Temptation…..Is it Real???

(I  posted this in our Spiritual Chat Room a while back    but think it is important to go over certain topics again. This is definitely one of them.  http://thespiritualfamily.chatango.com/?flash  )

 

 

Please read: Luke 4: 1 – 13

 

4 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted[a] by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.

3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”

 

4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”

5 The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7 If you worship me, it will all be yours.”

8 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’[c]”

9 The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. 10 For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you
to guard you carefully;
11 they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’[d]”
12 Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’[e]”

13 When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.

 

 

Someone once said, “I wouldn’t be tempted if temptation wasn’t so tempting.” Sam Levenson said, “Lead us not into temptation. Just tell us where it is; we’ll find it.” Flip Wilson said, “The devil made me do it the first time, but ever since then I’ve been doing it on my own.” Oscar Wilde said, “I can resist anything but temptation.”

 

 

We all deal with temptation. If we don’t face temptation, we should CHECK OUR PULSE.

 

 

 

It seems that temptation seems to find us, often at inopportune times. We can be in a shower, eating dinner, talking to a friend. It doesn’t matter what is going on in our lives – temptation is always lurking in the background if not in the foreground, right in front of our faces. And Temptations come in a variety of forms. It can come through the newspaper, television, a friend talking to us, in our dreams, even in our prayers. Jesus, as the Son of God, faced temptation. If he faced it; how can we expect to avoid it? Well, we can’t avoid it. It’s not a matter of avoiding all temptation. It’s a matter of overcoming it and then defeating it.

 

 

So, let’s discuss for a moment, the reality, the art of “Overcoming Temptation.”

 

 

Unlike Oscar Wilde’s quote, “I can resist anything but temptation,” we can overcome temptation. One thing we can do, and I want you to always remember this – REFUSE to be sucked in. We don’t have to let the devil push us around. Jesus didn’t back down, when he was tempted.

 

 

Martin Luther said, “You cannot keep birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from making a nest in your hair.” Tempting thoughts will come; and go. LET them go. Just like the birds flying over your head. If they try to land, swoosh them away. It may not be easy but it is definitely possible. All it takes is the power you DO possess already to swoosh, swoosh. If you do this, it will probably sound funny sound funny, but it is meant in all seriousness. You do have the power; and that power comes from above – no not the birds, GOD.

 

 

Temptation is really a compliment. It means that you are living for God and headed in the right direction. Satan has a contract out on you. Remember that fact, and hold your head up high. Be proud that Satan has his eye on you. It means you are doing something right.

 
So now, RECOGNIZE your pattern of temptation and be prepared for it.

 

 

1 Peter 5:8 says, “Be sober minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”

 
Know where your weakness is, and prepare that area. Figure out the patterns and times in which you are most tempted and brace yourself for those times. Jesus was tempted to turn the stones into bread because he was hungry. When are you hungry and for what are you hungry? Find the answer to that and you can be prepared for those times. When does that time hit you the most often, where? What are you doing when you feel the weakest? Take a deep breath, say a quick prayer and walk away or turn away. But you will need help so..

 

REQUEST God’s help.

 

Psalm 50:15 says, “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”

 

 

This is the most important thing in overcoming temptation. We cannot merely use our willpower or courage. The temptation is stronger than we are, but God is stronger than the temptation. Jesus used the Word of God to refute his temptation. “Temptations keep us dependent upon God.”

 

 

Now let’s see what happens next – Well, now we begin Defeating temptation.

 

 

We may feel overpowered by temptation. This is not something we can do on our own. This is with the help of God. There are four things we can do to help defeat temptation. Again, with God’s help.

 
REFOCUS your attention on something else.

 

 

The Bible doesn’t tell us to resist temptation. It doesn’t tell us to just give in either.

 

 

Dwelling on the temptation will only make it more tempting. When we try to think about not thinking about it, we drive it deeper into our mind. It’s like trying to think you’re not hungry.  I know I should not eat a hot fudge sundae or a Blizzard; but the more I do well on it, visualize it, almost taste it, the more I want it. And chances are I will drive  to the local drive-in and buy one, and eat it all.

 

 

Diverting your attention is a much more effective way of dealing with temptation than fighting it. We should occupy ourselves with godly things. Jesus refocused his attention on God by going to scripture.

 

 
REVEAL your struggle to a godly friend or support group. You don’t have to tell the whole world. But you should be able to tell someone whom you trust.  we all have someone, a friend, a spouse, a relative – someone we can trust and can say anything to without being condemned but  knowing they will be a great help to us.

 

 

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 says in so many words, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!”

 

 

It would appear that Jesus shared this episode with someone at some point in time. He was alone in the wilderness. For us mere mortals, spiritual friendships and groups are so important. Reach out.

 
RESIST the devil.

 

 

James 4:7 says, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”

 

 

Don’t just stand there and let the devil punch you. He can’t make you do anything, contrary to Flip Wilson’s assertion. He can only suggest. Don’t argue with the devil. He’s a better arguer. Jesus didn’t say, “I’m not hungry.” Of course he was hungry. He had been without food for 40 days.

 

REALIZE your vulnerability.

 

No one is exempt from temptation. We all have vulnerabilities.  We have to watch out what we do and where we go. Recovering alcoholics are often counseled to stay away from places that promote and serve alcoholic beverages.

 

 

Jesus’ temptations were to use his God-given power for selfish motives: food, power, and protection. He was tempted to dazzle people. The devil is not all knowing. He goes back to where we were weak in the past. Shore up those areas. Develop those areas in your life where you feel you could be stronger.

 

 

“Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” Are you battling temptation today? Turn it over to God. You can’t do it on your own. You must ask for God’s help.

 

 

Hebrews 4:15 says that Jesus was “tempted as we are, yet without sin.” We have power EVEN THOUGH WE HAVE SIN; THANKS BE TO CHRIST. Now is the time to use that power. Now is the perfect time, right now to strengthen it, tone it, develop it.

 

 

You are here for a reason; it doesn’t matter what the reason.  Each of you yielded to temptation and ended up in “blue.” Now, get ready to wear yellow, pink, green, red again. Use your time here where you can focus and become strong. Now is the time. There is no better time. So begin right at this moment in time. Ask God to come into your life right now and stay with you, helping you to become strong, strong enough to love all and stand strong.

 

 

REMEMBER THESE WORDS:
RECOGNIZE
REQUEST
REFOCUS
REVEAL
REFOCUS – again and again
RESIST
REALIZE.

 

 

These are the steps of overcoming and defeating the temptations that try to influence our activities, our beliefs, our attitudes, our very lives.

 

 

 

 

You have the power; Use it.

 

 

Please join me in prayer: Lord, it is only through Your love and assistance and You walking beside me that I can overcome temptation. During this Lenten season and always, I ask you to stand by me and help me to stay focused on the Good…on the Fruits. And help me to always stay far from evil. Amen

 

 

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Snakes and Crosses; Crosses and Snakes

Number 21; John 3 (Please Read)

 

You all know that for years I worked at a prison (actually two prisons, one male, one female) as the Facility Chaplain. I faced issues all day long, mostly from the women… sorry, but true. At the prison on a regular basis, the girls were fussing and griping in the pod (dayroom) about missing a program; then one girl started saying nasty things to another. They were angry and upset and – as is almost always the case under these circumstances – they began to criticize. Soon the words became heated. The harshness of the comments spoken was only thinly veiled. The angry words spoken were like painful, barbed darts – intended to hurt and wound. The outcome was predictable – there was an offense created; harsh angry words were returned; trust and esteem for the other person diminished. People that were supposed to be close – sisters in Christ – felt uncomfortable in each other’s company. Eventually, a fight even occurred and some women ended up in an area within the prison call “Administration Segregation” or “Ad Seg.” This is like solitary confinement.

 
As I wrote these words I was thinking of a very specific situation in the ten years of my chaplaincy in the prison. But as I thought about it more and more – I realized that this drama is nothing new. It is lived out regularly in all our lives, isn’t it? This short account could be the description of many of your and my personal interactions with friends, family, business associates, pastors, me. Fact of the matter is that conflict and disagreement with others is a common thread in the fabric of humanity –  yes, our community, where you live, everywhere. Griping and complaining are the symptoms for a much deeper problem.

 
Our Old Testament Lesson from Numbers 21 speaks of a gripe session of a similar kind. The Israelites were wandering in the desert. Why were they wandering? – Because they refused to trust God’s leading. They had been led right to the border of the Promised Land, but they were afraid to enter. They didn’t believe God would usher them victoriously into the land He had led them to. And so they wandered in the desert. And then they began to fuss and fume. Only problem – they picked the wrong person to criticize. Reading – Numbers 21:4-9.

 
Numbers 21:4-9 (NIV)The Bronze Snake

 
4 They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea,[a] to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; 5 they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water!And we detest this miserable food!”

 
6 Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died.7 The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

 
8 The LORD said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.

 
The sin of the Israelites was to criticize God. Their spirits were not faithful to God. They refused to trust God’s love and care. They forgot the miracles God had done for them. In short, they were so focused on themselves and what they thought was best for them that they began to grumble and speak words that hurt and wound – words that were harsh. It’s bad enough to do this to another person, but these desert wanderers directed their words against God.

 
And the consequences came upon them almost immediately. Our text says: “…the Lord sent venomous snakes among the people.” The KJ translation of the Bible says that the Lord sent  “…fiery serpents among the people.” Perhaps this latter translation is a bit more descriptive. The implication was that the bite of these fiery serpents produced an extreme amount of pain. The text tells us that these serpents bit many of the people, and they died a painful death.

 
It sure seems clear that the Lord was trying to send a message to the people. He wanted to show them that their rebellion was causing them to suffer. Many of them were going to early graves because of their transgressions. But God was also sending a subtle message here – it had to do with the serpents – the snakes. Do you remember the way that sin entered the world in the Garden of Eden? That first sin was a sin of rebellion – disobedience of God that was ushered into the world by satan in the form of a serpent – and it brought death.

 

 

And now the rebellious, God criticizing, desert wandering people were again being sent to early graves through the work of serpents.

 
And so the people – in the throws of agony – recognized their sin. And as usual, they called to God and said, “We sinned… take the snakes from among us.”

 

 

And God in his ever-loving mercy heard the people and provided a way for them to be saved from death.

 
God’s answer to the problem of the snakes was rather odd. God told Moses to make a snake out of bronze and put it on a pole. “Elevate it,” God said, “So that it can be seen by all the people in the camp.” God told them, “When anyone is bitten by a snake, have them look at the snake and they will live.” And sure enough, those who trusted in God were saved from death by looking at the bronze snake that Moses elevated on a pole in the midst of them.

 
I’d like to make a couple of observations about what we’ve just discussed. First, I’d like for us to notice that God didn’t remove the snakes from the camp. The consequences of sin remained with the Israelites. They were still bitten – still felt the fiery poison. But what God did provide was salvation from death. He allowed the Israelites who trusted God to avoid perishing as a result of sin.

 
The second observation I’d like to make is that the solution God provided was, I think, a reminder. Think about it – the figure of a bronze snake on a wooden pole – look at it after a fiery serpent bites you and you will live!

 
Sounds weird. God didn’t provide a sophisticated snake serum. He didn’t enable the healers to develop an amazing cure. He didn’t create a special liturgy or ceremony that the priests and pastors could use to save those who were snake bit. He just said, “Look at the bronze snake on the wooden pole.”

 
Why a snake, I wonder? Was God trying to cast a shadow back to the original problem – the serpent in the Garden? Was God trying to force people to look at and confess the root of the problem – sin? You see, it sure is easy to focus on the symptoms – the little white lies, the sinful desires, the lusts, the laziness, the judgmental-ness. Focusing on the symptom – the snake bite – the rebellion in our hearts – tempts us to try to find a solution in a self-help book. Maybe we could use leggings to avoid the snake bites; we could carry an anti-venom kit. We could exercise so that our reflexes could allow us to out jump the snake. But none of those things will do the trick. That’s why Paul wrote in in Ephesians 2: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God so that no one can boast.”

 

 

Self-help does not cut it – and so God asks us to lift up the problem – our sin – our rebellion – our untrusting and unloving hearts. He asks us to be up-front with this aspect of our lives. Look at the snake – remember the rebellion and sin in the Garden; remember the rebellion and sin in the desert; remember the rebellion and sin in your life. He asks us to come right up to Him as we face our sin – and He will heal us and forgive us. He will set us free, as many of us live that visualization in our prayer time, during worship, and meditation with God.

 
Now, let’s fast-forward about 1500 years… Jesus applied this well-known event to his own lifting up on the cross. He said, “As Moses lifted up the snake on a pole in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up”. Then,” said Jesus, “Everyone who believes in me will have eternal life.” This was why Jesus came into the world – to become the real salvation of the people – to be raised between heaven and earth on a cross. HE was the solution. Look upon the cross to be healed of sin.
By dying this way, He would draw all people to himself. And just like God promised salvation to those who looked at the bronze snake on the pole – Jesus promises eternal life/salvation to those who trust in God’s Word and look to the cross for their salvation.

 

 

John 3:14, 15 –  “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,[f] 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

 

 
My sisters and brothers, never shrink from the Cross of Christ – it is the power of God leading to salvation for those who believe. John Fischer, in his book “On a Hill Too Far Away”, tells about church in Old Greenwich, Connecticut. There is a one-of-a- kind cross in that church. It’s not that the cross is overly unique. What’s really strange is where the Cross is positioned in the sanctuary. This cross isn’t behind or above the altar. The cross in this church is bolted down into the concrete floor – right in the middle of the aisle. It’s between the pews and the altar. It’s an obstruction. The pastor’s words have to pass through it. The congregation’s eyes always have it somewhere in view. It is a sturdy wooden cross, 10 feet tall, made of raw, untreated wood. “Pretty” is not a word that would aptly describe it. We’re not used to that kind of Cross – one that’s always there to remind us of what happened to our Savior on it.

 
The bronze snake reminded the wandering Israelites of the profound depth of their depravity, their sinfulness, and of God’s mercy and love. The Cross is there to do the same for us. We need to have the Cross in our midst. It reminds us that through the Cross – an instrument of execution – our Savior lived out his undying love for us by dying on it for our salvation. Our sins were carried to the Cross by Jesus, buried with Him in the grave – and His Resurrection Victory assures us of our eternal destiny as God’s children. Let us each keep the Cross in our minds and in our hearts as we prepare for our Easter celebration in just about 5 weeks. Then let’s keep the Cross always in our mind’s eye – right in front of us always.

 

 

Pray with me, please.

 
Lord, we ask that You help us keep our eyes on the cross, help us to always be looking up at it as we follow our path to You and Your Righteousness. Amen

Ashes to the Cross

This is adapted from an Ash Wednesday, message I wrote several years ago. I hope you enjoy it.

…..the season of Lent is like a roller coaster ride with emotions that are down again and again as the story of our salvation makes plain our sinful ways and the cost of redemption” from A Guide to Prayer for All who Seek God by Shawchuck and Job

 

Luke 18:9-14 (NIV):  The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector
9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.‘ 13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’  14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.  Luke 18:9-14
“There’s nothing wrong with me,” the man says.
“But sir, you’ve just been in a terrible car accident. You’re bleeding and have some deep bruises. There may be internal damage!”
“There’s nothing wrong with me!”
“At least have a doctor check you out, sir. We have an ambulance right here – it wouldn’t take very long..”
“I told you, there’s nothing wrong with me!”
“But sir.”
Then the man walks away from the car accident. His wife picks him up and drives him home. Later he dies from internal bleeding.
“There’s nothing wrong with me” can be a dangerous thing to say. Spiritually, it is probably the worst thing a person could possibly say. For a person to stand before God and say, “There’s nothing wrong with me” – that’s incompatible with Christianity, and unacceptable to God. What is the opposite of “there’s nothing wrong with me”? Wouldn’t it be “there’s everything wrong with me”? According to the Bible, a Christian is someone who stands before God and says “there’s everything wrong with me.” A Christian is also someone who says, “But Jesus Christ has overcome my sin. He has taken away all the things that are wrong with me.”
From David Jeremiah’s, Turning Point devotion on this Friday, I quote:
But, speaking the truth in love, [we] may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ. Ephesians 4:15 — You’ve heard the old joke that “denial” is not a famous river in Egypt. You may also have heard radio humorist Garrison Keillor say that sometimes you just have to look reality in the face and deny it. Actually, denial is no joke. It is a serious impediment to spiritual maturity.
Everyone is tempted occasionally to engage in denial by saying something that is not true to others, to ourselves, or to God. Denial is the opposite of confession, which means “to agree with”—to say what God says about our lives. If we are weak or sinful in an area of life, we shouldn’t deny it. We should say what is true about it: “God, I am weak in this area of my life.” God knows it’s true so we may as well agree with Him. But that’s only half the story. We should also say what else is true: “I can do all things through Christ; with every temptation comes a way of escape; I am no longer a slave to sin but now a slave to righteousness; when I am weak, Christ is strong” (Philippians 4:13; 1 Corinthians 10:13; Romans 6:13-16; 2 Corinthians 12:10).

We should not live in denial about either our weakness or God’s strength. By confessing both, we avail ourselves of God’s help.”

In two days we will acknowledge and some of us go to church for Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. This is the day that the Catholic and many Liturgical churches will put – from ashes made from the previous year’s palms fronds mixed with oil -the sign of the cross on the foreheads or hands of their members to acknowledge that “From dust you have come and to dust you shall return.” It is a tradition that simply acknowledges our humanness as we begin that 40 days journey with Christ – that journey we call Lent.

What exactly is Lent? What’s it all about? We find the answer as we focus on a story Jesus tells about two opposite people – one who said “there’s nothing wrong with me” and one who said “there’s everything wrong with me.” One of them represents what Lent is not, and one of them represents what Lent is.   Soooo, let’s focus on these two people for a minute to learn better what Lent really is, and what it means to us today.
Jesus told this story to people who were confident in their own righteousness, and looked down on everybody else. “Two men” Jesus said “went up to the temple to pray – a Pharisee and a tax collector.” Remember, the Pharisees were the people who lived good, clean lives. The tax collectors were people who swindled and intimidated others out of their money. Both of them came to church – went to the temple to pray. “The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.” Maybe you can sum up his prayer this way: “I thank you, God, that there’s nothing wrong with me.”
Maybe he was right – in his mind at least! He was a good citizen. He obeyed the law, lived a moral and upright life. He even did the religious things you were supposed to do – he gave ten percent of his income to church, and he even fasted twice a week. Really, there’s wasn’t much wrong with him.
Then Jesus focuses on the tax collector in his story – the opposite of the Pharisee. He had been stealing money from people his whole life – ruining the lives of others so that he could live it up. He knew that his whole life had been a disaster, and that he deserved to go to hell when he died. Jesus says that “the tax collector stood at a distance” – he wouldn’t even walk up to the front of the temple – “He would not even look up to heaven” – he was so ashamed of his sin – “but beat his breast and said, ‘God have mercy on me, a sinner.’”

His prayer was the opposite of the Pharisee’s, wasn’t it – maybe you can sum it up this way, “God, there’s everything wrong with me.
Jesus goes on to say that the sinful tax collector was the one that was forgiven by God, and not the perfect Pharisee. Why? Jesus tells us: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”  The Pharisee was proud, looking down on others, exalting himself. The tax collector was humble, sorry for his sins. What is Jesus saying there? Is Jesus saying that you earn the forgiveness of sins by being humble? “Look at how humble that tax collector is,” says God. “That tax collector deserves to be forgiven, because he is so humble!” Is that how it works?
That’s what a lot of people think, but that’s not how it works. If that’s why God forgives you, then your salvation would be completely dependent on you, and your level of humility. Then, you could never be sure if you’re forgiven by God or not, because you will never know if you have been humble enough for God to forgive you.
The truth of the matter is, neither the Pharisee nor the tax collector deserved God’s forgiveness. The Pharisee didn’t because he was conceited and self-righteous – thought he was better than everybody else, thought he was perfect. The tax collector didn’t deserve God’s forgiveness because of the terrible life he had led. Neither one deserved to be forgiven by God.
God forgives people purely out of his mercy and grace. As a result of his undeserved love, God forgives people. God forgives people because Jesus Christ has taken away the sins of the world and laid them upon himself. Because of that sacrifice Jesus made on the cross – cleansing the world of all of its sin, he offers forgiveness to all.

In this story, God offered forgiveness to both the Pharisee and the tax collector. But only the tax collector received God’s forgiveness. Why? Because, in his mercy, God chooses to forgive only those who humble themselves before him. Those who stand before God and say, “There’s everything wrong with me. Lord have mercy on me. I am a sinner” – those humble people who recognize their sin, recognize their need for God’s help – those are the people that receive God’s forgiveness. Not because they’re earning it by groveling, but because God shows undeserved love to all who are humble and sorry for their sins.
This humble tax collector is a picture of Lent. This proud Pharisee is the opposite of Lent. Which one are you? How will you observe Lent this year? Do you plan to act extra religious? Many people observe Lent that way: “Maybe I will give up something for Lent – I will no longer watch my favorite TV show for Lent. I will no longer eat chocolate for Lent. I will no longer listen to my favorite CD for Lent. Look at how religious I am. God must be extra happy with me as I refrain from eating chocolate and listening to that favorite CD.”

Is Lent a time of self-denial? Jesus speaks to us through his Word, and he tells us that Lent, as well as every day, is a time of self-denial, a time to give up something. But Jesus is NOT concerned with chocolate and CD’s – he’s concerned with what’s going on in our hearts. Lent is a time to give up those sins in our lives. It’s a time to give up the sin of hypocrisy – acting like a Christian on the outside, but being proud and self-centered on the inside. Lent is a time to give up the sin of duplicity – being a Christian on Sundays, but being an unbeliever on Fridays. It’s a time to give up the sin of being lethargic – “someday I’ll get my act together spiritually. Right now, though, I’m just too busy focusing on everything except God.”
What is Lent? Lent is that man who stood in the back of the temple, and looked down at the ground, and prayed to God, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Lent is a time for us to be like that man, to give up our sinful habits, our sinful attitudes, to stand before God and to ask him to forgive us, to wash our sins away, and to empower us to turn away from our sinful past and to live new lives that are dedicated to God.
And after we lay our sins before Christ, Lent is also a time to give up our guilty feelings. Just as that tax collector walked home justified before God, so can we walk away, knowing that we have been forgiven. “I no longer have to feel guilty about my sins. I no longer have to beat myself up about the way I’ve been living. I have been forgiven. My sins have been washed away by the blood of Jesus Christ. I can start over. I can work hard to be someone who obeys God, who worships God every day with the way I live my life.”

Lent is an attitude, isn’t it? It’s an attitude of honesty and humility, as we confess our sins to God. But Lent is also an attitude of relief and joy, knowing that our sins have been forgiven, that our slate has been wiped clean as we seek to serve our God with our lives.
These next 6 weeks is a time for you to look deep into your heart, to think about your life and how you’ve been living it. What sin are you going to give up for Lent, and for the rest of your life? Jesus will forgive that sin, wash that sin away at the cross. And Jesus promises to empower you to live a new life that glorifies you.
If people want to temporarily give up certain things for Lent as a sign of love for their Savior, that’s fine. But what Christ is really concerned about is what’s in your heart.
Let’s begin that long walk to the cross, where we see just how serious and terrible our sins are. But there we also see how wonderful and deep our Savior’s love is for us. The road doesn’t end there, nor at the empty tomb, where Jesus rises from the dead to prove that all of our sins have been forgiven. That is the beginning. And now we move forward in His love.
Let’s spend the days of Lent, looking deep within ourselves as we journey these forty days with Christ on His ministry road to Jerusalem.

May God bless you as you begin your Lenten journey. Amen.
Let us pray: Lord, be with us as we focus on becoming a better Christian. Help us see where we fall short, where we miss the boat all together, where we dishonor You without even knowing it. Be with us on this 40 day journey and help us to be on a continual journey toward Your Light because You are the Truth, the Way, and the Light. Amen

WWJD

“If any human serve Me, let them follow Me.” John 12:26

 

Today I like to tell you a story that I heard several weeks ago. Let me begin by saying this is not original, and its truth lies with you and me. At the end of the story you will be given an option to where you want to go from here.

 

“A minister sat on his front porch, rocking in his rocking chair. The heat was almost unbearable. It was 104 degrees in Topeka, Kansas, that day during July, 1896. There was this Reverend, rocking away with his notes in his hand. He was trying to come up with a new way to get people to come to the Sunday service.

 

Reverend Charles M. Sheldon sat there and wrote away. He was writing chapter by chapter. I don’t think he realized what he was doing at the time. But he was writing a truly great book. It was to be a best seller that would sell 32 million copies. Only one book outsold the book he was writing on that front porch that day, and that’s the Holy Bible. The book was to become, In His Steps, by Charles M. Sheldon.

 

 

He started to write about what he knew about – church life and being a minister in a church. So in his book he created a minister that would be able to say things to his people, to people across the country, (and years later in every foreign language), that he could not say himself. The minister he created was Reverend Henry Maxwell of Raymond.

 

This was a Saturday afternoon. If a minister’s talk is not written by this time, he or she is not at ease [believe me – this is so true]. Things are a little tense because you wonder what is going to happen if you get to Sunday morning and you stand up there without a lesson prepared. What are you going to do? You’re going to stand there and the congregation is going to stare at you. Many may come a long way, and they expect, and they deserve, something that will uplift and inspire them.

 

Sometimes, ministers have weeks like this. It gets so busy they are not able to work on their talk until late Saturday. This was the way it was with Henry Maxwell of Raymond. He was working on his sermon which was based on the scripture 1 Peter 2:21 which is, “For this you were called because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in His steps.”

 

He sat there in his study on the second floor of his house. He had gone in there because the house was just too busy that day. There was too much commotion, too much noise. His wife wanted him for something every other moment, so he closed the door behind him. His wife came up and said, “Dear, I’m going to the kindergarten to help out for a couple of hours. Him him You’re going to have the house completely to yourself.”

 

He breathed a sigh of relief. In a few moments, he heard the screen door close. Then he thought, “Finally, I have some peace and quiet.”

 

He began to write. He was just beginning to flow with the ideas, and he heard a knock on the front door. He said, “Oh no. I hope they’ll go away.” But the knock came again. Pretty soon he went to the window and looked down. To his surprise, it is a tramp standing at the front door. The knock comes again.

 

Slowly but surely he comes out of the room, goes down the steps and opens the front door. The man is very dirty. He is holding his hat in both hands. His hair is all tangled and dirty. His clothes are all torn. He stands at the door and says, “Sir, do you have any work that I can do? I’ll do anything.”

 

Reverend Maxwell says, “I am so very sorry for you, but I don’t have any work for you to do here.”

 

The man says, “Well, do you know of any work here in the town that I could do?”

 

Henry Maxwell says, “No. I’m sorry.”

 

So, the man puts his head down and walks off the front porch. Henry Maxwell stands at the door almost like he can’t leave. He looks out the door and watches the tramp go down the way. Actually, he feels a bit ashamed, but he’s glad the tramp has gone because now it is peaceful and quiet again and he can go upstairs to work on his sermon. He goes upstairs and begins to work again, and he completes his sermon.

 

Sunday morning arrives in Raymond. This is the first nice Sunday morning they have had in weeks.

 

Reverend Maxwell expects a large group at his church. His church is the leading church in Raymond.

 

Many of the well-to-do attend. Everybody who is anybody comes to First Church, (his church), in Raymond.

 

That morning he gets up to deliver his sermon. He delivers the sermon like he has never delivered a sermon before. People expect that of Henry because he is the type of minister who has a dynamic delivery. He begins to close his talk with a prayer. At that moment, something happens–something that had never happened before at First Church. Someone in the very back gets up and starts to talk.

 

The church is completely silent. They are perplexed. They don’t know what to do. I want to read to you the words of what happened next.

 

The gentleman who stands up is the tramp who came to the house. He says, “What did He mean when He said, ‘Follow me’?” About that time he turned around and looked right up at the pulpit. Henry Maxwell said, “It is necessary for the disciple of Jesus to follow His steps. His steps are obedience, faith, love and imitation.”

 

The gentleman then said, “What do you Christians mean by following the steps of Jesus? I’ve trampled through this city for three days. I’ve been trying to find a job. In all that time, I have not had one word of sympathy or comfort except from your minister who said he was sorry for me and hoped that I would find a job somewhere. I suppose that is because you get so imposed upon by the professional tramp that you have lost interest in the other sort. I’m not blaming anybody. I’m just stating the facts.

 

“Of course, I understand that you can’t go out of your way to hunt for jobs for people like me. I’m not asking you to. But what I feel puzzled about is what is meant by following Jesus. What do you mean when you sing the hymn, ‘I’ll go with Him all the way?’ Do you mean that you are suffering and denying yourselves trying to save the lost, suffering humanity just as I understand Jesus did? What do you mean by it?”

 

“I see the ragged edge of things a good deal where I am. I understand there are more than 500 men in this city just like me. Most of them have families. My own wife died just a little while ago. She is out of trouble now and I’m glad she is. My little girl is staying with a printer’s family who still has work. But somehow I get puzzled when I see so many Christians living in such luxury and singing, ‘Jesus, I my cross have taken all to leave and follow Thee.’

 

“I remember how my wife died. She died in a tenement in New York City. She was gasping for air and asking God to take the little girl too. Of course, I don’t expect you people to prevent anyone from dying of starvation or lack of proper nourishment or tenement air. But what does following Jesus mean?”

 

“I understand that Christian people own a good many of those tenements. A member of a church was the owner of the one where my wife died. I have been wondering if following Jesus all the way was true in his case.”

 

“I heard some singing at a church meeting the other night. They were singing, ‘All for Jesus. All my beings ransomed powers. All my thoughts and all my doings and all my days and all my hours.’ As I sat on the steps outside this church this morning wondering whether I should come in or not, I kept wondering what that means. Does it mean there should be a new way to follow Jesus? It seems to me there is an awful lot of trouble in the world. Somehow it just wouldn’t exist if all the people who sing the songs went and lived them out.

 

“I suppose I don’t understand, but what would Jesus do? Is that what you mean by following His steps? It seems to me sometimes as if people in big churches had nice clothes and big houses to live in and money to spend on all the luxuries, could go away on summer vacations and all that, while the people outside the churches, (thousands of them), die in tenements, walk the streets for jobs. They never had a piano or a picture in their house. They grew up in misery and drunkenness and sin.”

 

The man then stood silent for a moment. He gave a lurch to the side, and had to balance himself on the front pew of the church (where he had walked to while he was talking). His grimy hand landed on the communion table. He stood there bracing himself. He kept saying over and over again, “I don’t understand.” About that time, very unexpectedly, he fell forward and passed out.

 

Reverend Henry Maxwell came to the front and said, “This now concludes the church service.” He quickly went down to the man. Many people then gathered around him. They were ashamed. They wanted to do something to help this man because he had come to their homes and businesses earlier in the week and obviously he had not eat him en well for weeks. They wanted to do something, anything, but they didn’t know what to do.

 

The man did not regain consciousness that day. The minister took the man home and put him in the bedroom upstairs. Every night for the whole week he stayed up with that man. The doctor would come in and see the man, but the man kept failing. The whole church was concerned about the man’s welfare. It was the talk of all Raymond; this man they had let slip through the cracks.

 

The man was failing badly. He woke up for a brief moment to ask about his daughter. The Reverend held his hand and said, “We have sent for her. I found her address in your papers. She’ll be here tomorrow morning.”

 

The man said, “Oh, I will never again see her in this lifetime.”

 

About then, he turned his head and closed his eyes. The doctor said, ‘He’s gone.”

 

There was silence in that house. There was silence in that minister. He thought about what he had said following his, ‘His steps,’ sermon so many times, “but what does that really mean?” It doesn’t mean to be ordained or to be licensed to minister. It means to go beyond that in daily life. But what did it mean in his life?

 

He had been very busy that whole week with the sick and dying man, and he did not have time to write a sermon. For the first time in his career, he had no sermon at all. He stood up before the people and he did not have one note. He just talked from his heart about what had happened the past week and how much it had changed his life. And he hoped and prayed that others’ lives had changed too.

 

At the end of his talk, he said, ‘I’m making a major change in my life. I have decided, from this moment on, and I pledge to you that I will do this for one year, I will not do anything without first asking, and ‘What would Jesus do?’ It’s going to change a lot of things. More than that, I’m asking you to take this commitment with me. Before you do anything, I’m going to simply ask you to ask the question of yourself, ‘What would Jesus do?’”

 

Then he closed the service. He said, “If anyone’s interested in talking more about taking this pledge, stay after church.” Pretty soon, the church emptied out. He didn’t see anyone left in the church. As he was walking back to his study, he was thinking about the Bible verse over and over again: “He that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also to walk even as He walked.” When he opened the door to his study, he was surprised because the leading people of Raymond were in his study – fifty of them.

 

He went in and the first person he saw was Edward Norman, the editor of the Daily News. He took the pledge. And over the next year, he started with editorials telling people about what he was going to do, and then he started to cut news stories from his newspaper that Jesus would not put in there. The people that worked for him thought that he was crazy because he was going to lose all of his subscribers. They said, “How can you do something like this? Have you lost your mind?” But he continued to ask the question before he put in any story or any advertisement, “Would Jesus do this?”

 

Then, it came to him in prayer that Jesus probably would not put out a Sunday newspaper. He would want people to be in church. But they said to him, “Sunday is our biggest day of the week. We make our most money on Sunday.” He said, “I have to ask the question, ‘What would Jesus do?’” He canceled the Sunday newspaper.

 

There was another man in Reverend Maxwell’s study—Alexander Powers. He was a pillar of the community. He worked with the railroad shops. He had dreamed for a long time of building a stockroom so that everything wouldn’t be so crowded. But before he put stock in the stockroom, he had to ask the question, “What would Jesus do?” The answer came. Jesus would create a place for the good of the workers. In 1896, this was unheard of.

 

So, he put tables and coffee pots in there. The workers never got to church, so he would have different people come in during the week to speak to the workers about positive subjects for fifteen minutes at a time. The workers loved it! They loved him for doing it. They were even more loyal to the company than ever before.

 

But we read about Alexander Powers as the year goes on. One day Alexander Powers opened up his desk to check his mail and found a letter that should not have been delivered to his desk. It should have been delivered to the freight department. The letter was opened. As he read the letter he didn’t mean to read, he learned his company was in violation of interstate commerce laws. He said, “Oh no. Here I am in this lofty position. I’m not even supposed to see this. If I send it in inner-office mail, no one will ever know I saw it. I’ll keep silent. These things are impossible to prove. No one will ever find out and everything will continue as it has been.”

 

Then he remembered he made the pledge. He had to ask the question, “What would Jesus do?” He sat there, put his head in his hands and had one of the worst nights of his life. In time he resigned. In time, because he took that action, he was able to reform the railroad companies that were so crooked in that year.

 

There was another person in the study – the soloist of First Church. Her name was Rachel Windslow. She was beautiful. She had a gorgeous face and a gorgeous voice; so much so that she was offered a job with the national opera company. She was so excited. But then she had to ask the question, “What would Jesus do? Would He take this job?” She went to the minister and asked, “How do I know?” The answer is that the inspiration has to come through you. You are the only one who can tell what Jesus would do in your life today. You are the judge. You put that Jesus standard in your life and it will work for you.

 

She decided not to accept the job. Instead, she went down to the worst section of town and began to have tent meetings for the men down there. We’ve heard about these men before. They are the 500 men in the community with their families living in the slums. She started to provide positive messages for these families so they could lift up their lives. She gave her life to that for the next year.

 

Another gentleman in the study was a businessman who was not only tops in Raymond but also around the country. His name was Milton Wright. He called the minister one day and said, “This is what I believe in my business now.” Yes, he would continue to engage in his business, but to do so for the purpose of glorifying God by employing people to help them build their lives and to help build the city and finally to reach out to his customers to create a relationship with them.

 

This changed a lot of things in his business dealings. It changed a lot of the activities he would have gone through in a normal day. This commitment changed him and the others for the better.

 

The one year was over. They looked at the town and saw much that was still very wrong, but there was much that HAD been changed. The politicians, who were filled with corruption before, were changed by people who decided to get into politics who had pledged to do what Jesus would do. They took over the leadership of the city.

 

The people in that town changed not only their town but the whole world. They met at the church to look at what had happened. People questioned, “Is this it? It’s worked so well here. What’s going to happen?”

 

There were two ministers there that morning. They had come to examine the phenomena that were happening in Raymond. They were a bishop and a minister from the largest congregations in Chicago, Illinois. They wanted to take the experiment with them to Chicago. They did, and hundreds of people decided to take the pledge.

 

The bishop and the minister decided to resign from their lofty, luxurious positions. They moved to the slums of Chicago and built a place called, The Settlement, to help people; to give them a new perception of what life could do for them.

 

In about a year or two, Henry Maxwell, decided he would pay a visit to Chicago. He spoke to the men about what happened at Raymond and at The Settlement. After he spoke, the men who were so downcast were invited to speak and give their opinions. One man stood up and said, “Your story was very, very close to me because I knew Jack Manning.” About then, the minister’s eyes and the eyes of this young man froze on each other, because Jack Manning was the man who died that afternoon in the upstairs of the minister’s house.

 

The man in The Settlement said, “Jack was a good man. It was just that nobody would give him a chance. He was laid off and he couldn’t get work.” The man said, “I worked by his side for two years in a print shop and I have not been able to get work again either. None of these men have been able to get work. We’re good people. We just need a chance.”

 

That afternoon, a telegram came for Reverend Henry Maxwell. He was invited to speak in the largest church in Chicago. He said to himself, “I can’t do it. I’m a good minister, but I’m not good enough. I can’t go there and stand before thousands and thousands of people. I just don’t have it in me.” Then he had to ask the question, “What would Jesus do?” He went.

 

He said he had never been so afraid in his whole life. But he talked about what happened in Raymond. He talked about the commitment of taking the pledge. Then he talked about the change that occurred in peoples’ lives and in all the lives around them for good. Thousands of people came forward to change, not only their lives, but the lives of those around them.

 

He that says He abideth in him ought himself also to walk even as He walked.”

 

Yes, we’re talking about a fictional story this morning are we?  But stories that change lives are not really fiction, because these stories become real inside of us.

 

Each one of us needs a standard to base every action on. We need a yardstick. We need a guide. We need a measure. The Bible says, “Whosoever forsaketh not all that he hath, he can’t be my disciple.” This is forsaking your outer senses, or wants, to go in another way.

 

“Every day we hear about commitment in the church-world. We hear people saying, “Accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior” I’m asking you to accept Jesus Christ as your Way show -er. There is a major difference. One has you sitting at the feet of the Master, looking up. The other has you walking in His steps. True Christianity is a way of life”. It says in the Bible, “If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross (daily) and follow Me.”

 

The Bible says, “If any human serve Me, let them follow Me.” It also says, “Be there for imitators of God as beloved children and walk in love, even as Christ also loved you. He that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness. What is that to thee? Follow thou Me.” We say to God, Master I will follow you wherever you go. He says to us, “Righteousness shall go before you and you will follow in the way of my steps.”

 

 

From Daily Word, entitled, “Free”.  “Today I claim the freedom to choose my path and make the right decisions for my life. Sometimes I may be tempted to act according to others’ expectations. At such times, I check with my inner wisdom and ask for the ability to discern which choices are best for me. …….”

 

 

Today, I’m talking about asking in your own individual lives, before you make some decision in the remaining months of 2015,

 

“What would Jesus do?”

 

Give yourself power by having a Divine standard in your life. You will never go the wrong way. Righteousness will follow you.

 

God Bless You!