Reason for Hope

Jim Phillis

“I have prayed for God to deliver me so many times and He hasn’t done it. He must not be listening to my prayers any more because I keep sinning.’

Whether you’ve said this or only thought it, you know the tone of voice that expresses these words, sad, halting words that trail off at the end. The unspoken thought that accompanies this: ‘If I feel condemned, I must be condemned.’

Thankfully, the Gospel is an enduring message of hope for all sinners, which includes those struggling with sexual sin. The Bible provides three God-focused reasons for hope: God’s character, His promises to His people, and His work in His people’s lives.

God’s character

God’s character is clearly revealed in the Bible. We read that He is eternal, self-existing, all-powerful, all-knowing, present everywhere, holy, just, faithful, and merciful, among other things. As we read through this list, we can wonder how He can be all these things at the same time and not be internally conflicted. Whereas I struggle to be consistent in my character, He is holy and forgiving at the same time without compromising either quality in any degree. Yes, God is holy and punishes sin, but His is also merciful and desires to forgive the sinner. God resolved this seeming conflict by sending the Lord Jesus to fulfill the Law. Because of His perfect obedience, the Lord Jesus could then go to the Cross as the sacrifice for sins, paying the penalty required for sin and providing a way for God to express His mercy to sinners. Knowing His character provides hope for the sinner, because He really is merciful.

God’s promises

Which promises should we focus on in seeking renewed hope after falling into sexual sin?

Our greatest fear usually arises from our doubts that God can forgive the sin that we have entered into OR that the number of times we have returned to our sin will overtax His grace and He will have to punish us. So the first promises to claim are those relating to His mercy in forgiving sinners. Romans 5:8 declares: ‘But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.’ Then we can read: ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and will purify us from all unrighteousness.'(1 Jn. 1:9) Thankfully, the Bible is full of such promises: Gal. 3:13, Eph. 2:8-9, Titus 3:4-7, and Rom. 7:21-8:2 Beyond this, He promises that He won’t abandon us or the work of faith that He has begun in us, but He will finish the work, Php. 1:6 and Rom. 8:38-39.

God also promises to give those caught in sin new futures. My personal favorite is found in Joel 2:25. After Joel tells God’s people that four waves of locusts are coming as a work of God’s judgment against sin, he speaks God’s promises to them, ‘I will repay you for the years that the locusts have eaten’.’ No only will He forgive, but He will restore to the people those things that they have lost as a consequence of their sin. God promises to do the same thing in many other places, such as Jeremiah 29:11-14. His grace and mercy are great; He is worthy of praise!

We can also seek and find strength in a third kind of promise, that God will supply grace for strength in resisting temptation and living by faith. Peter writes: ‘His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.'(2 Pt. 1:3-4) Paul expresses another promise of God’s power unleashed in us by faith in Ephesians 3:20. By our own admission, we have failed to experience this in the past, but our experience doesn’t mean that the promise isn’t true. Rather, we have simply not experienced the fulfillment of the promise in our lives yet!

God’s work

The Bible is remarkably explicit in detailing the sins of God’s people. In reading of God’s work in the lives of other sinners we can find the greatest hope. God has healed and restored many sinners so that He is able to use them to accomplish His work. I remember the initial shock when a preacher pointed to the fact that 5 of those that Matthew lists in Jesus’ genealogy are sexual sinners: Judah, Tamar, Rahab, David, and Solomon. Their sin didn’t prevent them from being in the line nor did their sin keep them from being listed.

God uses the church to restore redeemed sinners. He provides instructions for this kind of work in Galatians 6:1 and in 1 Corinthians 5. The church should exercise discipline for the purpose of bringing the sinner back into fellowship. This is the work that we need to be doing in relationship with each other, asking the difficult accountability questions and urging that sexual boundaries are maintained while praying for each other and speaking the words of forgiveness that restore. James urges us: ‘Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed’ (5:16). In his book, Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer echoes this: ‘A man who confesses his sins in the presence of a brother knows that he is no longer alone with himself; he experiences the presence of God in the reality of the other person.’ The brother not only hears the confession but speaks the truth of the Gospel in response, ‘You no longer need to remain dead in your sins; Jesus died to make you alive. Go and live in Him.”

‘When we return to our sin, we often find it difficult to read the Bible. We quickly forget God’s character, that He loves us and has acted in order to forgive us. We also forget His promises,that He is not done working in us and still has plans for our lives to give us hope. We neglect the evidence of His finished work in the lives of His people, both those recorded in the Bible and in history.

In the book, The Heart of a Servant Leader, Jack Miller recounts the story of Brownlow North, an evangelist in Great Britain whose ministry began about 1858. North lived a life of known before entering ministry. Attempts were made to prevent him from entering the ministry and later to keep him from preaching. On one occasion North took a letter detailing his sins into the pulpit and read it for all to hear. He acknowledged the truth of the letter, but used the letter to proclaim the wonders of the Gospel. Miller writes: ‘The very thing that Satan hoped to use to destroy North became a powerful evangelistic tool in his daring hands.’

God makes ugly things beautiful. He did it with a crucifixion. There is good reason to hope that He will do it with you.

For more help on this subject, please see Every Man’s Battle and our Resources for Men.

Where Do You Turn When Tested?

Ray Lueck

What Do You Keep In your Head? Where do you turn when tested?

The week before this last EMB my daily devotional took me to II Chronicles 20 where I read about the battle fought by King Jehoshaphat. The king had quite a task before him.

He was up against 3 other armies and was greatly outnumbered. Let’s walk through this chapter and look at the lessons we can apply to the Every Day Battles that we fight.

Vs.1 Jehoshaphat is a target conspired against and attacked. You and I also have our enemies (supernatural and of the flesh) and we are conspired against and attacked on a daily basis. Satan wants to destroy us. The proliferates of smut want to attack and steal our money, and those tempting people in our lives that flirt with us are out to conquer and consume us sexually or emotionally.

Vs.2 Jehoshaphat had people who reported to him and warned him of the attack. Apparently, this wasn’t just an attack, but a huge overwhelming assault. The good news is that Jehoshaphat was not alone. He had a support system. He had people who were concerned and involved. We can’t fight our battle alone. We have to be tied in to others. We have to let others be our eyes and ears and tell us things that we may not see on our own. Like him, this is not just a little skirmish. This is a life altering battle. If we don’t succeed today, life will never be the same again.

Vs.3 Jehoshaphat freaked out, but wisely turned toward God rather than toward idols. He rallied his support system, by proclaiming a fast through out the land. It’s good to be in touch with our emotions. Whether fear or anger, we need to be aware and expressive. Like Jehoshaphat we can take action in a positive direction. We can fast and pray and ask others to do the same.

Vs.4 The battle didn’t only affect Jehoshaphat, but the whole nation, his whole community. Our battle and our decisions affect countless lives and even generations that are yet to come. Many will be influenced on the basis of our response.

Vs.5 ‘ 12 Jehoshaphat prays. As I look at his prayer, it strikes me that he is using prayer as a means of reinforcing his faith and that of those around him. He is recalling the character, the corroboration and the promises of God to the children of Israel. He isn’t telling God anything He doesn’t already know, he is reminding himself of things he needs to be aware of so that he can walk with deep faith with the one who alone can win the battle. Do our prayers focus on the character of God and the recollection of His hand upon our lives? Are we just praying ‘give me’ prayers, or are we building our faith as we reflect upon Him and commune with God on a personal level?

Vs.12 Jehoshaphat admits, ‘We are powerless’and we don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on Thee.’ We can’t win the battle in our own strength, but as long as we keep our focus on Christ He will direct us and lead us in victory.

Vs.13 The whole nation (community) was standing before the Lord; men, women, children and infants. Grandparents, parents, friends, brothers, children and babies surround us. We have the eyes of many upon us. We influence many in our sphere of activity.

Vs. 14 ‘ 17 A prophet of the Lord speaks and tells them ‘The Battle is not yours, but the Lord’s’ Do not fear them or be dismayed’for the Lord is with you.’ We all got to hear words of truth and encouragement at our EMB weekends. We exposed ourselves to the teaching of God’s word and our lives were changed.

Vs.18 ‘ 19 Jehoshaphat and his community bowed to pray and rose to praise the God of creation. They listened to the preaching of the word, took it to heart, and were changed and convicted to follow God in faith, confidence and joy.

Vs. 20 ’22 Jehoshaphat and his community acted in faith. They went forward into the battle with the instructions to put their trust in the Lord. He appointed singers to praise God saying, ‘Give thanks to the Lord, for His loving-kindness is everlasting.’ They rose early and obediently to follow God’s directives. They filled their minds and hearts with songs of praise to God. They worshiped together and reinforced one another’s convictions.

Vs. 22 ‘ 23 As they sang and praised the Lord, God set ambushes and turned Jehoshaphat’s attackers against each other, so that they destroyed themselves. Wow, what a beautiful picture. As we focus on God, as we praise Him, He rises to rout the enemy for us. We can’t win this battle on our own. Only He can do it. What a blessing that this battle that we fight gives us the opportunity to learn to trust God and enables us to see His power at work within our lives.

Vs. 24 ‘ 26 Not one of the enemy survived. The people of Judah spend four days picking up all the booty, treasures and weapons of their invaders. It was more than they could carry. When God fights our battles for us. He destroys the enemy and gives us more blessings than we can fully enjoy.

Vs. 27 ‘ 28 They returned to the city of Jerusalem rejoicing together with music. Music played a role in the Preparation, the Battle itself, and in the Aftermath. Their minds and hearts were filled with songs of praise and adoration for the Lord. Their lives were changed and blessed and filled with joy and celebration. What a triumph is ours to enjoy as well.

Vs. 29 ‘ 30 The surrounding nations took notice and had total respect for God and what He did for Jehoshaphat and Judah. They had peace on all sides. As people see God fight our battles, they will respect Him and know that it was God that changed us. God blesses us with peaceful relationships when we live in compliance to His will.

Vs. 31 ‘ 37 Jehoshaphat formed an alliance with the ungodly King of Israel. He disobeyed God in doing this, and the project they worked on together was destroyed. We cannot form any unholy alliances. The Lord will not bless them. Winning one victory does not mean we can never be defeated. Each day is a new battle. Each day we need to put on our armor. Each day we need to trust God, listen to His direction, and make decisions, which are pleasing in His sight. As we do this, we will continue to walk in victory. When we fail to do so, we will experience defeat.

LESSONS TO BE LEARNED:

1). Trouble and temptation are ever present seeking to destroy us.

2). When testing appears, we should turn to God, pray, listen to His word and teachers.

3). We should arm ourselves with praise and use songs of worship to fight our battles.

4). We can’t fight it alone. We need a community. Remember, we affect the lives of many.

5). We are powerless, but when we put our faith in God and thank Him for His mercies, we will see Him rout our enemies and give us more blessings than we can handle.

6). As we obey God, we will have peace in our relationships; but if we form ungodly alliances, God will not bless them and we will experience defeat.

Many of us struggle with Scripture memory. Many of us fill our minds and bodies with things that are not good for us. What kind of music are we listening to? If you have trouble memorizing scripture, try putting it to music, or just singing praise songs that teach scriptural truths. Jehoshaphat fasted. He didn’t use food or liquor to numb his emotions and deny the reality of the problem. We need to be honest and emotionally expressive about the issues and problems we face. He turned to others; he got the rest he needed; he rose early in the morning; he obeyed the teaching of the Lord. He didn’t try to do it on his own, and he didn’t turn to things that couldn’t help him. He did it the right way and God blessed him for it. You can do it the right way too. You have the tools and the training. The battle is not yours; it is the Lord’s. Now go and do it the right way.

For more help please see Every Man’s Battle.

The Struggle to Keep Going in Recovery

Pastor Ed Grant

The decision to make a significant life-style change is important, but not as important as the plan for change and the resolve to continue following the plan when it becomes a grind. The experience of Nehemiah is both insightful and encouraging for all who find themselves stuck in the recovery process.

Under the wise direction of Nehemiah the Israelites had organized a Herculean effort to rebuild the walls of their beloved city. The city wall, which was the primary defense against marauding bands of thieves, had lain in ruins for a generation. For our discussion, the city wall represents self discipline.

As Solomon said,28Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control.’ (Proverbs 25:28).

Our story begins some time after the reconstruction efforts had begun. Nehemiah lists in detail the various sections of the wall with the names of the families who worked on them. The people worked hard and rejoiced as a new wall arose from the rubble: 6So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart.’ (Nehemiah 4:6).

But suddenly a series of events threatened to frustrate their efforts. Local warlords were unhappy with the project and plotted to attack the city. There was also a serious problem that surfaced among the people: 10Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, “The strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.” (Nehemiah 4:10). So much of the rebuilding effort involved moving and removing the rubble and debris that littered the unprotected city. Unfortunately, the efforts to rebuild our lives resemble Jerusalem, a city knee-deep in rubble. Restoring the walls invariably involves the hard work of organizing and sifting through the rubble. Much of it will actually be used in re-building the walls of self control! Let’s see how Nehemiah helped the people address the threats from without and the struggles within.

1. Acknowledge your fears and your feelings. Don’t minimize or ignore the sense of being overwhelmed or the feelings of futility and hopelessness. The enemy will whisper his potent lies in the privacy of your thoughts. How you address these lies will determine if you will continue to build or give up. Listen to the members of your support group, your family and friends who express concerns about your emotional withdrawal, your anger, or about your return to harmful patterns. They speak with loving concern. However, I encourage you to regard your pre-occupation with the addictive behavior as a cry from your heart for help and refuse accept the debilitating messages of shame and guilt.

2. Take steps to address the threats. Nehemiah organized the people to address the danger posed by those who opposed his efforts. 12Then the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times over, “Wherever you turn, they will attack us.” 13Therefore I stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places, posting them by families, with their swords, spears and bows.’ (Nehemiah 4:12-13). Review your action plan in light of your current threat. What modifications are needed to ensure success? Do you need to speak with a pastor or a counselor? Do whatever it takes to meet the threat!

3. Don’t think success rests on your own strength. 14After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome,’ (Nehemiah 4:14a). Through the prophet Zechariah God addressed the same situation in this manner: ‘Not by might, nor by power but by my Spirit’ says the Lord Almighty.’ (Zechariah 4:6b). God is awesome and almighty! Through our weakness He allows us to experience His faithfulness and His power. Prayer, worship, fellowship and meditation on God’s handbook for living are invaluable and irreplaceable power boosters for all of us in our times of trial! Remember and resolve to stand on His promise that no temptation will come upon us that we can’t meet with His help.

4. Remember your vision for sobriety and everyone who will benefit by your changes. ‘fight for your brothers, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.” One of Satan’s deadliest lies is that our struggles and efforts don’t matter. God’s purpose for godliness (God-likeness) is that we reflect His character to a lost world, especially those who are closest to us and have been most affected by our actions.

Satan’s invitation to partake in old, destructive habits is powerful, but not as powerful as the One who lives within us and calls us His children. To the world your broken walls might appear as worthless rubble, undeserving of the efforts it will take to change. But God has called your heart ‘holy ground’. No one but Him can imagine the glory your life will reflect by the time He returns to bring you to heaven.