What we commonly label "birth control" is more correctly "conception control." The goal is to prevent the joining of the male and female sex cells, which always creates life. (Thus, to destroy an already-joined-pairing, whether it's as a fertilized egg, an embryo, or a 24-week-in utero-fetus, is destroying life, and thus, murder.)
Married couples use any number of forms of "conception control" to morally and ethically control the number and timing of children they bear.
We would do well to look at this common practice when we analyze the temptation process as outlined by James in chapter 1:14-15. There, he says, "But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death."
In verse 15, he turns toward one of the most natural processes known to man: conception and birth. When the two sex cells join in a mother's womb, barring rare circumstances or man's heinous crimes, it creates an embryo, which is eventually born into the world as a baby human being.
It is a divinely-designed and naturally-occurring process.
James says the same about our desires, which lead to temptations, which lead to sin, which leads to death.
We can, and should constantly try to, improve and replace our sinful desires with good attitudes and the supreme concerns of our Creator. But we will never eradicate all of our fleshly desires. This begs a legitimate, and concerning, question.
If our desires are within us, and the process of sin is as dependable as the child-bearing process, how can we successfully resist sin?
Though we all sin and fall short of God's glory (Rom. 3:23), we don't always have to sin. James himself says in chapter 4, verse 7, "Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you."
The answer to our alarming question lies in the same neighborhood as our modern practice of "birth control." Once an embryo is conceived, a mother gives birth. Once our desires conceive, they give birth to sin. We cannot rest all of our hope upon controlling or changing our desires. But we can keep our desires from conceiving!
If we continually allow our desires and external opportunities to sin meet, we're doomed to lose the battle with sin. But if we intentionally control our environments, in order to limit and eliminate opportunities, then we begin to win.
One of my professors at FHU counseled a Christian gentlemen who was fighting a losing battle with alcoholism. During one session, the man said something to the effect, "Every day when I come home from work, I convince myself I'm not going to stop and pick up some booze. Then I see that Big Dog liquor store and I just can't resist. It happens almost every day."
So my professor, in his direct, matter-of-fact, country-boy ways, said, "Son, sounds like it's about time you find another route home."
Change the environment.
The process of temptation and sin is frightening, but only if we allow our desires to conceive with opportunity, thus leading to sinful action. Because of James' detailed and nature-based illustration, we can highlight the course of victory over sin and temptation.
May we lean upon God as we practice spiritual "conception control."
Humanity shares several "common lots." All human beings require food and water for physical nourishment. Every person desires love, affection, and companionship for emotional health. Everyone suffers pain, disappointment, and heartache.
Spiritually, all mankind faces--and gives in to--temptation.
James says, "But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed."
Paul says in Romans 3:23, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."
We face plenty of uncertainties in life, but we are certain to face temptation and sin.
Temptation's certainty is sobering. And knowing we are drawn away from within our own hearts, much like a fish is lured by its belly toward a dangling worm, can be discouraging as well. But these revelations must not drive us to guilt. Harboring guilt for being human can be dangerous. We can attempt to ease the pain through ungodly, selfish, or fleshly pursuits.
Jesus, the Son of God, was tempted while on earth, and yet never sinned (Heb. 4:15). While sin is born from temptation, temptation is not sinful. When Satan tempted Jesus in Matthew 4:1-11, he used the very things Jesus wanted and was sent to earth to accomplish. Satan tempted Jesus to do good things in ways contrary to God's ways.
We also cannot allow our missteps into sin to fuel our temptations. Though we can never be perfect, we must be aware that sin creates new temptations more powerful and destructive than we anticipate. For example, resisting the temptation to drink after 20 years of alcoholism is more difficult than resisting the first drink. If we feed temptations with the flesh, they grow into gigantic beasts.
Reality. Knowing sin's deceptive and deadly power helps us develop healthy fears of temptation. Though we all face it, we must never grow comfortable with it nor welcome it. The price for playing with temptation is steep. James follows verse 14 with this, "Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death" (1:15).
This harmonizes with Paul's words in Romans 6:23, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Water, carbon monoxide, and other natural compounds are abundant on earth. But we must always respect their power to destroy humanity. Temptation is no different.
Replacement. Knowing that temptation results from our own desires can be discouraging if we're not careful. We must be intentional to continually replace our wants with God's desires. When the two compete, we must always submit to God's will.
But over time, we can also develop the heart and attitude that above all longs for God's will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. The more we try to be like God from the inside out, the less power we give to our human desires and tendencies.
The Psalmist once said, "With my whole heart I have sought you; Oh, let me not wander from your commandments! Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You" (Ps. 119:10-11).
The truth about temptation may be discouraging at the surface. But a complete appreciation for God's forgiveness (1 Jn. 1:7) and continual providence in the face of temptation (Jas. 4:7) gives us every motivation and all strength to resist.
Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits. (James 1:9-11)
In addition to writing his book full of imperative statements, James also relies heavily upon contrasting elements. In 1:9-11, he contrasts the "lowly" against the "rich." He challenges them with action in the present, but does so by previewing the future.
We must take note that James' emphasis is not upon their bank accounts; it's upon their attitudes. The lowly (humble, 4:1-10) brother acknowledges the utmost importance of God in all that he does. He will be exalted in the life to come. The rich are not necessarily all who are financially blessed, but those whose pride and boasting are founded upon their possessions--and the status in life they provide (cf, 5:1-6).
When Jesus came to earth, he turned it upside down--especially for the Jews. He didn't come with the purpose of doing away with rich and poor designations while on earth. He came to show that man will not be judged by their political, socio-economic, or even religious status. He will judge all men by their hearts (Matt. 5:8).
To illustrate this reversal of standing, James turns to nature in a way where first century Palestinians could not misunderstand him. He compares those who are rich to the grass and flowers of the land. Though beautiful, they don't last forever. Though beautiful, they don't withstand the elements of heat. Likewise, he says, the rich man will perish "in the midst of his pursuits."
These few verses are not James' final word on proper attitudes, partiality, riches, and the brevity of life. He further develops those themes throughout his letter. But we cannot gloss over these specific instructions. Humble and lowly Christians should take courage from their relationship with the Creator of the universe; Christians who choose to build their lives on possessions should repent. Soon, there will be a day when those possessions are nothing but dust.
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it. (Matt. 7:24-27)
We are currently living in difficult financial times (not that you need me to tell you, or anything). When we experience a difficult situation of any kind (more than just financial), we have an opportunity to learn valuable lessons. Among them, we should learn how to improve the situation. There are several questions we need to ask--and answer--along the way in order to get to that intended destination.
I'm not an economist. I'm not a politician. And I'm not a politician who thinks he's an economist. The purpose of this post--and the ones that follow--is not to be political, dogmatic, or controversial. During difficult times, it's a temptation to let emotion override reason; our goal, however, is to exercise reason by asking and answering pointed questions concerning our current economic climate.
We could spend a long time figuring out exactly what policies and factors led to our current recession. We know a lot of people made some stupid choices. But we also want to know who messed up, right? The government blames businesses. Businesses blame the government. New government blames the old government. The unemployed blame the employed. The employed blame the unemployed. We're quick to blame someone--anyone--just not ourselves.
Most Americans have taken full advantage of a credit-based economy over the past several years and decades. That means we as consumers have spent more than we have earned. Banks have loaned more than they could afford to people they shouldn't have loaned to. Americans have tallied up debt on credit cards, car financing, mortgages, department store cards, home equity lines of credit, payday loans, and any other possible way to get something they simply can't afford with cash. Eventually, the sources of the given credit come calling for their money--especially when their lender comes after them. Though a portion of the downturn is cyclical, we are largely victims of our own dependency on credit and debt. In order to move forward, it's important that we recognize our role in getting ourselves into financial trouble.
We as Christians shouldn't be surprised by the answer to "Who's to blame?" Accepting personal responsibility is at the very heart of becoming a Christian. We submit to God because we realize our sinful shortcomings. We regularly admit to and repent of sin that creeps into our lives. Just as we recognize our spiritual shortcomings, we must have the courage to admit that our poor financial choices contributed to our nation's economic recession. Only by admitting fault can we accept the personal responsibility to improve the situation.
"Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness." James 1:2-3
In the first post of this series, we studied Peter’s weakness the night before Jesus was crucified. After Jesus’ arrest, the crowd questioned Peter about his association with Him. All three times, Peter denied his Lord. Peter was weak when Jesus—his major source of spiritual influence—was taken away from him. He buckled when pressured by the crowd. And when forced to choose his true allegiance, he denied knowing Jesus Christ.
After that tragic night, Peter goes on to do great things for his Lord. Much of the first half of the book of Acts features Peter as its main character. He also pens two books of the New Testament. Peter’s sermon at Pentecost in Acts 2 jump-starts this post-resurrection greatness.
At Pentecost of Acts 2, notice that Peter’s faith stood strong when...
Jesus was taken away—for good—from His disciples (Acts 1:6-10). Fifty days prior to this account, Peter acted immaturely and denied knowing Jesus. Now, Jesus has died and resurrected. He is back spending time with the apostles and disciples. In Acts 1, however, we read that Jesus ascends to heaven to be with the Father until His second coming (Matt. 25:36-37). This is more significant than being arrested and taken away to trial. This is final.
Notice how Peter responds after Jesus leaves this time. First, he leads the effort to replace Judas with Mathias (Acts 1:15ff). Then, at Pentecost, he preaches that Jesus is the Christ, and some 3,000 souls are baptized for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:14-41). Though Peter no longer had his major source of spiritual influence, he exercised spiritual strength by introducing a multitude of souls to their Savior. As Jesus had comforted Peter and the apostles, He comforts us today, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).
Some in the crowd were pressuring the disciples (Acts 2:5-13). Peter denied knowing Jesus when the crowd approached him directly. He gave in to peer pressure. Here, in Acts 2, we see pressure from some in the audience that day. Through the Holy Spirit, the apostles were doing unbelievable things (Acts 2:1-12). They were so unbelievable that some mockingly accused the apostles of being drunk!
The apostles could avoid embarrassment by not speaking in tongues. Peter could preach an easier message to the Jewish crowd that Jesus was not the Messiah. Peter also could ignore the insults hurled by the audience. Instead, Peter and the apostles display great courage by confronting their erroneous claims (2:14-15) and by preaching the truth about Jesus Christ (2:16-41).
He was forced to choose his allegiance (Acts 2:14-39). In Matthew 26, Peter could not ride the fence regarding his association with Jesus. He could only answer “yes” or “no” (“present” was not an option). In Acts 2—before an anti-Jesus crowd—he had to choose if and how strongly to preach the saving message about Jesus. Based on how the people previously handled Jesus, they could kill Peter just the same. If a violent disturbance broke out, the apostles and disciples were clearly outnumbered. On this occasion, Peter boldly tells the people “God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36).
Even though the truth would be difficult for some to accept, he proclaimed it anyway. His faith in Christ was strong and his actions prove it. Like Peter, we will face situations where our faith and allegiance are tested. We must choose Christ anytime and every time. Peter made a dramatic turnaround from his denial of Jesus to his sermon on Pentecost.
Next time, we’ll look at what made the difference for Peter and can make the difference for us today.
In case you missed it, check out Part 1, "Peter: A Case Study in Immaturity."
Peter was one of Jesus closest apostles. We might know more about him than we do any other figure in the New Testament, outside of Jesus himself. And yet, time and time again, Peter ends up displaying his shortsightedness and immaturity.
The most immature moment of Peter’s life—the time when he was spiritually weakest—likely came when Jesus needed him the most. When Jesus was arrested and carried off to the cross, Peter followed. He would later buckle under pressure and deny association with Jesus. Some of the circumstances regarding Peter’s situation are similar to ones we face when we make weak and immature decisions.
Jesus was taken from the disciples (Matthew 26:47-56). Jesus was obviously important to the disciples as they followed him around for almost three years. They heard his teachings and saw his miracles. Peter’s faith was built upon his direct interaction with Jesus. His overall faithfulness is to be commended; but he failed to be strong when Jesus was taken away from him.
Most everyone develops their personal faith because someone else influences them in that direction. Yet, basing faith only on someone else will prove detrimental when tested. This is one reason many young people fall away upon leaving home—their sources of influence, support, and encouragement are no long around. May we respond with strength when our faith is tested. May we train and strengthen young people to handle this necessary part of growing up.
The crowd was pressuring Peter (Matthew 26:69, 71, 73). When Peter claimed he had nothing to do with Jesus, he was prompted on all three occasions by someone in the crowd. This was a crowd, by the way, who was trying to condemn Jesus. No matter his motives for being there, Peter was in the midst of the wrong crowd. And he couldn’t handle their pressure.
With good reason, we emphasize the dangers of peer pressure to our young people. Young or old, we should all remember warnings about evil companions from Solomon (ie, Prov. 22:24-25) and Paul (1 Cor. 15:33). Being a part of the wrong crowd will lead us in the wrong direction. Likewise, not being prepared with spiritual strength will leave us defenseless when we’re in unavoidable situations with ungodly people. If we’re going to be spiritually mature, we must have the strength to stand up and stand out for good, no matter who else is around.
Peter was forced to choose his allegiance (Matthew 26:69-75). Not only was Peter in the midst of the wrong crowd, but he was forced to choose his true allegiance. He couldn’t remain neutral. He had been with Jesus or he hadn’t. Peter’s decision to deny Jesus is heartbreaking because it went against his earlier claim of faithfulness (Mt. 26:35).
The true strength of our faith is evident when it is tested. Football players don’t know the effectiveness of strength training until they’re blocking or tackling an opposing player. Marathon runners don’t know the effectiveness of their training until they push themselves for mile after mile. Likewise, we will have our faith tested. We will prove ourselves genuine or phony. We must develop the strength to choose Christ no matter the cost.
In order to learn from Peter’s example, we must commit to developing healthy spiritual habits and attitudes that give us true spiritual strength.
Stay tuned for Part 2, "Peter: A Case Study in Maturity."
If you’re visiting today for Friends & Family Day, we’re so glad you’re here! Make yourself comfortable and let us get to know you better. You are important to the church and to the Lord (Matthew 5:14-16)!
It is an extremely popular practice to use New Year’s day as the starting point for life-changing promises—or resolutions. Although it’s always appropriate to improve our lives, we need to examine our attitudes about that improvement. If it’s important enough to begin at a later date, it’s important enough for today (Ephesians. 5:16). One of the most frequent New Year’s resolutions for Christians is to read the Bible through in the coming year. The task itself does not require taking “big bites” but rather consistently reading 3-4 chapters per day. Because we have spent so many years not reading our Bible’s regularly, it’s often difficult to keep on pace throughout the year.
Since reading our Bibles is such a valuable habit for our spiritual well-being, let’s do something about it today! Let’s make a commitment to reading the New Testament before the end of 2007. If we read —on average—less than 9 chapters per day , we will have read the entire New Testament in 30 days!
Over the next 4 weeks, I’ll run a reminder about our readings in this space and will write something about the material read during the previous week. Please pray for strength to commit to this opportunity. Set aside a specific time of day to read the Bible, find a comfortable translation , and don’t let anything hold you back! Fathers, commit to reading these passages in your home each morning or evening. Check in with other families to encourage their progress.
May God bless you and your family as you commit to His Word!
updated (11.20): Here's a link to the "Read the New Testament in 30 Days" schedule taken from Paul Sain's "Overview of the New Testament in 30 Days"
For the last two weeks, we have been looking at Acts 17 and Paul’s sermon in Athens (often called his “Mars Hill Sermon”) for inspiration as we reach out to our 21st century generation. He was placed into a daunting—but amazingly providential—situation where he could teach some of the brightest academic minds of the first century about the gospel of Jesus Christ. Thus far, we have observed that Paul had (1) a touched spirit over their idolatry and (2) the courage to engage them in discussions about the truth. Ultimately, Paul’s actions led to several in the audience believing and following him (Acts 17:34).
It is with that same end in mind that we turn our attention to the final area of an effective contemporary ministry. We should always seek the truth about how to reach souls with the gospel; we should always look to the Bible for guidance in so doing; we should keep in mind that it works!
The final aspect of Paul’s situation was that he proclaimed the message boldly. He had a powerful message, and he preached it powerfully. He did not skirt the truth about idolatry; he did not leave room for the Athenians to think their way was okay also; he preached the full, unadulterated truth about the God of the universe and about his risen Son. Notice briefly some of Paul’s phrases:
· “What you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you” (17:23)
· “The God who made the world...does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything…” (17:24-25)
· “We ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, and image formed by the art and imagination of man” (17:29)
· “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness”
· “of this he has given assurance to all by rising [Jesus] from the dead.”
As we remember his original audience (and their gods that surrounded them), some of these things would definitely fall into the “stepping on toes” category. Although Paul himself said to preach the truth in a loving nature (Eph. 4:15), the truth still needs to be taught specifically. At Athens, Paul preached with love, and that meant challenging the error of the Athenians. Today, we must lovingly address and meet the challenges of the 21st century. The person from whom I was inspired to do this study said in his lesson, “It’s not hard to be Biblical if you’re not committed to being contemporary. And it’s not hard to be contemporary if you’re not committed to being Biblical.” That statement exhibits the truth of our position in the 21st century. We must always be Biblical; we must also make sure the saving Biblical message reaches our surrounding audience and culture.
Briefly, I want to think about this same idea from a slightly different angle. Within the church, we have struggled over the past several decades to have the same success in reaching people as we did 40 to 60 years ago. Not only do we face that challenge, but we are often reminded of limited success “within our own walls.” Many of our young people grow up and then grow out of service to the Lord. I readily admit that the ultimate responsibility for our young people exists with their parents. However, let’s think about how far powerful, sound, challenging, and loving preaching will go in not only reaching the lost around us, but also in meeting the spiritual needs of Christians.
Sadly, many congregations—intentionally or unintentionally—preach and teach messages that do not challenge their audiences out of fear that they might not come back. Although we want people to be happily in Christ, they can’t be such without hearing and obeying the full truth. Today, the issues may not be the same as they were for Paul, but preaching the truth will still be unpopular. It will be difficult for us to proclaim God’s will regarding marriage, divorce and remarriage; many people are sensitive about preaching on homosexuality; many are not comfortable when preaching the truth about gambling; many do not want to hear what God says about “social drinking.” Yet the truth about those things is vitally important to pleasing God and enjoying true fellowship with him and with other Christians.
May we be committed to preaching the powerful gospel message...in so doing we save ourselves and our generation (1 Tim. 4:16).