Archive for March, 2011

Overcoming Temptation – Part 4

March 31st, 2011

Part 4. Go to extremes

This passage shows us what it really means to overcome temptation. It isn’t a one off decision; it’s often an ongoing battle. Temptation seeks to wear down our resolve. So just when you think Joseph has overcome, it comes back more strongly than before. First there’s the element of surprise, then there’s a persistent onslaught and then finally, there’s an ambush. Yet, each step of the way, Joseph meets pretty extreme temptation with an even more extreme response.

Look at v8. When initially flattered and surprised, what does it say? “He refused”. Immediate response; he doesn’t need to think about it, he doesn’t need to pray about it – he refused point blank. And then, in response to persistence, look at v10: “And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her.” If you think this wasn’t much of a big deal for Joseph, you’re not reading your Bible properly. This was an ongoing, constant, in your face temptation. Day after day it was there in front of him. He would have known that there would probably be consequences if he continued to disobey his master’s wife, yet “day after day he refused to go to bed with her or even to be with her.”

Joseph met this extreme temptation with the extreme response of not even listening.  Potiphar’s wife walks into the room, Joseph walks out of the room – he refused even to be with her. Whatever temptations you struggle with, apply this principle to them and you won’t go far wrong. Don’t sit down with your temptation. Don’t listen to it. Don’t entertain it. Get out of there – refuse to have anything to do with it. Go to extreme measures.

And then in v11 Joseph’s ambushed. He goes into the house and there’s nobody there, except for Potiphar’s wife, who catches him by his cloak and pleads with him, “Come to bed with me”. Just listen to the extreme he’s willing to go to. He’s willing to look foolish, he’s willing to be mocked, he’s willing to be misunderstood – he runs. What a courageous thing for Joseph to do. I tell you, there is nothing more courageous, nothing more pleasing to God, nothing more heroic than a believer encountering temptation and turning and running in the opposite direction. Running away is often viewed as a sign of cowardice, but when you’re running away from sin it’s a sign of courage, strength and obedience to God.

God never tells us to sit down and arm wrestle with our temptation. In the divinely inspired words of Paul in 2 Timothy 2:22, “Flee the evil desires of youth.” Particularly when it comes to sensual temptation that’s being described here, you run from it! Even if it makes you look foolish; even if you have to leave your cloak behind. That’s what Joseph did – he fled in his underwear. He doesn’t care that he’s running away from the job he had; he’s more concerned with purity. He’s far more concerned with honouring God.

Obeying and honouring God is always the best move we can make. There is no success that this world can give you that is more valuable or more wonderful than having the favour of God on your life. So don’t toy with temptation, don’t entertain it, refuse to compromise, run from it! When it comes to purity, go to extremes!

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Overcoming Temptation – Part 3

March 30th, 2011

Part 3. Call sin what it is

Joseph called the proposal of Potiphar’s wife exactly what it was. Verse 9 – “How could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” He named it and he looked ahead to the outcome of it. Let’s be honest, we can so easily excuse our sin by adopting the language of the world around us. Instead of calling it a wicked thing and a sin against God, we call it a mistake, a slip, a moment of weakness, just a bit of fun.

J.C. Ryle once observed, “Men try to kid themselves that sin isn’t quite as sinful as it really is and that they aren’t quite as bad as they really are. We are too quick to forget that sin will very rarely present itself to us in its true colours saying ‘I’m your deadly enemy and I want to ruin you forever in hell.’” When was the last time temptation came to you with those words? It would be so much easier if it did wouldn’t it? But it doesn’t, and so we can perhaps kid ourselves that it doesn’t really matter.

One of the key messages of the book of Proverbs is that the beginning of wisdom is having a right fear of God. Fearing God means seeing everything in the light of who God is. It means thinking about our actions and our choices in the light of what God says is right and true. Because we live in a foolish world that turns away from the fear of God, there’s a danger that when temptation comes, we don’t call it by its true name. And instead of thinking about the consequences, we just think about the moment.

If we want to resist temptation, we need to look past the momentary pleasure that sin is offering and see the consequences of that sin. That’s what Joseph did. He didn’t yield to a few moments of physical pleasure, because he saw it as wickedness and an affront to God.

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Overcoming Temptation – Part 2

March 29th, 2011

Part 2. Remember the Lord is with you

Genesis 39:2 tells us that “The LORD was with Joseph”. He’s been betrayed by his brothers, ripped apart from his family, taken to Egypt as a slave, yet all the time, that is not what defines Joseph. What defines Joseph is this – “The LORD was with him”.

The story of Joseph was not meant to just be an inspiring tale of high morals. If you walk away from this story saying, “You know what, I can muster up the strength from within to live a good life and make the right choices”, it’s not going to work. Not one of us, Joseph included, can resist temptation without the power and presence of God at work in our lives.

Don’t hear me wrong, our effort and our faithfulness are vitally important. We’re responsible for resisting temptation. Yet, none of this resistance will be effective if we are hoping in ourselves. Joseph’s hope was not in himself; his hope was in the reality that the LORD was with him.

If you are a follower of Jesus, then this is true of you too – the LORD is with you. You are in Christ Jesus. He has given you his Spirit to confirm that nothing can separate you from his love for you in Christ Jesus. The LORD is with you. That is the wonderful reality that can sustain us in the midst of our temptation.

Joseph lived in the good of this tremendous reality. In every statement that Joseph utters, you see an awareness of the presence of God in his life. It’s not some theoretical idea that “Because God was with my Father Jacob, then theoretically he’s also probably with me too”. We can be theologically persuaded that God is always with us. Yet, day by day this awareness can fail to have any impact on the way we live.

For Joseph, wherever he was and whatever he was doing, he had that awareness that God was with him. “He’s with me, even though I’m separated from my father, even though I’m in far off Egypt, even though I’m surrounded by all these godless people, even though I’m alone in this room with this woman who’s enticing me to sin – I know that the LORD is with me.”

This awareness is what strengthens Joseph in the face of temptation. Just look at his response in verses 8-9. Having expressed his loyalty to Potiphar, his master, you expect Joseph to conclude with the words, “How could I do such a wicked thing and sin against Potiphar?” But no, he exclaims, “How could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” Even in this moment he is more aware of the fact that this sin would be a sin against God. Joseph lives with an awareness that God sees, he knows, he’s present, he’s there.

Do you live with that same awareness? Maybe there’s a sin that God’s bringing to mind right now. Maybe there’s a sin that you are indulging in, having believed the lie that nobody knows. God knows! God has seen you in each of those moments. Hebrews 4:13 tells us quite plainly, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

Do you want to resist temptation? Remember that the LORD is with you. Remember that in those moments when you’re tempted to think “no-one will know”, God knows. He’s with you in those moments. Your sin takes place in his presence, before his very eyes. May the fear of God motivate you to turn from temptation! And if you’re discouraged by your temptation; if the enemy is telling you that you’re alone in it; remember this: You’re not alone – the LORD is with you! In the words of Hebrews 13:5, “God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

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Overcoming Temptation – Part 1

March 28th, 2011

The story of Joseph in Genesis 39 provides an excellent example of how to overcome temptation. Over the next four days I want to highlight four things that we can learn from this passage.

Part 1. No excuses

One of the earliest skills we learn is the ability to excuse and justify our sin. It’s amazing how with so little training we can point the finger and blame somebody else for what we do. We see it right at the very beginning with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Having eaten the forbidden fruit, Adam immediately points the finger at Eve, who in turn quickly shifts the blame onto the serpent. This pattern has been repeatedly played out ever since.

Just think about the quick excuses which perhaps you’ve used for giving in to temptation. “I was lonely. I was tired. I didn’t feel good. I was depressed. I felt as though God had forgotten about me. I was young. How could I be expected to control my desires. He made me do it. She made me do it. My childhood made me do it.”

What I find so inspiring about Joseph’s example is that he could have used every single one of these excuses to give in to the temptation that Potiphar’s wife placed in front of him. He grew up in a rather interesting family. His father had four wives. His mother died while he was very young. He was the favourite son and was clothed in an expensive designer robe, while his eleven brothers had to make do with scruffy work clothes. It’s no surprise to read in Genesis 37:4 that “when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.”

As time goes on, that jealousy and hatred turned into murderous intentions. Eventually Joseph was sold as a slave and taken to a foreign land. Think of the injustice. Think of the loneliness, the confusion. He was cut off from his family, his support structure, everything he knew and was familiar with. He goes from being the favourite, pampered son to being a slave.

President Clinton, when quizzed on why he embarked on his infamous affair with Monica Lewinsky, confessed, “I think I did something for the worst possible reason. I did it just because I could.”  That same opportunity was quite unexpectedly presented to Joseph. He was in charge of the household. His master was away and trusted Joseph with all he had. They were alone. Nobody would ever know. And there were so many excuses from his past that Joseph could have offered. Yet Joseph made no excuse. And you and I need not either. There is never a good excuse for giving in to temptation. Ultimately there is no-one else we can blame. We are the ones responsible and we will bear the consequences before God for whatever sin we engage in. That excuse that sounds so convincing and so plausible today will sound hollow and empty on the day you stand before God Almighty to give an account for why you indulged in sin. There is never a good reason to choose sin over obedience.

What do we learn from Joseph’s example? There are no excuses.

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Finding Joy …in Temptation

March 25th, 2011

Temptation is all around us. A bored trip through the television channels in the middle of the day will invariably reveal at least one couple wrapped in bed sheets. Wait for the commercial break and there will inevitably be all manner of sensual monotony seeking to arouse us to buy the latest perfume, deodorant, car, washing powder or cat food! Take a walk outside and any number of scantily clad individuals will confront you from billboards and buses. Walk into your office and there will immediately be the opportunity to engage in a spot of gossiping or backstabbing. Or at home, just a few minutes locked in a confined space with a screaming toddler can be enough to tempt you to all manner of evils. Wherever we go, we’re bombarded with temptation.

Whoever you are, the reality is that this next week you will face temptation. You’ll encounter situations where what you want doesn’t happen. You’ll be given opportunities to either trust God and obey him, or compromise in some way. There will be moments where your sinful desires will rise up and want to direct you. So my question for you isn’t: “Are you facing temptation right now?” – I know you are. My question is this: “How confident are you that you will be able to resist it?”

This Sunday we’ll be looking at how to consistently overcome temptation. We’re going to learn the importance and necessity of our own personal effort. And we’re also going to learn something about the nature and extent of God’s power available to us. Both are crucially important and together provide the basis for having absolute confidence in resisting temptation, however strong and persistent it may be.

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Humility – True Greatness

March 22nd, 2011

If you’re serious about rooting out pride and clothing yourself in humility, here are ten recommendations that are taken from a book by C.J. Mahaney entitled ‘Humility’:

1. Follow the truth wherever it leads. If it means it leads to “you’re wrong”, then follow it. If it leads to “you’re fired”, then follow it. If it leads to “that’s not what’s best for you, but it’s best for all”, then follow it. If it leads to “you need to apologise”, then follow it. Don’t defend yourself. Don’t always do what is in your best interest. Follow the truth wherever it leads.

2. Invite and pursue correction and council. Tell the people in your life, “I’m blind to my own blindness. I’m foolish to my own folly. I need you to confront me. I need you to rebuke me. I need you to speak the truth to me. When I’m acting like an idiot, I need you to say it. I need you to give me council because sometimes I don’t know what to do. I need correction because sometimes I say and do the wrong thing.” And receive it, don’t argue, don’t blame shift, don’t change the topic. Receive it.

3. Learn from everyone, including your enemies and critics. God may have something that is truthful for you if you’re humble enough to overlook their pride.

4. Repent quickly and thoroughly. Don’t force it to be an enormous issue where multiple people have to get involved and it has to become very painful and complicated and divisive. Just confess: “I sinned. I was wrong. I messed up. That was evil. I’m sorry.” Make it simple.

5. Seek and celebrate God’s grace at work in other Christians. God is at work in other Christians. Look for it. Encourage it.

6. Cultivate a spirit of thankfulness. Be thankful for people and tell them you’re thankful to God for them. Proud people think they deserve everything. Humble people know they deserve hell. And anything beyond that is a real gift, and so they’re able to be thankful.

7. Listen to scripture more than yourself. We can lie to ourselves, deceive ourselves, con ourselves, condemn ourselves, justify ourselves. Don’t listen to yourself so much. Listen to scripture. God will speak to you truthfully through his Word.

8. Exalt the name of Jesus in all you do. The right answer to every question is whatever makes Jesus look great, because he is. Don’t do what exalts your name. Do and say what exalts the name of Jesus. You’ll never regret that.

9. Laugh. Proud people find it hard to laugh. They’re way too serious and they cannot laugh at themselves. Don’t take yourself too seriously.

10. Sleep. Pursue humility, repent, exalt the name of Jesus and then go to bed and sleep. Proud people don’t sleep well. They’re wondering “What are people saying? What are people thinking? What are people doing? How will they perceive me? How will they respond to me? Will I win? Will I lose?” Humble people are able to say, “God, teach me humility. I’m going to bed now and I trust you to work it out when you feel it’s the right time.” Humble people sleep differently than proud people.

Finding Joy …in Humility

March 18th, 2011

Who do you want to be like when you grow up? I’m not just addressing this to those under 18. It’s relevant for all of us. We all have people we look up to; we all have people we aspire to be like. Who is it for you? Your Dad? Your Mum? Maybe it’s a successful businessman? Perhaps it’s a respected friend. Maybe it’s a particular celebrity you look up to and want to emulate. You see, almost all of us have role models – someone whose life serves as a pattern to imitate; a goal to shoot for. And we all know that the power of role models is enormous… and the absence of those role models can be devastating.

Now, as well as giving us something to aim for in the future, role models also reveal a lot about ourselves right now. They reveal not only what we want to be; what we hope to become… but also role models have a way of revealing to us precisely what we think we are not right now.  And the distance between my own life right now and the life of my role model; the distance between those two lives is often the distance in our minds between failure and triumph; disappointment and joy.

So what do you aspire to? And who is it who represents your goal? And how confident are you that conforming your life to be like them is going to produce the satisfaction, the sense of accomplishment, the joy that you’re really seeking in life?

Well in the passage we’re going to be looking at on Sunday, Paul’s writing to a bunch of Christians in a place called Philippi. They’ve begun following Christ, but life isn’t turning out quite as they’d expected. They are encountering opposition – and not just from outside the church. There’s a whole lot of quarrelling and dissension within the church. And Paul himself – the man they’d trusted when he’d preached the message of the Gospel to them – he’s in prison. There’s the very real risk that he’ll lose his life.

In the midst of all this discouragement, Paul writes the Philippians a letter and asks them, “Have you considered Jesus? Have you considered his life and the model it provides? For in the pattern of the life of Jesus, there’s the source and the hope of real joy.” However, as we’ll see, the particular aspect of Jesus’ life that Paul homes in on is slightly surprising!

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Pete Halford

March 11th, 2011

CC: We know you are a Student in Birmingham. Where and what do you study?

PH:  I’m reaching the end of my four years at Aston University, studying Business & Computer Science. The time has flown by (especially the year I spent on my Placement, working for Churchcentral) and my intention is to stay in Birmingham to continue to be a part of what God is doing here.

CC: What is it like being a Christian at Uni?

PH:  Being a Christian while at University has definitely been a lifestyle choice. I make no secret of my beliefs, and my friends accepted me like that. I’ve found that many students are spiritually open and willing to debate and discuss Christianity. However, it’s not always been easy but at last I have managed to get two of my friends to agree to come on an Alpha Course!

CC: What have you seen God do on campus while you have been at Uni?

PH: God is certainly at work on the campus, especially at times when groups like Agapé and the Christian Union have been active in mission. I am certain there’s a time of reaping ahead at Aston – as Jonny Mellor prophesied the other week ‘there has been lots of seed sowing at Aston University; now it’s time to reap the benefits of this labour’. The start of the Alpha: course near campus although a small step is a highly significant one.

CC: What is it like being a student at Churchcentral?

PH: Student life in Churchcentral is brilliant! There’s always something going on, and it’s good to be in a church setting which is young and vibrant and yet which contains wise and mature Christians. Student lifegroups are where it’s at, and the Loft (our fortnightly gathering on the Birmingham University campus) has taken off with some great times of worship and teaching. With so many great families in the church we get to share fellowship with them in their homes, enjoying their hospitality and being included in their lives. As a student in Churchcentral you can be fully involved in church life and part of the wider loving community with our own unique contribution to make.

Finding Joy …in Death

March 4th, 2011

As human beings we all suffer from a terminal disease called mortality. The current death rate stands at 100%. Around the world 3 people die every second, 180 every minute, and nearly 11,000 every hour. If the Bible is right about what happens to us after death, it means that more than 250,000 people every day go either to Heaven or Hell. And, unless Jesus returns soon, we’re all going to die. Yet, we don’t like to think about death.

Ancient merchants apparently often wrote the words memento mori – ‘think of death’ – in large letters on the first page of their accounting books. Philip of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great, commissioned a servant to stand in his presence each day and say, “Philip, you will die.” In contrast, France’s Louis XIV decreed that the word death shouldn’t be uttered in his presence. I think most of us are more like Louis than Philip – denying death and avoiding the thought of it except for times when it’s forced on us. We live under the fear of death.

Jesus, however, came to deliver us from the fear of death, “so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Hebrews 2:14-15).

In light of the coming resurrection of the dead, the apostle Paul asks, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55).

What delivers us from the fear of death? What takes away death’s sting? Only a relationship with the person who died on our behalf, the one who has gone ahead to make a place for us to live with him. If we don’t know Jesus, we will fear death – and we should! But, as we’re going to explore this coming Sunday, there’s something about knowing Jesus that enables us to face death with joy.

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