Thursday, May 30, 2013

When Temptation Comes Knocking

by Tim Howard

Oscar Wilde said: “I can resist anything except temptation.” I can relate! How about you? You’ve got to remember, when it comes knocking on your door you don’t have to open it!
Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done. Closing the door to temptation can be daunting. If you always say ‘yes’ to temptation then you have yet to realize the level of difficulty. Only those who try to resist know how strong it is. 
Too often we think of temptation as being enticed to do big things like stealing, murdering or committing adultery. But most often we're tempted to be impatient, stingy, jealous, greedy or just plain lazy and apathetic.
A recent survey listed ten powerful temptations people face in this culture. Here’s five or them: 
1. The desire to buy more than they can afford.
2. The temptation to put themselves first and live a self-centered life.
3.  The inclination to laziness rather than productivity – to do nothing rather than something.
4. The enticement to procrastinate.
5. The temptation to make pleasure more important than purpose.
According to the dictionary, temptation is the act of enticement with the purpose of causing you to do something wrong or unprofitable by promising something positive. Temptation motivates you to do ‘bad’ by promising something good. The Bible totally agrees with this and affirms the need to say NO when it comes.
Temptation shows up early in the Biblical narrative. Only 3 chapters into the Bible we are told of a couple named Adam and Eve who were tempted to disobey God for the purpose of setting up their own autonomy. Guess what! They yielded to the voice of temptation. When they succumbed others were affected. When you yield – others are impacted as well.
When you yield to the temptation of surfing the Internet while you’re being paid to work, the productivity or your company decreases. When you sit on the couch watching sports knowing you should be helping your mate, your relationship suffers. When you’re tempted to lie rather than tell the truth, you hurt others and sacrifice your integrity if you yield.
Here are four things I’ve learned that may help in this ongoing battle with temptation.
1.    You have a better chance of standing strong in the midst of temptation if you have an exit strategy before you experience it. Schools and companies have an escape plan set in place in case of fire. People living in hurricane areas have a calculated strategy for when the winds come. And coaches never go into a contest without a game plan. Ask yourself: How am I going to escape when it happens to me? Get a plan!
2.    It’s critical to identify your weaknesses prior to a moment of enticement since temptation looks for your weak moments. In Luke 4 when Jesus was tempted, we are told that the devil left Him for another ‘opportune’ time. You can strengthen your resolve if you’re aware of your vulnerable points and set up a guard.
3.    People who lose the battle to temptation have often lost sight of the big picture. I did this in reference to cars. My temptation led me to purchase 21 cars in my first 20 years of marriage. Now I can say NO to the new car desire because I see beyond the temptation. I see the payments!
4.    Be willing to fight. (James 4:7) There will always be a battle but if you’re willing to close the door on temptation it will bear great dividends. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Today Matters

by Andrew Cromwell

Today matters, but at the same time it doesn’t. It is one of life’s many paradoxes. What you do today eventually results in who you are tomorrow. And, there is no doubt, you can make some excellent choices today that will positively affect your future or you can make some terrible choices that could destroy it. 

Your future is made up of all of the todays between now and then. Just like most overnight successes don’t happen overnight, but as a result of lots of work, failed attempts and determination, tomorrow’s victories happen because of little decisions made every day. 

Put yourself in the shoes of the future you. Perhaps that future you has a college degree, is happily married (emphasis on the happy), has a great job, or a solid relationship with your kids. If you were to pick out any single day between now and that future you, the chances are that day would not be incredibly important. In the vast scheme of things, most days aren’t. 

This is the paradox. 

Any one day, doesn’t usually matter much. But string together a year or two of one days and suddenly you’ve got destiny-changing power. If you procrastinate today, no big deal. But if you procrastinate today, tomorrow, the next day and the next, pretty soon you are staring at another year gone by and you haven’t accomplished anything.

In football, there are two types of offenses (well there are many more, but for the sake of simplicity we will pretend there are only two). There is the “hail-mary” offense and the “grind-it-out” offense. The hail-mary offense relies on singular big plays where the quarterback throws the football as far down the field as he can in an attempt to win big. The grind-it-out offense is focused on a consistent gain of yards. The goal is to keep moving the ball forward every single play. A few yards here and few yards there and before you know it, you’ve got points on the board.

And that is why today matters. You need to move the ball forward. Just a little. A little consistency applied over a long time yields big results. Consistency is like water in the old Chinese proverb, a constant drip will wear through a rock. 

The Scripture says in Isaiah, “here a little, there a little”. That is how change happens. That is how a future is created. 

Do you want to accomplish something? Then do a little today. And then do a little tomorrow. Rinse and repeat. And remember, if you fail one day, no big deal! Just get back up and do a little the next day! 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Giants Among Us

by Tim Howard

A very interesting story about the Israelites is recorded in Numbers, chapter 13 of the Old Testament. They were on the verge of war and the Commander in Chief deployed 12 spies for reconnaissance to hopefully gather information for preparing a strategy.

On their return 10 of the 12 had a negative report, stressing their belief that the war was unwinnable. They gave this reason. “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are…they are giants and we look like grasshoppers in comparison.”

When I read this, I was reminded of the time when my family had the opportunity to see the Los Angeles Lakers play the Golden State Warriors in basketball. We were seated three rows behind the Lakers bench and I’ve got to tell you Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy and the others were gigantic. As exciting as that was for my family, a problem arose. We couldn’t see the game through the giants.

There are still giants among us! But I’m not speaking about people. I’m talking about challenges. Any time you face something beyond your ability to understand, control or change you are facing a giant.

Giants are those things you face in life that are bigger than you. They can be intimidating because of their size and they tend to threaten your security and sanity. If not dealt with they will skew your perspective and keep you from seeing clearly.

Many have heard the story about David and Goliath but if you haven’t, you can find the details in 1 Samuel, chapter 17. To learn how to win battles against giants you need to study winners and not whiners. David was a winner.

Here’s three things to learn about giants from David.
1. Just because giants are bigger than you, they aren’t necessarily better than you. Bigger is bigger not better. Solomon said: “The race is not always to the swift or the battle to the strong … but time and chance happen to them all.” We learned from Aesop’s Fables – just because the Hare is faster than the Tortoise doesn’t mean he automatically wins. Your battles may be asymmetric but not unwinnable.

2. Giants don’t go away if you ignore them. Goliath taunted the Israelites for 40 days until someone stepped up. You may have heard about the proverbial Pink Elephant in the room. No one wants to focus on it. No one wants to talk about it. No one wants to deal with it so we learn to live with it. We choose to embrace the mediocre rather than strive for the best. Maybe you should ask yourself this question:  What am I ignoring right now? What should I deal with but am unwilling to do so? What hurt am I simply trying to ignore? Maybe we ignore things because we’ve convinced ourselves they go away.  Not so!

 You know you are ignoring something when you keep postponing and procrastinate.  "One of these days... I'm going to go to the dentist." – You ignore that little pain "... I'm going to get that surgery"  "... I'm going to get some marriage counseling etc." We always postpone what is painful. Listen:
Postponing pain NEVER solves the pain. The fact is – procrastination turns minor problems into major ones. David was the only one who took the bull by the horns, so to speak.

3. Last of all, David won because his confidence was in God. Goliath was cocky and put his confidence in himself. Self-confidence is one thing but you need God-confidence to win battles against giants.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Keep Praying

by Andrew Cromwell

Have you ever prayed for something and didn’t see the change you were asking for? We all have. Sometimes this is because God says, “no”. Other times it is because He says “not yet.” Still other times it is because we quit asking too soon!

Far too often, we do not receive an answer to our prayer because we simply quit praying WAY too soon. Think about it, the big things in life -- a family member with an illness, a severely broken relationship, a life-long struggle with an addiction -- these things are so big that they often overwhelm us. We pray about these issues a few times, we might even do it for a week or a month, but soon enough we get tired and stop asking God for His intervention.

Most of my prayers are grenade type prayers. I face a bump in the road of life or hear about a difficulty that a friend is having and I lob up a prayer. I may even pause for a few moments and seek to really connect with God on the issue. But rarely do I carry these prayers throughout the day or into the next day. They are a version of the infamous hail-mary pass in football—a toss up that I’m hoping God can catch and make something out of.

There is nothing wrong with these types of prayers, except if they are the only kind of prayer we know how to do. A more difficult but necessary kind of prayer is one that involves continuous, sustained effort. This kind of prayer really is work. And this kind of prayer is necessary if we are going to see a greater movement of God in our lives.

Jesus told a story (recorded in Luke 18) about an unjust judge and a persistent widow. The widow pestered the judge night and day until he heard her case. At first the judge didn’t want to have anything to do with the widow but because she bugged him so badly, he finally listened to her and gave her the justice her situation demanded. Jesus went on to say, “Your Father in heaven is NOT like the unjust judge and will bring justice to those who cry out to Him day and night.”

The great Charles Spurgeon put it this way: "Prayer pulls the rope below and the great bell rings above in the ears of God. Some scarcely stir the bell, for they pray so languidly. Others give but an occasional pluck at the rope. But he who wins with heaven is the man who grasps the rope boldly and pulls continuously, with all his might."

So the next time you’re tempted to give up and stop praying, that is just the time when you need to pray again. Keep asking, keep pressing, and keep praying. Don’t give up the fight!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Food For Thought

by Tim Howard

If you’re like me, you might experience a bit of anxiety if some unexpected guests showed up on your doorstep – especially around dinnertime.  A woman named Martha did when Jesus and His 12 friends showed up on her doorstep late one afternoon. We are told she welcomed them into her home but very quickly became angry with her sister Mary because she wouldn’t help her prepare the meal. She said: “Jesus, don’t you care that my sister has abandoned the kitchen to me? Tell her to lend me a hand.” Luke 10:40

If you think that’s bad, what would you do if you were given 15 minutes notice to feed 5000 plus people? Possibly you would react the same way the disciples reacted when Jesus, in Mark chapter 6 told them to feed the very large crowd that had gathered to hear Jesus teach.

The people had been following Jesus for quite some time. They hadn’t eaten all day and were hungry. They were in a very remote and desolate area and on top of that it was getting late. Recognizing this, the disciples expressed compassion. They spoke to Jesus and said it’s getting late so we’d better wrap things up and send the people away in order for them to get something to eat. Now I can’t speak for you but that sounds like the right thing and wise thing to do. It’s a good idea. As it turns out, they learned a GOOD idea isn’t always GOD’S idea.

No, You feed them! Jesus’ responded. What went on in their mind when they heard this command? Can you hear their thoughts? If you could, maybe they would sound like this: WHAT did you say? Are you kidding me! That’s not only crazy, it’s ridiculous! Come on, you can’t be serious! Who knows, maybe they looked at each other and rolled their eyes like my son sometimes does. Did they do that back then? Whatever they thought within their mind, it’s very clear from their comments, they felt it was an impossible request.

Without the help of Jesus most of us would be prone to respond in similar fashion to the disciples – when confronted with circumstances beyond our control. Too often we make conclusions based upon our own frame of reference, our own abilities and our own limitations. Thinking outside the box is difficult but necessary.

When the Landlord says the rent is due but you don’t have a job. The Doctor informs you they can’t find a cure for your disease or your mate of 30 years says I want a divorce. You’ve got to think outside the box because you need a miracle.

Here’s what Jesus said: What do you have? They responded – not much – just a couple of fish and a few loaves of bread. “Bring them to me”… That’s the first thing you should do when you face things bigger than you. Run to Jesus! Don’t worry about how little you have – It will be enough!  God made the world out of nothing so just think about what Jesus can do with a few fish and some bread. If you are facing insurmountable odds and it seems like you are facing impossible challenges, remember this: Miracles still happen!

The disciples followed his instructions and experienced life outside the box. The got more than food for the stomach – They received food for thought.