Trials and Temptations

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

James 1:2-4

God often allows us to face trials and temptations. He allows these to test our faith. Not unlike how we must complete tests in school before moving on to the next semester or the next grade level, so too must we face testing before stepping into the next thing God has for us. Testing, when handled well, matures our faith and fills in areas where there may be holes. But it will take some perseverance.

When trials and temptations come our way, they don’t have to discourage us or make us feel weak and sinful. Remember that Jesus was tempted but didn’t sin (Hebrews 4:15). Just because you face trials and temptations does mean you have sinned. The enemy likes to try to guilt trip us just for being tempted, as if we’ve already sinned. But don’t believe those lies. That’s the oldest trick in the book.

Instead, we can view our trials and temptations as useful tools that may reveal vulnerable areas or immature areas of our spiritual life. If we let them, they can function as a spiritual “check engine” light that comes on in the dashboard of our life. We can find joy in them because God is using them to show us where He wants to grow us and mature us. We can laugh at our weakness and vulnerability as it reminds us just how dependent we still are on the grace of God.

We can also rejoice in knowing that tests don’t last forever. When the day of testing comes to an end, and we’ve withstood the test, graduation is imminent. God always allows testing in our life before graduating us to the next level of responsibility and/or anointing in the Kingdom. He wants to find out ahead of time if we will be able to handle the weightiness that comes with the next assignment. He doesn’t want the weightiness of it to break us, so we get tested before it comes.

Testing also acts as a refining process. Like gold in the fire, we get refined as the impurities are burned away. God removes things that don’t need to be there, and He brings life in areas that have been dry. “Not lacking anything” is His goal for us.

So what trial are you facing? What temptation is knocking at your door? Don’t be discouraged. It doesn’t mean you are a miserable sinner forever prone to sin. No! You are a new creation in Christ, the old is gone, the new is here (2 Corinthians 5:17). This trial and temptation, brought by the enemy to entangle you, can be used by God as a test to strengthen you. This test is revealing areas God want to solidify in you. And this test might be showing up in your life right now because it is right before a graduation/promotion that God wants to give you.

Appeasement

In the course of time, Absalom provided himself with a chariot and horses and with fifty men to run ahead of him. He would get up early and stand by the side of the road leading to the city gate. Whenever anyone came with a complaint to be placed before the king for a decision, Absalom would call out to him, “What town are you from?” He would answer, “Your servant is from one of the tribes of Israel.” Then Absalom would say to him, “Look, your claims are valid and proper, but there is no representative of the king to hear you.” And Absalom would add, “If only I were appointed judge in the land! Then everyone who has a complaint or case could come to me and I would see that they receive justice.”

Also, whenever anyone approached him to bow down before him, Absalom would reach out his hand, take hold of him and kiss him. Absalom behaved in this way toward all the Israelites who came to the king asking for justice, and so he stole the hearts of the people of Israel.

2 Samuel 15:1-6

King David was a great king but not always a great father. Absalom was exiled from Jerusalem for killing his brother for three years. But Absalom, like a politician, began to lobby for his own return. Eventually King David appeased Absalom and allowed him to live in Jerusalem, but David would not allow him in the royal court. Absalom then began to lobby for two more years to get a face-to-face with the king. Eventually, King David appeased Absalom once again.

What did all of this appeasement accomplish? Instead of gratitude, it showed Absalom that David could be lobbied and manipulated. Absalom took advantage of this. Whenever someone came to Jerusalem with a complaint, Absalom would set himself up as their advocate. He would flatter them and campaign for his own rise to power. After doing this unchecked for a time, he stole the hearts of the people of Israel. Many wanted Absalom to be king instead of his father David.

This is usually the result of appeasement.

My wife and I were watching the movie Harriet the other night which tells the story of the life of Harriet Tubman. Her story is really important to me because I helped to create and launch an anti-trafficking organization that we named after her. It’s called Araminta Freedom Initiative (her given slave name was Araminta and often shortened to “Minty”).

There was a moment in the movie when the Underground Railroad, which had organized the escape and freedom of so many slaves, faced a new U.S. law that made their mission 100 times more difficult. It was the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. It allowed slave hunters to bring slaves back from the North even after they had escaped. So, in order to escape to freedom, slaves now had to make it not just to Pennsylvania but all the way to Canada. The only reason this law was passed was to appease the Southern states. It was an attempt to avoid secession. It was appeasement in its purest form, and the effects were devastating. It didn’t accomplish unity in the end as civil war happened anyway.

History would learn again about the harmful effects of appeasement in the 1930s with Nazi Germany. Over and over again, appeasement was offered as a way to avoid war. Over and over again Nazi Germany gained more control, power, and influence in the region. Appeasement not only failed, as WWII came anyway, but it harmed entire people groups in the process.

When someone is clearly in the wrong, the enemy always dangles the option of appeasement in front of people who are afraid of conflict. This option is often touted as a form of peace-keeping. But Jesus never called us to be peace-keepers. He called us to be peace-makers. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). Peace-making often involves setting hard and fast boundaries, engaging in conflict instead of avoiding it, and not believing the lie of appeasement.

King David appeased Absalom and almost completely lost his throne. The North tried to appease the South and thousands of slaves were torn away from freedom and return to slavery in the process. Yet, the Civil War came anyway. The world tried to appease Nazi Germany to avoid war. Yet, genocide and WWII were the devastating results.

Appeasement is never the right way forward when what you’re dealing with is clearly not what God wants. We should never let conflict avoidance lead us to passive acquiescence. In the end, it causes more harm.

Strength in Weakness

The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians describing himself in the third person as a man who was caught up to heaven and saw inexpressible visions and revelations from the Lord. Paul’s ministry was marked by great signs, wonders, miracles, incredible revelations, and encounters with the Lord. Then Paul follows this up with a really important lesson about weakness. He writes:

Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:6-10

Paul received and experienced “surpassingly great revelations” from the Lord. Yet, as a way of keeping Paul from getting conceited and puffed up, the Lord allowed “a messenger of Satan” to come against him. I’ve explained before in a previous post that this “thorn” in Paul’s flesh was not a physical illness or a sin issue. It was the so-called “super-apostles”(2 Cor 11:5 & 12:11) who had been opposing Paul’s ministry and sending his churches into confusion about the nature of the gospel.

What we learn from this is that God chose to perfect (bring to fullness) the incredible power that Paul was operating in (signs, wonders, miracles, and surpassingly great revelations – 2 Cor 12:7 & 12) by allowing men to oppose his ministry. And when Paul asked that God deal with these men and get rid of them, God didn’t. Instead He said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

I used to apply this verse to sin in my life. I used to think this passage was God saying that He could use me even in the midst of my sin, my weakness. And while there is some truth in that statement, that is not what God was saying to Paul here. What God was telling Paul was that, in order to bring the operational power of God in Paul into its fullness, Paul needed to be perfected/refined by humility.

While Paul could boast in all the amazing things God was doing through him, God didn’t want Paul to give his spiritual resume as a way to prove the credibility of his apostleship. Instead, God wanted Paul to take a posture of humility, talking about the hardships he faced.

So when Pauls says, “when I am weak, then I am strong” he’s not saying, “even when I sin, God can use me.” What he’s saying is essentially, “The operational power of God that flows through me is brought to its fullness when I resist the urge to defend myself with my resume, and instead I lean into humility and take the low place.” This is exactly what we see in the life of Jesus. The humility of Jesus is what perfected the power of the Spirit that flowed through Him. And Jesus’s most powerful act was also His most humble act–His death on the cross.

This discussion Paul is having about strength in weakness carries the same themes as the teaching of Jesus when Jesus told His disciples:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 

Matthew 5:38-41

Strength in weakness–power perfected in humility–is a completely counterintuitive message. When people come against our work, our ministry, or us personally, we want to defend ourselves. We want to stand against the injustice of it all and give our resume of all that God is doing in and through us. We want people to know the truth about us and not believe the lies that are coming against us.

But Jesus says to turn the other cheek. Paul says to boast in weakness. I believe when we do this we will see a side of God we’ve never seen before. When we stop trying to defend ourselves and allow Him to defend us, we will discover God as our Defender. But if we are always coming to our own defense, we’ll never get to see that side of our Heavenly Father.

If we want the power in us to be perfected, we must make room for humility. We must take a position of weakness as we learn, in Christ, to delight in hardships, insults, and resistance.

Deep Recesses of the Heart

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Philippians 2:5-8

We are called, in our relationships with one another, to have the mindset of Jesus. The main mindsets that get stressed in this scripture passage are humility, lowliness, and servanthood. And if you’ve lived any length of time as an adult, you’ve likely discovered that there are layers to this.

What I mean is that there seem to be layers to our hearts. When my wife and I do premarital counseling with young couples, we tell them that marriage isn’t about what you’re like when you are at 100% or even 90% but what you are really like when you’re at 30%. When we are single and without kids, it is easier to get a full night of rest, carve out time for rejuvenation, and do things that bring our emotional tank back up to 100%.

So in early marriage, when everyone is rested and rejuvenated, there can be a honeymoon phase where people have a lot of grace and understanding for each other. But as life comes at us with work stress, illness, and bills, our tank can get sapped. Then add kids into the mix, the lack of sleep, the constant caring for others, and usually married couples are at about 30% when they interact with each other.

The question is, “Who are you at 30%?” That is often when the real person comes out. That is often when there is less grace, less patience, more anger, and more hurt. The question is not, “Can you humble yourself?” but instead, “When you are at 30% capacity, hungry, and running on little sleep, can you humble yourself?” This is why marriage and parenting has the unique ability to shape us into the image of Christ.

These are the top two layers of our heart. There is the layer when we are at our best, and then the next layer under is who we are at 30%. But I am discovering a layer under that. This is the layer that Jesus reached down into. This is the deep recesses of the heart, and this can only be explored in the midst of betrayal and failure.

When Jesus became fully human in the incarnation and decided not to use His divinity to His advantage, He began to experience that second layer of the heart (what He was like tired and hungry). But it wasn’t until He was betrayed by His own people and by His best friends that the deepest layer was revealed. The question of this third layer of the heart is not, “Who are you at 30%?” but rather, “When people closest to you hurt you, fail you, and, ultimately, betray you, what comes spewing out of the deep recesses of your heart?”

This is what is meant by the phrase above that Jesus “humbled himself by becoming obedient to death–even death on a cross!” When Jesus was betrayed at the deepest level by people closest to Him, what came pouring out of His heart was not bitterness or rage, defensiveness or victim mentality. What came pouring out of the deepest recesses of His heart was humility, obedience, compassion, grace, and love. That is who Jesus really was when pressed to His human limits.

Many of us who have been married and have been parents for a while have had that second layer of our heart transformed over time. We’ve learned to be loving, humble, and gracious–more than we ever thought we could be–even while operating at 30%. But where few Christians have been transformed is in the third layer. Where few of us have allowed the Holy Spirit to do His work is in the deep recesses of our heart in moments of betrayal, rejection, or failure.

What comes out of your heart (and mouth) when you are hurt? What comes up from the deep recesses of your heart when those closest to you have betrayed you?

If you’re anything like me, that is an area of the heart that doesn’t see much sunlight and so what comes bubbling up is ugly. It’s the sinful sediment that I’ve allowed to find a home in the deepest trench of my soul. I believe God sometimes uses betrayal and hurt as a strategic surgical tool to show us the ugliness down there so that He can begin His cleansing work.

What if hurt, betrayal, and rejection are unique tools–gifts really–with the awesome capability of shaping us into the image of Christ if we let them?

A Grateful Heart

Then King David went in and sat before the Lord, and he said:
“Who am I, Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? And as if this were not enough in your sight, Sovereign Lord, you have also spoken about the future of the house of your servant—and this decree, Sovereign Lord, is for a mere human!

“What more can David say to you? For you know your servant, Sovereign Lord. For the sake of your word and according to your will, you have done this great thing and made it known to your servant.

“How great you are, Sovereign Lord! There is no one like you, and there is no God but you…

2 Samuel 7:18-22

This is an amazing example of gratitude to the Lord. King David models for us what our heart posture should be as we pray and contemplate all the Lord has done. What is so amazing about this stream of gratitude that pours out of David is that it comes right after God tells David that he won’t be allowed to build the Temple.

Think about that!

King David made plans to build the Temple of God. But before he could start, the Lord spoke through the prophet Nathan and told David that he’s not allowed to build it. God also told David that God would give David success as King of Israel and that David’s son would build the Temple. God also told David that his house and his kingdom would endure forever (this is a prophetic word about Jesus).

So what we have is a mixture of words to David from God. God tells David what God will do, and He also tells David what He won’t do. But which of these does David choose to focus on? David’s response is pure gratitude. King David doesn’t waste time being upset about what God isn’t doing and instead focuses on what God is doing.

If we are going to be people of gratitude, this has to be our focus as well. So many Christians are only focused on what they want God to do that He isn’t yet doing. They get frustrated and bitter at God, and in the process become completely blind to what He is doing.

We need to release those things we think God should be doing but isn’t. And we need laser-like focus on what God is doing in our midst. If we are able to focus on what God is doing rather than on what He isn’t doing, gratitude will be the natural overflow of our hearts. We won’t be able to help ourselves as gratitude will daily pour out of us as it did King David.

Are you focusing on what God is doing in your life and in your midst? Or are you stuck on what He’s not yet doing? Maybe it is time to shift your focus and lean into gratitude. The apostle Paul gives us clear instructions about thanksgiving and gratitude.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Colossians 3:15-17

The Toxicity of Unbelief

“Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.” … Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. 

John 12:36-37

See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 

So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.

Hebrews 3:12 & 19

Living in a culture that celebrates doubt can cause us to forget all the warnings from Jesus and from the rest of the New Testament against unbelief. Scripture does not paint unbelief as something that everyone should embrace as a “normal” part of life. Instead, unbelief is regularly warned against as something that is toxic and damaging.

Imagine you are in an ancient army, fighting a foreign enemy for the sake of your King and the Kingdom to which you belong. Battle can become wearisome. Armor can get heavy. There are always casualties of war and that, by itself, can be discouraging. But imagine you press through all of this to continue to fight valiantly for your King.

Now imagine as you enter the battlefield one of the soldiers behind you says, “You know, I’m not sure I believe in our king anymore. I’m not sure we even have a king. Further, I don’t think that army over there is real either. I have serious doubts that we are even in a war. This army that you talk about us fighting against, maybe it’s just a figment of your imagination. Yesterday I was talking to this nice merchant who sells furs, I think her name was Lucy, and she told me she’d pay me a bonus fee to go home. I’m tired anyway, so I think I’m going to take her up on her offer.”

What is your response to your fellow soldier? Are you inclined to coddle them with, “Oh, I totally understand. It’s normal to question whether the King is real and whether that army over there is just a fictitious mirage. Take your time and go home. We’ll be here bleeding and fighting if you ever think you might want to return.” Is that what you’d say? I hope not.

My guess is that most of us would tap into our inner Master Sergeant and begin to challenge our fellow soldier to stay in the fight. We would remind him not to be deceived by Lucy’s lies and not to give up. We’d remind him of how much we need him supporting our flank and how being tired should never lead us into unbelief, no matter how tired we get. The King has called us to war and the Kingdom needs us to be all in! It’s a privilege and an honor to be in the King’s army, even when it’s hard.

Let’s call unbelief what it really is. It is deception. And the end result of unbelief is cowardice. It’s choosing the comfort of the couch over the challenge of the battlefield.

Undignified and Despised

Now King David was told, “The Lord has blessed the household of Obed-Edom and everything he has, because of the ark of God.” So David went to bring up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with rejoicing. When those who were carrying the ark of the Lord had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets.

As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart.

2 Samuel 6:12-16

King David eventually learned his lesson and let go of his fear of the manifest Presence of the Lord. He also learned his lesson about reverence. This time, instead of leaving the ark at Obed-Edom’s house, he would take it into his own city. But he would transport it as prescribed in the Law, and he would do it with reverence, awe, and worship.

As I described in my last post, when the manifest Presence of God comes in power, people can sometimes do unusual things. King David couldn’t help but dance before the Lord with all his might. He couldn’t help but celebrate, shout, and leap before the Lord. It’s as if gratitude and love began to well up from within him and it started leaking out into his body. His body couldn’t contain all of it and had to let it out through dancing.

Yet, when King David’s wife sees him acting like a passionate worshiper and not a King with royal decorum, she despised him in her heart. This reaction was pure disgust at David’s exuberance.

When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!”

2 Samuel 6:20

King David’s response to her is perfect and something every Christians should take note of.

David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.”

2 Samual 6:21-22

Essentially, David had to remind Michal that he was dancing for an audience of one. He didn’t care what others might think about him. He wasn’t focused on that. He was full of gratitude in that moment and had to worship the Lord for His goodness and kindness. He wasn’t held back by pride and protocol like Michal was. He wasn’t held back by a sense of shame and superiority like Michal. Unfettered by self-absorption, David could fully worship the Lord with his whole self. And the slave girls seem to understand this better than his own queen.

This happens so often in church services. While one person–unshackled by pride, self-consciousness, and shame–worships with their whole being, the person nearby scoffs in their heart, judging them with disgust and distain for their outward expression. Yet, secretly, the scoffer wishes that she could worship so freely.

In the American church we have to get past this accusation of being “overly emotional.” Is it even possible to be “overly emotional” about Jesus dying on the cross for our sin? Is it even possible to get “overly emotional” about a Savior who gave up everything to rescue us from eternal destruction? In light of God’s infinite goodness and kindness toward us in Christ, just how much emotion is too much? And when the Holy Spirit starts stirring in our hearts, will our heart not react with emotion? Isn’t that what it is supposed to do? My guess is that most Christians aren’t showing near enough emotion, and our lack of emotion is proof that we don’t understand how good this “good news” really is.

When people get rescued from imminent death from police or fire fighters, they don’t just stoically shake their rescuers hand and walk away. They passionately embrace their rescuer with tears streaming down their face and weep in the presence of their savior. Maybe the person in the corner who is raising their hands, shouting to the Lord, and weeping has a better handle on reality than the rest of us. Before we judge them, maybe they are grasping this great gospel we believe a little more fully than the rest of us. Maybe in that moment, they are the undignified King David and we are the Michal.

We must ask ourselves what kind of worshiper we are. Are we shackled by our own pride? Are we bound by our shame and our concern about what people might think? Are we fettered by a sense of superiority or embarrassment? If so, we need to heed of the writer of Hebrews who challenged us to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles”(Hebrews 12:1). Let’s worship the Lord in Spirit and in truth, and let’s abandoned our self-consciousness and all that would hold us back from a robust and worshipful response to the goodness of God.