin. James writes, “after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown it gives birth to death.” Yielding to temptation results in sin and “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). Let this truth be perfectly clear, we cannot sin without consequences. Unbelievers sin and the result is ultimately spiritual death. Revelation 20:15 tells us that “anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.” Christians are not in danger of spiritual death because we have been forgiven of all our sins and granted eternal life (John 3:16). Christians can, however, give into temptation and sin against God. The result is not spiritual death, but spiritual grief. Ephesians 4:30 says, “Don’t grieve God’s Holy Spirit. You were sealed by Him for the day of redemption.” Clinton Arnold has said, “the Spirit does not depart when sin is committed. Instead, the Spirit deeply grieves over it. Paul presents this as a truth that should motivate believers not to indulge their sinful desires—whether this might be filthy talk, stealing, uncontrolled anger, lying, or any other vice.” 
  2. The Warning of Deception (16). In verse 16, James warns us not to be deceived. Peter likewise cautions us to “be sober minded, be alert. Your adversary the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour” (1 Peter 5:8). What are some ways in which we can be deceived and what is our solution?
    1. Freedom from Consequences. Not only do we grieve the Holy Spirit with our sin but we bring grief upon ourselves. When we are tempted, we are enticed to enjoy the pleasure of sin and we are deceived into believing that there will not be any consequences. Many Christians have suffered great grief because of sin.
    2. Bondage of the Past. One way in which we are deceived is when we are tempted to dwell on the past. Our enemy is crafty and will try to make you ineffective in the present by getting your mind focused on the past. While there is nothing sinful about remembering the past, we are never called to dwell on it. If there is a particular sin in the past, remember 1 John 1:9 tells us that “if we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” While it is impossible to look back over your life without regrets, the gospel helps us stop dwelling on our failure and to start dwelling on Jesus’ faithfulness. When you are tempted to think about the past, don’t forget Jesus and His amazing grace. We must allow God to use our past failing to work present faithfulness. Consider the Apostle Paul, he was a persecutor of the church (Phil 3:6) but that did not keep him from being an Apostle and proclaiming Christ everywhere he went (Gal 1:16) The grace of God frees you from bondage.
    3. Fear of the Future. Another way in which we are deceived is when we are tempted to dwell on the future. In other words, we must also not be paralyzed in the present by our fear of our future. It is good to consider the future and plan accordingly, but we cannot live in tomorrow. The problem with dwelling on the future is that we become focused on what might happen. Too many Christians are presently living in fear of an unknown future. The question they usually struggle with starts with: “What if…?” What if something bad happens?  Too many people are miserable today because they are living in a hypothetical tomorrow. Zig Ziglar once said, “Worrying does not take away tomorrow’s problems it takes away today’s peace.” While we do not know what tomorrow brings, we know who brings tomorrow! A better “What if…” question is: “What if God really will take care of me?” “What if I really can trust God with my life?”

When you are tempted to sin, resist it at all costs. Resist it because you know that God does not want you to sin. He allows trials to test your faith and to help you grow in spiritual maturity. Resist it because you know the severe consequences of sin. You know that sin grieves the Holy Spirit and brings grief into your life. Let us not be deceived, but let us be alert. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has come to “seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). Our joy is to join our Lord in this great mission.

Wrestling with God (Genesis 32)

024-jacob_wrestles_with_the_angelI recently read an article on Inc.com entitled “5 Powerful Ways to Boost Your Confidence.” The author claims that anyone can have powerful self-confidence every day. He then writes:

Self-confident people are admired by others and inspire confidence in others. They face their fears head-on and tend to be risk takers. They know that no matter what obstacles come their way, they have the ability to get past them. Self-confident people tend to see their lives in a positive light even when things aren’t going so well, and they are typically satisfied with and respect themselves.  Wouldn’t it be amazing to have this kind of self-confidence, every day of the week? Guess what? You can.

While this sounds good (and it is good to have confidence), the danger of this thinking is that it speaks of self-confidence. Self-confidence is deadly. It is particularly deadly for a Christian because Christians ought to know better than to place their confidence in anyone or anything other than Jesus Christ. Self-confidence is a poison that weakens our faith. Self-confidence is rooted in pride. When we feel adequate in ourselves, we neither seek God nor depend on Him. And sometimes even if we seek God we seek Him as a means to an end as opposed to an end in and of Himself. Today, we shall witness God graciously strip Jacob of his self-confidence and bring him to the humble recognition that God is all he needs.

  1. Jacob is Afraid. As we pick up the story of Jacob, we see him heading back to the Promised Land. He is heading home because God has told him to return (Gen 31:3). He is afraid of returning, however, because he knows that his brother Esau wants to kill him (Gen 27:41). What does Jacob do? Jacob is a fighter. Jacob always seems to have a plan to get himself out of trouble. This plan was intentionally designed to appease Esau with gifts so that he would accept him. In addition to his plan, Jacob called upon God to help him. Jacob’s prayer appears to be very sound because he: 1) remembered God’s promises, 2) held God to His word, 3) confessed that he is not worthy of all God’s steadfast love and faithfulness, and 4) begged for God’s deliverance. The million-dollar question, however, is whether Jacob is seeking God’s help for God’s glory or if he is trying to use God for his own self-protection? In other words, is God a means to an end or is He the goal?
  2. Jacob is Attacked. After putting his plan in motion, Jacob found himself alone at camp “and a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day.” With whom is Jacob wrestling? The text says “a man”. The Prophet Hosea called him an angel (Hos 12:4). Jacob becomes convinced near the break of day that his attacker is God. The attacker implies that He is God when He gives Jacob the name Israel (Strives with God). Therefore, the attacker is best understood as a “theophany”. A Theophany is a physical manifestation of God in the world—sometimes called the Angel of the Lord (God in human form). For example, in Exodus 3:2 “the angel of the Lord” appeared to Moses in the burning bush. In verse 4, we read that “God called to him out of the bush…[saying]…I am the God of your father…” Jacob has made plans to contend with Esau, but now finds himself contending with God. But why?
  3. Jacob is Altered. Why did God attack Jacob in the middle of the night? Because Jacob needed to have his self-confidence cut down and his faith boosted. During the wrestling match, Jacob became physically and spiritually altered. Physically, his hip was put out of joint causing him to walk with a limp the rest of his life. God did this in order to break Jacob from his reliance on his own strength. Spiritually, he is no longer Jacob (“the deceiver”) but Israel (“strives with God”). This life altering pronouncement was intentional in order to confirm his new spiritual identity.
  4. Jacob is a Victor. One would think that any attempt to wrestle with God would result in defeat, but verse 28 tells us that Jacob prevailed. How did Jacob prevail against the angel of the Lord—one who is powerful enough to dislocate his hip with just a touch? It is clear that the angel of the Lord—like a father wrestling with his young son—is holding back in this match, but why? The answer is found in how God changed Jacob as a result of the wrestling match. God entered human form in order to show Jacob that his self-confidence was deadly because his body was fragile and his attitude was destructive. Jacob was a deceiver who did everything he could to protect himself, but Israel is a much humbler man who depends upon God. You see, only when Jacob was helpless, clinging to God in desperation, and begging for God to bless him did he finally prevail. This is just what God wanted and knew Jacob needed.

When you hear of “5 Powerful Ways to Boost Your Confidence” are you interested in how you can become more self-confident? Or are you not impressed by such claims because you put no confidence in your own strength and capabilities because you place your full trust and confidence in Christ? Wrestle with God! Do not trust in yourself to be the best parent/spouse/coworker but depend upon God and work according to His wisdom. Allow Him to bring you to the place where you confess: “I am poor and needy; hasten to me, O God! You are my help and my deliverer; O Lord, do not delay!” (Ps 70:5).

Head, Heart, Hands Study Guide
Wrestling with God (Genesis 32)

Begin by praying for God to help you: 1) understand (Head) what the Bible says, 2) to be changed (Heart) by the truths contained, and 3) to apply (Hands) what you have learned. Read Genesis 32 and then answer following questions:

  1. What does the text say? (What happened? What happened next? What happened after that?) Where is Jacob coming from? Where is Jacob going? Who does he meet? What does he tell his messengers to do? What did the messengers say when they returned? What did Jacob say in his prayer? What were the presents for Esau? What happened to Jacob when he was alone? What did the man do when the day began to break? What did Jacob ask the man to do? What was the man’s response? What did Jacob call this place?
  2. What does it tell us about God? (Discuss the nature and character of God.) Why did God send angels to meet Jacob? What did Jacob call God? Why did Jacob remind God that it was God who told him to return? Why did Jacob remind God of His promises to do him good? Who is the man who wrestled with Jacob? Why did the man wrestle him? Why did the man change Jacob’s name? How can the man do that? What does Israel mean? What does Peniel mean?
  3. What does it tell us about ourselves? (What are the human characters in the story doing or not doing that serve as a warning or encouragement to us?) Why is Jacob devising such an elaborate plan? What is motivating Jacob to divide his people? Why is Jacob praying to God? According to verse 20, what is Jacob thinking? Why did Jacob want the man he was wrestling with to bless him?
  4. How am I going to think, speak, and live differently because of what I learned? James writes that we should be doers of the word and not just hearers (James 1:22). It is not enough to know what the story says, it is important to apply the truth of the story to our lives. Take some time in prayer and consider some changes that you need to make in the following areas:
    1. Think
    2. Speak
    3. Live

What Should I Do? (Genesis 30:1-24)

Foolish decisions make difficult situations worse. Foolish decisions are often sinful decisions because they are made out of fear instead of faith. When times get tough, we must not panic because when we panic we seek to take control of our situation and we end up making our situation worse. Choosing faith over fear is the only way to endure life’s storms. In Genesis 30, Jacob has been blessed by God greatly and is now in a difficult family situation. Let us consider:

  1. A Physical Problem. We were told in Genesis 29:31 that Rachel was unable to bear children because she was barren. In Rachel’s day, barrenness was seen as a great misfortune. Children, being necessary for the continuation of the family, were greatly desired and a wife who was not able to give birth was, unfortunately, believed to be a disgrace. This context really brings out the anguish in Rachel’s words to Jacob: “Give me children, or I shall die!” As we shall see, Rachel does not respond in faith but in fear and her worry is leading her to try to take control of her situation.
  2. A Relational Problem. Rachel did not respond in faith but began to envy her sister Leah. Rachel may have been the prettier sister and had Jacob’s love, but Leah had Jacob’s sons. Seeing Leah with four sons and seeing Jacob take pride in these four sons led Rachel to despair. Her jealousy led to bitterness against Jacob as she blamed him for her lack of children. Her pain was so intense that she had convinced herself that if she was not able to have children she would rather die. Needless to say, Rachel was becoming irrational and paranoid and not responding in faith. When Rachel blamed Jacob for her lack of children, Jacob did not console her, rather he got upset. Jacob said, “Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?” Jacob told her that it was God (not him) who is keep her from conceiving. Responding in fear and allowing bitterness and anger to creep in, it should not surprise us that the situation gets much worse. Rachel, in an effort to get children, gave Jacob her servant Bilhah as a concubine. Leah also gave her servant Zilpah to Jacob as a concubine. There is also a curious incident of bartering over Jacob involving mandrakes that results in Leah becoming pregnant. In verses 1-21, foolish decisions have made a difficult situation worse. There is hope, however. In verse 22, however, we read that “God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb.” Rachel rejoices in that “God has taken away my reproach.”
  3. A Spiritual Solution. This situation makes it apparent that foolish decisions make difficult situations worse. So what should we do? We avoid foolish and sinful decisions when we remember that God is in control and is allowing this particular situation to happen for a very good reason. Believing that God has a purpose and a plan for everything in our life helps us make faithful decisions. Faithful decisions may not make your difficult situations any better, but the faithful man receives the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding and will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:7). Choosing faith over fear is the only way to endure life’s storms.

The story of Jacob, Leah, and Rachel is hard to read because of the bitterness, fear, anger, and jealousy on display. Many times in the story, someone is choosing to take matters into their own hands. When we reflect on this, let us resist the urge to panic. What should we do? We must: 1) believe God is in control, 2) believe that God has a purpose and a plan for everything in our life and 3) we must believe that God loves us and will bring good out of all we encounter. We must seek God’s wisdom to faithful decisions. Let us choose faith over fear and know that God will bless us with peace that will enable us to endure the struggle. Let us seek the spiritual solution from God for our problems and rest in His peace.

The Omnipotence of God (Genesis 1:1)

You may have heard this question before: “Can God create a rock so large that He is unable to lift it?” It is a well-known and challenging question because the Bible teaches that God is all-powerful and has complete control (Omnipotence).  Therefore, if you answer ‘No, He cannot make a rock too large…’ you feel awkward saying that God is unable to do so. But, if you answer ‘Yes, He can make a rock too large…’, then once again you are saying that God is unable to do something. In this sermon we shall attempt to answer this question as we learn what the Bible teaches about God’s omnipotence.

  1. Omnipotence does not mean that God can do everything. This may sound strange, but it is true and biblical.  Hebrews 6:18 tells us that “it is impossible for God to lie.” God cannot lie because He cannot sin. Deuteronomy 32:4 says of God: “His work is perfect; all His ways are entirely just. A faithful God, without prejudice, He is righteous and true.” We also learn from the Bible that the Lord cannot and will not change (Mal 3:6). God is good and will always be good.  Therefore we learn that God’s omnipotence does not mean that He can do “everything” because God cannot do “everything” and continue to be a good, holy, and righteous God.
  2. Omnipotence does not mean that your actions are insignificant. If God is all-powerful and has total control over all things, do our actions matter? Omnipotence does not cancel responsibility. For example, Jesus’ first sermon included the command to “Repent and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Paul, in a great combination of God’s omnipotence and man’s responsibility, wrote that Christians are “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10). James, writing to Christians who claim faith in Christ but refuse to do these good works, said: “Can such faith save him?” (James 2:14) The answer is ‘No’ because true, saving faith is demonstrated in obedience. Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commands” (John 14:15). You are given good work to do and you are held accountable to do that good work.
  3. Omnipotence means that God reigns forever. In Revelation 19:6 a great multitude shouts: “The Lord our God the Almighty reigns”. Omnipotence means that God rules as King forever with no rival to His authority and none of His plans can be thwarted (Job 42:2). It means that you are secure in Christ because your union is held by His strength, not yours (John 10:28-29). Our omnipotent, all-powerful God is more powerful than anything and we confess Romans 8:38-39 boldly: “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!”

God’s omnipotence is glorious and wonderful because “greater is He that is in me than He that is in the world” (1 John 4:4).  Do you worship the all-powerful, omnipotent God of the Bible?  Are you allowing fears to keep you from obedience?  Confess your sins to God and walk boldly in Christ’s strength.

P.S. The question is based on the false premise that God can do everything.  Can cannot do everything (see point #1). Omnipotence means that God has no rival and nothing is more powerful.  Not even God can make something more power than He.

Our Difficult, Joyful Journey with Christ

Today is an exciting day because tonight we begin Vacation Bible School (VBS).  This year’s VBS theme is “Journey Off the Map”.  This VBS stresses the importance of having Jesus Christ be your guide in this life.  With this in mind, this morning we shall turn our attention to the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the book of Daniel.  In this story we shall discuss 4 important truths from Daniel 1 & 3 that help us in “Our Difficult, Joyful Journey with Christ”.

  1. God will bring challenging circumstances. Our three friends encounter two challenging circumstances: 1) the command to eat the king’s food and 2) the command to worship the king’s gold statue. That these three were presented with challenging circumstances should not come to us as a surprise.  Jesus said that we would have trouble in this world (John 16:33).  We must understand that the circumstances are challenging because we long for peace in this world.  God allows challenging circumstances to come so that we would recognize that true peace comes through Christ alone and not in this world.
  2. God will bring difficult decisions. Our three friends are forced to make two difficult decisions: 1) Do they eat the king’s food or God’s food? and 2) Do they bow before the king’s statue or do they bow to God alone? That these three were forced to make difficult decisions should not come to us as a surprise. We must understand that the decisions are difficult because we naturally recoil from any type of difficulty. God places us in difficult positions in order to break our selfish love for this world and remind us that when we decided to follow Christ no decision is difficult because we have already decided to obey Christ in all things.
  3. God will rescue the righteous. Our three friends chose to obey God rather than man. They were able to make this decision because they knew that God would rescue them.  They obeyed God and were healthier than the others (Daniel 1).  They obeyed God and were delivered from the fiery furnace (Daniel 3).  This is proof that “the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials” (2 Peter 2:9).
  4. God is more interested in holiness than happiness. Why does God bring challenging circumstances and why are we forced to make difficult decisions?  It is precisely because we are involved in a great spiritual war and God is more interested in our holiness than our happiness.  God is more interested in you being conformed into the image of Christ than your pursuit of physical pleasure.  This does not mean we are miserable (yet holy), but that true joy comes only through holiness: “without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb 12:14).

Are you struggling with your circumstances in life?  Have you considered that God has allowed these situations and circumstances to come for your good?  Are you currently in need of wisdom for difficult decisions?  If so, please come to God in prayer and ask for wisdom.