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Does God Tempt Us?

Day 5 | Today’s passage: James 1:13-15 | Historical context of James

13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

Sin is fun. There, I’ve said it. Sin is attractive and gratifying. Whether we like to admit it or not, this is why we turn to it. As American speaker and writer Rosaria Butterfield quipped, “If your sin doesn’t feel good, you’re doing it wrong.” To be sure, she isn’t encouraging Christians to sin; she’s simply stating the obvious—sin feels really pleasurable.

James puts it this way: “Each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.” (v. 14) That’s certainly true of my experience. Whenever I sinned, it’s because I was carried away by my pride or anger, or seduced by my desire for drink or pornography.

So I can appreciate why James uses the sexually-charged word “entice”: in the moment of temptation, the desire to sin feels powerfully seductive. It’s an alluring call that’s hard to resist. Surely it won’t hurt, I think. Just this once. How bad can it be?

That’s when I’d discover that sin never, ever delivers on its promise of pleasure. Sin is a big, fat cheque that will never cash. Ultimately, it only defrauds us and costs us dearly.

You might ask, then: If sin is so bad, why does God allow us to fall into temptation? Why does He put us into tempting situations, and set us up to fail? Such thoughts, however, could show that we haven’t truly understood the heart and character of God.

James tells us, “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone” (v. 13). God is good through and through.
Unlike us, He cannot be swayed by evil, nor does He want us to be, for He knows the harm we will suffer when we give in to temptation. As James says, “Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (v. 15)

Giving in to our evil desires, according to James, is like being “dragged away” into the bed of an evil person who has seduced us. From that illicit sexual union, desire gives birth to sin which, over time, produces spiritual death in our lives. This vivid imagery should help us to grasp the gravity of sin and the severity of its effects. Though it may look and feel pleasurable, it’s actually destructive and deadly to us.

God’s heart for us is not to suffer sin’s death-dealing blows, but to enjoy His life-giving goodness for us—which is found in obedience to Him and His Word.
Let’s not misunderstand God’s heart, and remember that He cares for us and wants the best for us.

—Raphael Zhang, Singapore

Questions for reflection

1. What specific sins might you be flirting with in your life?

2. How does understanding God’s heart for you make a difference in your relationship with Him?

3. How can you spot the seduction and deception of the sins in your life?
How can that help you identify their destructive effects?

Hand-lettering by Sonya Lao


Raphael enjoys reading and writing, and experiences them as means of connecting with the Word too beautiful for words. He believes there’s no such thing as having too many books. Having been led by Jehovah-Rapha to journey out of brokenness toward wholeness, he is passionate about bringing God’s healing to others, so that the brokenhearted can become wholehearted in loving God and people with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. He’s also crazy about cheeses, but his greatest love is still Jesus.

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My Struggle With Alcohol: The Spirit That Never Satisfies

I used to drink a lot. Once, I had one too many that I stumbled about the streets and passed out outside a shopping mall in the wee hours. Some kind strangers woke me up and asked if I needed to be sent to the hospital. Subsequently, they carried me to the side of the road and helped me flag down a cab to go home.

Another time, I did a silly act in my drunken stupor that got me hurt. Thankfully, I was with a friend who accompanied me to the hospital’s Accident & Emergency Department and stayed with me through the night.

I’ve texted things I shouldn’t have to people I shouldn’t have. I’ve patchy memories of nights of heavy drinking. I’ve had experiences waking up the following day, terribly hung over, dehydrated, and with a pounding headache. Regretfully, there were even times I ended up in the beds of strangers.

That was a few years ago. I no longer drink to excess now, but I still like to drink.

We Need to Identify What Hinders Us

I do not believe that drinking alcohol is wrong in and of itself. Jesus turned water into wine as His first miracle (John 2:1-11) and at the Last Supper, Jesus used wine to represent His shed blood of the new covenant (Matthew 26:26-29).

But what I do believe is that some things may be more of a hindrance and temptation to some people, than to others. For example, a former pornography addict might find that sensual images or films are easy doorways that could lead him or her back to the stronghold of lust.

Hebrews 12:1 exhorts us in this way: “since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” This tells us that some things are clearly sins, but there are also things which—though not explicitly wrong—will hinder us. For me, alcohol is one of the latter things. Another way of putting this is that while alcohol is permissible for all believers, it is not beneficial to me personally (1 Corinthians 6:12).

When God highlighted to me that alcohol is something that is not beneficial to me, He also prompted me to examine the deeper reasons why I turn to alcohol.

 

1. The false promise of alcohol

I won’t lie: I like drinking because tipsiness feels great. When I drink, the problems in my life appear smaller. The burdens of responsibilities and expectations (from myself and others) seem to be lifted, and I feel carefree without all these concerns weighing on me.

However, I have learned that these feelings are deceiving. Alcohol lowers my inhibitions, causing me to be more willing to take risks and to make moral compromises. Things I would not have done and which I could resist much better when I was sober, I’d give almost no second thought to when I’m drunk. Even when I drink alone at home, I’d end up feeling down the whole of the next day. There’s a reason why alcohol is called a depressant.

Just as sin is disguised as a pleasure that eventually causes pain—alcohol has often played out the same way for me. Like sin, something that hinders us is a promise that does not deliver, a cheque that does not cash. In fact, it will cost us far more than what it has falsely promised us.

2. The belief that it will get rid of my woes

I realized that the times I craved a drink were when I was trying to soothe a deeper discomfort or ache I had in my heart.

But drinking has never accomplished anything fruitful. When I was weighed down by something, drinking only made me feel less concerned about it, and only momentarily. During the times when I found loneliness hard to bear, alcohol simply distracted me from the ache of that emptiness, instead of giving me the connection I desired. When I was hurting inside, drinking was merely a way to numb the pain, so I didn’t have to deal with the root issues beneath the wound.

In fact, the more I avoided confronting the root issue, the more pain recurred and festered, and the more I turned to alcohol as a form of escapism. It’s a vicious circle. The Chinese have a saying which goes: Using alcohol to relieve worries would only bring more worries.

I’ve had to remember to ask myself in the moments I crave a drink: “What is the discomfort, ache or pain I’m trying to soothe?” Identifying what the pain is helps me to understand what I actually, really need. I’ve to learn to not turn to alcohol but to God for the solution.

When I’m stressed out by overwhelming demands, I have to go to God and ask Him to show me which are the reasonable expectations I can and should meet, and which are the ones that are beyond my capability. When the desolate feeling of loneliness hits, I need to be still before Him and remind myself of His promise that He will never leave me nor forsake me (Hebrews 13:5) and He holds me close to His heart (Isaiah 40:11). When I experience deep pain from longstanding wounds, I must take them to Him—trusting that He knows and understands—talk it through with Him, and be comforted by what He has to say to me.

Instead of using unholy and unhealthy ways to deal with my pain, turning to God is a holy, healthy way to meet this inner need. There is also a place to ask others whom I trust for prayer and support, letting their strength carry me in my weakness.

 

Be filled with the Spirit

The Bible tells us, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). That is, we are to let the Holy Spirit control us, instead of wine (or anything that can lead to indulgence in sinful or unhealthy pleasures). We do this by trusting and obeying Him as His Word directs. This is something I’m still learning to work out in my life.

Hebrews 12:2 tells us how we can effectively achieve that: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” The more I’m captured by His beauty and encouraged by His endurance, the more I will be able to throw off anything that entangles or hinders me from finishing the race well.

It is a journey I’m still on, but I choose to take God at His word and trust that the more I keep my eyes fixed on Jesus and fill myself with His Spirit, the more I will stop thirsting for alcoholic spirits, which never satisfy (John 4:13-14).

The Day I Spent in Prison

Written By Jes Nuylan, Philippines

I braced myself for the encounter, wondering how I should talk and act around them. I was excited and nervous at the same time since I had never interacted with inmates before. And I was thoroughly surprised when I finally met them.

New Bilibid Prison. I had only heard of the name up till that visit. A few of my friends had first visited the inmates and gotten acquainted with them while working on their dissertation. They invited me to join them in their second visit. They planned to minister to the inmates—to give them some Christmas presents, as well as words of encouragement.

Hearing that they were all middle-aged men and had been imprisoned for drug and theft related offences, I was apprehensive at first. However, I was pleasantly surprised when I met them. They were delighted to see us and treated us like old friends. I later learned that they yearned for interaction with “outsiders”, having been separated from their families.

We gave them simple gifts, which they felt were the best gifts they had ever received. They listened attentively to the testimonies we prepared and the short devotion my friend shared. They told us that they were moved and encouraged. Their response stirred our hearts.

In return, they presented us with handcrafted items like parols (star-shaped Christmas lanterns) and wreaths. They also performed for us, showcasing their talents in singing, dancing, acting, and the like. It was a joy to watch! But beyond the happy feelings our interaction with them evoked, what struck me during that visit was that I had taken many things for granted.

  1. We are free, but we often act as though we’re imprisoned—by our selfishness, anger, struggles, stress, etc.
  1. We often fail to appreciate the people around us. That trip made me realize how much God has blessed me with in terms of family and friends.                                 
  1. We own so much materially but we’re hardly ever satisfied with what we have. I constantly gripe about things I don’t have and want to have.
  1. We hardly take note of the inspiring things that happen around us. The prison visit was a humbling experience, which caused me to reflect not just on God’s blessings, but His grace.

Though the inmates are imprisoned because of their past mistakes and are deprived of many privileges that free people enjoy, but yet, in some aspects, they have much we can learn from, especially when it comes to being grateful.

I had visited them with the intention of ministering to them, but instead, I was the one who walked away feeling blessed and inspired. And although it has been five years since that visit, it has served as a constant reminder to me to be grateful. I pray that this reflection will inspire you to be grateful too.

Photo credit: Gowiththe Flo via Scandinavian / CC BY-NC-ND

ODB: Turn Off the Scoreboard

February 11, 2016 

READ: Ephesians 4:25-32 

Forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Ephesians 4:32

 

At his son’s wedding reception, my friend Bob offered advice and encouragement to the newlyweds. In his speech he told of a football coach in a nearby town who, when his team lost a game, kept the losing score on the scoreboard all week to remind the team of their failure. While that may be a good football strategy, Bob wisely advised, it’s a terrible strategy in marriage. When your spouse upsets you or fails you in some way, don’t keep drawing attention to the failure. Turn off the scoreboard.

What great advice! Scripture is full of commands for us to love each other and overlook faults. We are reminded that love “keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Cor. 13:5) and that we should be ready to forgive one another “just as in Christ God forgave you” (Eph. 4:32).

I am deeply grateful that God turns off the scoreboard when I fail. He doesn’t simply forgive when we repent; He removes our sin as far as the east is from the west (Ps. 103:12). With God, forgiveness means that our sin is out of sight and out of mind. May He give us grace to extend forgiveness to those around us.

— Joe Stowell

Lord, thank You for not holding my sins against me and for granting me a second chance. Help me today to forgive others just as You have so freely forgiven me.


Forgive as God forgives you—don’t keep score.