December 29, 2013

God Never Forsakes Us

Psalm 27

1 A Psalm of David. The Lord is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; Of whom shall I be afraid? 2 When the wicked came against me To eat up my flesh, My enemies and foes, They stumbled and fell. 3 Though an army may encamp against me, My heart shall not fear; Though war should rise against me, In this I will be confident.
4 One thing I have desired of the Lord, That will I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord All the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the Lord, And to inquire in His temple. 5 For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion; In the secret place of His tabernacle He shall hide me; He shall set me high upon a rock. 6 And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me; Therefore I will offer sacrifices of joy in His tabernacle; I will sing, yes, I will sing praises to the Lord.
7 Hear, O Lord, when I cry with my voice! Have mercy also upon me, and answer me. 8 When You said, “Seek My face,” My heart said to You, “Your face, Lord, I will seek.” 9 Do not hide Your face from me; Do not turn Your servant away in anger; You have been my help; Do not leave me nor forsake me, O God of my salvation. 10 When my father and my mother forsake me, Then the Lord will take care of me. 11 Teach me Your way, O Lord, And lead me in a smooth path, because of my enemies.
12 Do not deliver me to the will of my adversaries; For false witnesses have risen against me, And such as breathe out violence. 13 I would have lost heart, unless I had believed That I would see the goodness of the Lord In the land of the living. 14 Wait on the Lord; Be of good courage, And He shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say, on the Lord!

-        There is not a lot of specific background for this Psalm.
-        We know from the opening notation it is a psalm of David, who throughout his reign encountered enemies.
-        But this psalm is more than a prayer for help against people opposed to David. 
-        While David speaks in generalities of warfare, worship, repentance and confidence, the psalm is very personal.  In it, David deals with his inner feelings and insecurities as he seeks reassurance and a closer sense of God’s presence.
-        The best description for Psalm 27 may be that it reinforces the general idea we know is true: God never forsakes us.
From Psalm 27, I want to make three observations about God and His relationship with us.  As we read through it, you no doubt will notice more truths than just these three about the character of God and the reality of his presence and care.

1. He is the source of our strength
A.    Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, David describes the Lord as “my light and my salvation.” (1)
1) By “light,” David means “guiding light.”  It was one of the most common descriptions of the Lord in Israel . . . the pillar of light in the night in the wilderness, the light on the righteous path, etc.
2) “Salvation” here signifies deliverance, rescue, and safety.
3) Therefore “Whom shall I fear?” David asks.  The context of the question calls for the answer, “No one.”
B. Then he repeats the thought a slightly different way:  “The Lord is the strength (some trans. “defense”; it means “stronghold” or “place of safety”) of my life; whom shall I dread (“be in great fear”)? (1)
1) The context of these two questions (“Whom shall I fear?”; “Whom shall I dread?”) calls for the answer “No one” or “Nothing.”
C. In vv. 3-4, he describes perhaps the greatest opposition he can think of—evildoers attacking to “devour my flesh”; a “host” (an entire army) ready to attack; and “war arise against me.”
1) Even in these most perilous situations, David affirms that evil enemies “stumbled and fell” and that he has no reason to fear and every reason to remain confident . . . because the Lord is his light and salvation and his defender.
        2) This Psalm is not a metaphor or abstraction to David.
a. He is speaking of real, military enemies, people who have the potential of killing him . . . situations he experienced in the past and expects in the future.
b. God has protected him in the past and he is certain He will protect him in the future:  David had a record to reflect on:  God was with him against Goliath, the Philistines, when Saul wanted to kill him, even when his own son Absalom fought against him.
    D.    So it is with us and God.
        1) We normally won’t face armies or people wanting literally to murder us, but we face challenges and have fears and generally can feel overwhelmed and discouraged.
        2) God gives us the example of David—who faced evil and terrors most of us will never face—whose testimony is that God is our light, our rescuer, and our place of safety . . . and that we do not need to fear and can always be confident in Him.

2. He will lead us in a smooth path
A.    Trouble or challenges sometimes just come out of nowhere and hit us broadside . . . we’re stunned . . . we wonder what happened.
1) The truth shared with us through David is that our Lord will lead us . . . and when things come in and hit us, God is there to help us with our footing and make it smooth.
2) That’s what he means in v. 11 by “a smooth path.” (some trans. “level” or “straight”)  It means level country or a smooth place, where there is nothing to stumble over.
B. We ran into this a month or so ago when we discussed Psalm 26, where David writes (vv.11-12), “But as for me, I shall walk in my integrity; redeem me, and be merciful to me.  My foot stands on an even place; . . .”
1) Interesting juxtaposition—“I shall walk in my integrity” and “my foot stands on a even place.”
2) It’s not just that God shields us without our participation.  When facing troubles, He expects us to act, too . . . with righteousness and moral integrity, with good judgment based on our knowledge of God and His character.
        3) I am reminded again of a very deep truth I hold to from Proverbs 3:5-6 (read).
a. There the concept is again—He direct my paths (lit. “He will keep my paths straight”).
b. There is a lot of meaning in that verse—If I trust in Him, do not try to solve things without Him, and in every way acknowledge (means “perceive or know through experience) Him, then He will lead me along a straight and upright path.
Finally, David tells us that God is our strength and He will never forsake us.

3. He never forsakes his own
    A.    We pick up this truth throughout the psalm.
1) V.3—I can be confident even though an enemy surrounds me.
2) V.5—in the time of trouble He will hide me (“conceal me in His tabernacle— (i.e., in His dwelling place, or with Him, in His presence; not a reference to a specific physical place, but merely “in His presence”).
a. My confidence comes not from experiencing the problem’s solution, but merely from the knowledge and assurance of His presence and care, whether or not the problem has yet been solved.
3) V.10—Even in the worst circumstances David can imagine (forsaken even by parents), we can know He will “take care of me” (“take me up,” receive me, gather around me).
B. As we know from our Bible studies, this is a consistent truth God gives us in His word—He loves us and takes care of us; we look not just to ourselves or others for solutions, but we look first to Him.
1) He may work through others—in fact, one of our duties is to help each other.
2) Or He may work through circumstances.
3) Or He may work through a good old-fashioned miracle.

-   Notice as David writes about his circumstances and anxieties, he also expresses confidence and peace—not because there were no problems in his life, but because he trusted in the Lord to protect him.

-   I am reminded of a rite of passage ritual practiced in the past by some American Indian tribes.  When a young boy became of age and was to be regarded as a man, he was blindfolded and taken miles away, deep in the forest to spend the night alone.  Until then, as a child he had never left the safety and security of his parents and his village.  So the blindfold was taken off and he was left alone for the night, told not to move from that spot until daylight and then find his way back to the village.  Imagine him being by himself through the long night, perhaps cold and hungry, with every sound maybe imagining an animal ready to pounce out of the darkness.  And then after what seemed like an eternity came the first rays of sunlight. Looking around, the boy would start to see trees, leaves, and maybe a path.  Continuing to look around as it got lighter, he would finally see a his own father, 20 or 30 yards away, armed with bow and arrow.  He had been there guarding him all night.  

October 27, 2013

Responding to Temptation: James 1:12-18

Responding to Temptation
James 1:12-18


Who among us doesn’t struggle sometimes with temptation? We are tempted every day in many ways …to not tell the truth… to take advantage of someone…to take something that does not belong to us…to gossip…to hold a grudge…to look down on others…to hold inside us anger and bitterness…to give in to that greedy part of us—more money and things…greed, arrogance, selfishness…these are all temptations we face every day
So how do you handle temptations? Do you struggle a little…or struggle more than a little? The good news—the Bible tells us how to respond to temptation

James 1:12-18

12  Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
13   Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.
14   But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.
15   Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.
16   Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.
17   Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.
18 Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.

The book of James was the first of the New Testament writings. It was written about 44 or 45 A.D., just 11 or 12 years after Christ was crucified, buried, arose, and ascended into heaven. Being written so early in the history of the church, the book of James is not concerned with finer points of doctrine, dealt with in some later epistles as the church grew. His message was simple: now that you are Christians, act like it.

Like today, some Christians back then wrongly concluded that times of stress somehow justify ungodly—that is, sinful—responses & actions…responses such as vengeance, an eye-for-an-eye, self-centered interaction with people around us, bitter complaints, questioning God’s love and care, or resisting His will for us. The word for temptation and the word for trial in the original manuscript. are the same word, and the context determines how it is translated. But in writing about trials and temptations, James wants to make sure we see the relationship—temptations pose trials of our commitment to our faith.

In our passage today…James deals with how we can recognize and respond to the myriad of temptations we face.

Temptation is inevitable, and we can be victorious over it (12-13)

12  Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
13   Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.

To “endure” here is to face the temptation with patience and sound judgment—that is, the temptation does not change the faith or sense of right or wrong of the person facing it. The use of the word “approved” here means to pass a test…in other words, to remain faithful & not yield to the temptation, and James uses he phrase “Crown of life” to mean eternal life

James leaves no question that temptation’s assault will come.  Notice in verse 14—“when” he is tempted,” not “if he is tempted.” We will never be without temptation until we are with Christ. That’s because as Christians we are in a spiritual battle…in a world full of temptations…opposing forces constantly trying to draw us away from God…every Christian wrestles with temptation.

Verse 13 almost goes without saying—temptation does not come from God. He does not put our favorite vice in front of us to help our endurance grow. He does not test our faith with the invitation to sin. Temptation comes from Satan, who puts some very alluring choices before us to try to lure us to pleasures at the expense of happiness and contentment in our Lord & Savior.

Remember that temptation itself is not a sin, and, in fact, that our Savior was tempted just as we are. (Hebrews 4:15For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.) Temptation is simply the invitation to sin. We sin when we decide to accept the invitation.

Giving in to temptation is indefensible (14-15)

14   But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.
15   Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.

By “indefensible,” I don’t mean unforgivable.  I mean there just isn’t any excuse when we turn to sin that is acceptable to God…or to the saints around us…there is a spiritual battle that is going on around us…and we are able to recognize it even in the midst of strong temptations…and we know which choices are righteous…and which choices are not. James points out that dealing righteously with temptation is our personal responsibility.  We can’t blame God when we give in, we can’t blame someone else.  We are responsible.

Temptation is not from God…and it is not God’s fault when we give into it. And yet, strange as it may seem, sometimes Christians blame God for their own sin:  This is not a new phenomenon. (Proverbs 19:3—When a man’s folly brings his way to ruin, his heart rages against the Lord.) “Lord,” we cry, “why have you brought such bad circumstances,” when we ourselves are the ones responsible. People nevertheless always have had the tendency to find someone to blame.

When Adam and Eve gave into temptation in the Garden of Eden, and God confronted them, and asked “What have you done?,” do you remember what they said?  Adam said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate” (Gen. 3:12).  That’s not what God asked.  Adam said, in effect, “It’s her fault, and You are the one Who brought her here.”  Eve then said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (Gen. 3:13).  In other words, “The serpent made me do it.”

We sometimes reason that way, too: “I just couldn’t help it.”;  “It’s not my fault.”; “He made me so mad!”; “She knows not to say that!”; or the famous catch-all answer…“That’s just the way I am.”

The only role God plays is to put before us the righteous alternatives when we are tempted. James describes the process that leads to sin in vv. 14-15.

14   But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.
15   Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.

A.  First come our own selfish desires…We want something we don’t have…it offers pleasure, satisfaction…a material possession…a promotion…anger that makes us feel superior…vengeance to repay evil for evil…any sinful and self-centered action that offers short-term satisfaction.

James reminds us that it is not just our own desires that draw us into sin, but also that we are enticed…this is a fishing term that literally means “to lure with bait.”  The fish sees the bait as a tasty morsel…but it is a deception.  Buried in tasty-looking meal is the hook.  Satan entices us in the very same way…the sin he puts before us may look good and appeal to our desires…but buried in the enticement is the nasty hook of the consequences of choosing an unrighteous response.

James adds, “…when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin”—this is an obvious comparison to physical conception and birth.  Once we let desire to sin grow strong enough, it will inevitably give birth to the act of sin. “…when it (sin) is full-grown, brings forth death.”

Even though sin sometimes brings a temporary period of pleasure, it always leads to death although this is not immediately apparent. James uses the term death in a spiritual and metaphorical sense. We all have sinned…and God did not strike us dead that very moment. But we must not be misled about the ultimate result of sin. If we continue to sin and do not respond to God’s mercy by forsaking our sins, James says the sin “brings forth death.”

This has been a difficult verse to reconcile with the promises of the Bible that Jesus paid once and for all time for our sins.  His death is our atonement for sin. This progression—first,desire…then sin…then death—is the same as in Genesis 3.  The desire to be like God led to the sin of Adam and Eve, and in turn led to their separation from God (spiritual death) and the institution of physical death. It is this metaphorical spiritual death—the sense of separation from God and His righteousness—to which James refers.

David longed for restoration of his relationship with God after his long period of sin with Bathsheba, which included continuing adultery as well as arranging the death of her husband.  In Psalm 51:12, David prayed “Lord restore unto me the joy of my salvation,” because until he repented and turned back to God, he lived a death-like spiritual existence—no joy in the salvation God had given him.

Charles Swindoll, in his book James:  Practical and Authentic Living, explains verse 15 this way:  “James is not referring here to physical death, for then none of us would be alive. Nor is he referring to spiritual death, for then no one could be saved. The fulfillment of our lust brings about in the believer’s life a death-like existence.”

Max Lucado in his book No Wonder They Call Him Savior, describes this state: “Guilt creeps in on cat’s paws and steals whatever joy might have flickered in our eyes. Confidence is replaced by doubt, honesty is elbowed out by rationalization. Exit peace. Enter turmoil. Just as the pleasure of indulgence ceases, the hunger for relief begins. Our vision is shortsighted and our myopic life now has but one purpose—to find release for our guilt. Or as Paul questioned for all of us, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death.” [Max Lucado. No Wonder They Call Him Savior. (Portland, Oreg: Multnomah Press, 1986). p. 139.]

We must not allow ourselves to be deceived by temptation (16-18)

16   Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.
17   Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.
18 Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.
1.   James tells us in v. 16: “Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.

In other words, don’t see a temptation as something good and rewarding.  Reject it, because you have the ability to see evil for what it is. That is the key . . . seeing evil for what it is, even though it lures us like the bait lures the fish. We need to see that it is not good no matter how great it appears to be…not good no matter how much pleasure it offers…not good no matter how great a feeling of satisfaction or superiority the sin which entices us offers.

In verse 17, the Lord reminds us of the contrast between His righteousness and the false righteousness Satan offers us—Satan does not give good gifts.  Only God gives good gifts. Remember that James began by saying that God did not cause temptation to come to us. God is not the source of our temptation. Temptation is not a good thing. It is a bad thing. And God does not give bad things to us. Satan would like for temptation to look like a good thing. Don’t be fooled. Reject that lie outright.


Are you overcome with temptation? The good news is that those who are born of God can resist temptation. Are you dealing with the consequences of making wrong choices? The good news is that God is always there, ready to show you His grace and His mercy. As we sing, some of you may want to respond to His grace and mercy in a public way; others may prefer to respond to God privately. Whatever your preference, I urge you to turn back to Him right now.