A Springboard for You

For a better life and a better eternity

5 Keys for Standing Out in the Crowd

Have you ever read the first ten chapters of I Chronicles? Talk about chloroform in action. I generally just scan through them and try to get done with them as quickly as I can. However, stuck smack in the middle of this droning roll call of humanity stands I Chronicles 4:9-10.

Now Jabez was more honorable than his brothers and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, ‘Because I bore him in pain.’ And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, ‘Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil that I may not cause pain!’ So God granted him what he requested” (NKJV).

Apparently, when God got to Jabez’s name, He wanted to call attention to it. It is as if when God was going through this roll call and He got to Jabez, He stopped and said, “Whoa! Wait a minute. You need to know about this guy.” But what was it that made him so special? Why did he stand out in the crowd? As I consider these two verses, I notice five keys in Jabez that will help us also stand out in the crowd.

1. If you want to stand out in the crowd, don’t let the crowd determine where you will stand.

Can you imagine being named “Jabez”? That sounds bad enough for us today just because it is so archaic. But when you recognize that it meant “Causes pain,” you suddenly realize how bad it really is. Every day of his life, just by hearing his name, Jabez was called “causes pain.” Can you imagine hearing day in and day out that you are nothing but a pain to those around you? After a while, you might begin to believe it. Jabez’s mother prophesied his life for him. She told him over and over again that he would be nothing more than a pain. But Jabez refused to listen. He prayed to God that he would not cause pain.

These kinds of prophecies go on all the time. Every day parents, professors and peers prophesy our lives. Some times it is positive. Some times it is negative. Each day some children are told they will be doctors, lawyers and even presidents. Others are told they will be hoodlums, thieves and crooks. Some are called the class star, some the class clown. Some are Daddy’s girls, while others are Momma’s boys. When we hear these message over and over again, we begin to believe them. 

Don’t.

You do not have to be limited by the prophecies of your parents, professors and peers. You, like Jabez, can stand out in the crowd if you will simply throw yourself on God’s mercy and let him help you be all He has planned for you. Don’t let the crowd determine where you will stand.

2. If you want to stand out in the crowd, stop standing still and start going somewhere.

Jabez had goals. He wanted an enlarged territory. Within the context of his mother’s prophecies for him, this is impressive. It demonstrates a great mindset. He wasn’t trapped within his circumstances. He would step out of those and pray that God give him a blessing to help him with his plans. 

What plans do you have? While we are not of this world, we are in this world. God has not demanded that we hole up in monasteries and have no involvement or plans within this world. We are allowed to have goals. We are allowed to have plans. Yes, we must keep them within the confines of God’s will understanding that we will be judged. However, if we just stand still, we will never stand out. No, don’t get bogged down in worries about the future. But look ahead. Plan ahead and ask God’s blessing on your future as well as your present.

3. If you want to stand out in the crowd, stop standing and start kneeling.

Sadly, so many have focused on what Jabez prayed, even turning it into a mantra of sorts to be repeated as if the words themselves are magical that they have missed the real point. We must not so focus on what Jabez prayed that we miss the important point is that Jabez prayed. Jabez was not more honorable because of what he prayed. He was more honorable because he prayed. He was more honorable because the fact that he prayed represented that he relied on God.

When God wanted us to know about Jabez, he didn’t tell us a out his property, his prowess, his predecessors. He told us about his prayer. If God were going to point us out to the world, would He have anything to say about our prayer life? The fact is, we can only stand out if we rely on God.

I think that is why these two verses are even here. In the books of Chronicles, God is going to tell all kinds of stories about all kinds of people. In reality, they are all judged based on how they measure up to Jabez. Do they rely on God or on idols? Do they pray to God or to false gods? That will be the dividing line between those God blesses and God condemns.

If you want to stand out in the crowd, you can’t do it alone. God has to be on your side. So, stop standing and start kneeling.

4. If you want to stand out in the crowd, recognize you aren’t standing on your own two legs but on legs God has given you.

Jabez recognized that he could not enlarge his own borders. From the beginning of God’s dealings with the Israelites, He pointed out that He would be the one to enlarge borders. Jabez grasped that and instead of relying merely on his own strength, he relied on God’s strength.

Too often today, we have a “pull myself up by the bootstraps” mentality that says we don’t need help. We have this idea that we can do things all on our own and only need God for really big things. That just isn’t true.

You realize, of course, that the only reason you are breathing today is because God is letting you, right? You realize, of course, that the only reason you are moving today is because God is letting you, right? You realize, of course, that the only reason you are walking today is because of the legs God has given you, right?

The fact is, apart from God we can do nothing. Therefore, if we want to stand out in the crowd, we must start recognizing any real strength comes from God and not from us. We can’t do this on our own. We have to rely on God.

5. If you want to stand out in the crowd, don’t let Satan cut off your legs.

Jabez understood that committing evil would be contradictory to what he was asking of God. He did not expect, as too many do today, to live however he wanted and still receive God’s blessing. However, he also knew evil was too powerful for him. Therefore, he asked God to keep him from evil so that he would not be a pain to others.

We need to recognize this. We may have all kinds of plans. We may even say we are relying on God and offering all kinds of prayers. However, if we are going from our prayers to simply walk in sin, Satan will cut our legs out from under us and we will not stand out in the crowd. Sin is diametrically opposed to what God wants for us. If we want to stand out in the crowd, we need to turn from our sins.

Keep in mind the last two points, however. We will not overcome sin on our own or by our own power. We will only be able to do that by relying on God. This is not about proving to God how great we are. This is about recognizing how weak we are and just surrendering to Him to help us overcome.

 

What a great example Jabez is. He stood out in a crowd and we can too. But we have to follow these same five steps.

If you would like to read more about this or hear a sermon I have presented on these very same points. Feel free to check out the presentation made to the Franklin Church of Christ at the link below.

Jabez: A Man Who Stood Out in the Crowd

November 3, 2008 Posted by | A Springboard for Your Spiritual Life, Christian living, Overcoming Sin, Success | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Amputation (an excerpt)

The Gospel of the Kingdom: Studies in the Sermon on the Mount

 

Check out the book today!

Check out the book today!

 

from Chapter 13, “Morality and Marriage: Matthew 5:27-32”

 

Amputation

On April 26, 2003, Aron Ralston was trapped between a rock and a hard place. Hiking and rock climbing alone in Easter Utah, his right hand was crushed between a shifting boulder and the rock wall o the gorge he was navigating. Over a period of five days he made various attempts to free himself. He chipped away at the boulder. He tried to construct a pulley with his ropes to move the boulder. Nothing worked. When he ran out of his water supply, he was certain of death. Since no one knew where he was and they would not find him any time soon, he tried one final desperate plan. He broke both bones in his forearm. Then, using what was left of his dulled cutting tool, he amputated his own right arm. He repelled into the canyon and hiked out to meet searchers. Nobody wants to lose an arm. However, when the choice is lose an arm or lose a life, the arm is not so bad.

If we would take such drastic measures to extend our temporal life a few years, how much more ought we do them to preserve our eternal life? Jesus said if our eye or hand makes us stumble, we should amputate and throw them from us. It is better to lose a body part than our soul. Many who struggle day to day to lead pure lives would find immense success in spiritual growth if we would employ spiritual amputation.

To be sure, this is about spiritual amputation and not physical. Hands and eyes do not really make us stumble. The part of our body with the biggest problem regarding purity is the brain. If we take Matthew 5:29-30 at its most literal regarding the body part with the biggest problem, well…you see where that leads.

Consider what these verses teach us to do. When we sin, we must not simply confess our sin, but consider what led to it. How did the fall begin? Do we see a pattern? Because jesus made this statement in the context of sexual morality, I will keep my illustrations there; but the point applies to all sin–from outbursts of anger to lying to gossip to stealing.

When you have fallen into sexual immorality, whether physically or mentally, ask how you got there? Where did it begin? Did it begin with a magazine ad? did it begin with a song on the radio? did it begin with unlimited access to the internet? did it begin with a character on a tv show? did it begin with an emotional relationship at work? What led to the sin?

How many Christians have returned again and again to an affair with a co-worker after repeatedly repenting, mourning and committing themselves to sexual purity? What needs to happen? A spiritual amputation. They need to quit the job. “But Edwin,” someone will say, “I need the money. I won’t be able to find another job that pays as well. And I have to eat. I have to have a roof over my head. If I give up this job, I will lose my house.” This job is your hand caught between a boulder and a rock wall. It is killing you and destroying your eternal life. It is better for you to lose your house and even miss a few meals than to be thrown into hell.

How many Christian men, even preachers, have returned again and again to the sinful world of internet pornography after repeatedly repenting, mourning and committing themselves to purity? What is needed here? A spiritual amputation. At the very least they need to limit their internet access with strict filters and accountability parameters. They might even need to get rid of internet access entirely. “But Edwin,” some will say, “there is a lot of good stuff on the internet. Plus, when I use those filters, there are some good sites I can’t access. After all, Biblical research and finding pictures for my PowerPoint presentations are so much easier with full internet access.” But the internet is killing you and destroying your eternal life. It is better for you to lose access to the decent stuff, it is better for you to have to research the old fashioned way, it is better for you to have boring PowerPoint presentations than for you to be thrown into hell. 

How many Christians have returned to lustful passions because of magazines, movies, tv shows or particular songs on the radio after repeatedly repenting, mourning and committing themselves to mental purity? What is needed here? A spiritual amputation. They need to discontinue their subscription to the magazine. They need to avoid those kinds of movies or stop watching that show. They need to quit listening to that song (perhaps even the entire cd or radio station). “But Edwin,” some will say, “this is just entertainment. I can’t live in a box. I have to live a little and have some fun. Aside from that, everybody is reading, watching and listening to these things. If I quit, I will be behind the times and look like an oddball.” These things are killing you and destroying your eternal life. It is better for you to look like a behind-the-times oddball who can’t join in on the conversations about the latest music, movies or magazines than for you be thrown into hell.

Please notice the little word beginning both of the verses under consideration. jesus began both statements with “IF.” IF your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out. IF your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. Jesus did not command everyone to tear out their eyes or cut off their hands. Aron Ralston cut off his right arm to survive. That doesn’t mean all rock climbers must.

In our efforts to lead morally pure lives, we all have different struggles. I may have to spiritually amputate something you don’t and vice versa. Just because my eye causes me to stumble doesn’t mean everyone has to tear out their eye, nor should I try to make them.

Allow me to illustrate. When I first watched CSI, I became addicted. I loved the mystery. I loved the detective work. I loved watching how they figured out who was guilty. It was great. Then came CSI: Miami. It was awesome too. However, at some point I realized the repeated sexual themes were impacting my mind. Many times, i was no longer entertained by the detective work but defiled by the immodestly dressed characters  and caused to stumble in my mind because of the sexual scenes. Eventually, I had to excise CSI and CSI: Miami from my life. Does CSI cause everyone to stumble? Probably not. Can I say that because it made me stumble everyone has to amputate it? Of course not. However, if it causes you to stumble, get rid of it.

We must be honest. It would have been pointless for Ralston to say, “I don’t think the problem is my arm caught between these rocks. I’m not going to amputate.” In the same way, it is eternally pointless for us to hang on to the very things that make us stumble.

When we think about Ralston’s story, most of us wonder if we could do what he did. “I just don’t think I could cut off my own right arm,” many of us say. Sadly, there are too many Christians saying the same thing when faced with Jesus’ words. Let’s buck up. Jesus will give us strength. Let’s amputate what will destroy our eternal life.

October 13, 2008 Posted by | A Springboard for Your Spiritual Life, Christian living, Overcoming Sin, Spiritual Growth, Success | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

What I Have Learned About Preparing for Temptation: Part 4

 

Over the past two weeks, we have learned several activities and attitudes to prepare us for temptation:

 

  1. Repentance
  2. Confession
  3. Bible Study
  4. Prayer
  5. Poverty of Spirit

 

      You might be tempted to believe we are ready to face any temptation. (Then again, you might not, after all, I am writing another article.) There is one more preparation we need to make and it is illustrated in Acts 4:23.

      Earlier in the chapter, Peter and John were arrested and taken before the rulers, elders, scribes, High Priest and many of the high-priestly family (Acts 4:5-6). The council charged the two apostles not to speak in Jesus’ name and then threatened them (Acts 4:18, 21). I’m sure these threats included imprisonment and physical harm. This is what we call temptation.

      Then we read Acts 4:23. “When they were released, they went to their friends…” (ESV). They didn’t have to develop friends. They didn’t conduct a survey to see if anyone might be on their side. They already had friends on whom they could rely. They had already developed these relationships.

      In order to prepare for temptation, we need to develop strong relationships with other Christians. If we wait until we face the temptation and then scan about for someone to help, it will be too late. Let’s face it, we are only comfortable making those kinds of calls and having those kinds of conversations when we have already developed a good, friendly, supportive relationship with someone.

      I know I have often failed in this step of preparation and I’ve paid for it. The failure sometimes comes with good intentions. We believe we will simply rely on God to overcome temptation, but doing so forgets that God works through His children. Ephesians 3:20 reminds us God does great things by His power working in believers. The reality is, we are not really relying on God if we are not relying on God’s children. Further, we won’t rely on God’s children in our moment of need if we haven’t already developed a good relationship with them.

      Ask this question. “If I was tempted to ___________ this week, who would I call to talk it over, pray and gain support to do the right thing?” If you’ve got several in mind, that’s great. Make sure you keep working on those relationships. If you don’t, stop everything and figure out some relationships you can develop to be ready.

      

Wrapping Up the Series

Remember, Satan is a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. He wants to devour you. Use these tools to help you prepare for temptation:

  1. Repentance
  2. Confession
  3. Bible Study
  4. Prayer
  5. Poverty of Spirit
  6. Relationships
Don’t wait. Satan won’t. Temptation is coming and you need to be prepared.
ELC

 

September 12, 2008 Posted by | Christian living, Overcoming Sin, Preparing for Temptation, Relationships | , , , , , | Leave a comment

What I Have Learned about Preparing for Temptation: Part 3

Whether we like it or not, temptation is coming. Maybe the past few days have seemed kind of lax for you and you are starting to feel comfortable, like you have this overcoming temptation thing down. Trust me, as soon as you get settled in that, Satan will pound you. He is just looking for a more opportune time (cf. Luke 4:13).

We have already learned several activities that prepare for temptation:

1. Repentance

2. Confession

3. Bible Study

4. Prayer

However, none of this will get us fully ready to face temptation if we do not have poverty of spirit.

Matthew 5:3 says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (ESV). The word translated “poor” in this text (ptochos) is extreme. It doesn’t mean, “Hey, buddy, can you spare a dime? I need a boost.” It means, “If I don’t get help, I’ll starve.” Thus, being poor in spirit is the spiritual equivalent of Lazarus in Luke 16:19-21.

Poverty of spirit recognizes I have nothing to offer God. I can’t pay for my forgiveness. I can’t even work my forgiveness off by being good enough for the rest of my life. I have no bartering power. The reason I have no bartering power is because I have no power at all.

So long as we think we are somehow powerful enough to face temptation with only a little help now and then, we will inevitably fall. That is the heart of I Corinthians 10:12, “Therefore let anyone who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (ESV). If we think we are standing on our own legs we won’t make it. Only when we recognize we walk on legs God has given us can we overcome the temptation. Because only then will we let God fight the battle and rely on the strength He gives.

Paul demonstrated this in II Corinthians 12:7-10. When he thought he was strong, he was weak. But when he realized how weak he was, then he relied on God and then he was strong because of God. As Ephesians 3:20 says, God is able to do far more abundantly than we ask or think by the power working within us. Philippians 2:12-13 explains we can work out our salvation with fear and trembling because God is at work within us.

Rest assured, Satan will tempt you greater than you can handle by yourself. But he cannot tempt you greater than your strength when you are relying on God. Why not just pick up your poverty of spirit and rely on God? Do it now. Don’t wait until your are faced with temptation. That will be too late. Recognize your poverty now and rely on God now.

September 8, 2008 Posted by | Christian living, Overcoming Sin, Preparing for Temptation | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What I Have Learned about Preparing for Temptation: Part 2

Satan is vicious. He roams like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour (I Peter 5:8). Just like we wouldn’t go on a safari in lion infested territory without preparation, we need to prepare to face Satan’s attacks. We have already learned we begin with Repentance and Confession. In this post, we need to see the place of Bible Study and Prayer.

We all know Psalm 119:11. “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (ESV). Clearly, if we want to avoid sin, we must spend time in Bible Study. We do this to know what sin is. We can’t even accomplish the Confession we have already discussed if we do not learn the mind of God through His revelation (cf. I Corinthians 2:11-12). Consider Matthew 4:1-11. Even Jesus overcame sin because of what was written. He knew what was sin and He knew how to respond when Satan attacked because He had stored up God’s word in His heart.

We also need to study God’s word to learn Satan’s attacks. II Corinthians 2:11 speaks of knowing Satan’s designs so we won’t be outwitted by him. From Eve to Peter, through Bible study we see how Satan tempted others. Learning how he attacks prepares us and helps us respond well.

At the same time, we need to develop a healthy habit of Prayer. No doubt, we will need to pray in the moment of temptation. The only way to be strong enough to pray in the moment of temptation is if we have developed a strong habit of prayer when we weren’t being tempted.

Consider the example of Daniel in Daniel 6:10. Daniel was able to keep praying when it was illegal because it was what he had done previously. Prayer was his ingrained response.

We must remember our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against powers too great for us (cf. Ephesians 6:10-13). We can’t win this battle. But God can. Therefore, we need to develop a healthy relationship with God through prayer. As Ephesians 3:20 says, God can do far more abundantly than we ask by the power working through us. However, this means we have to ask.

Further, as the model prayer demonstrates in Matthew 6:13, God is able to keep us from and deliver us through temptation. How many temptations might we avoid in our lives if we simply make this prayer a habit even when we aren’t being tempted?

What is your plan for study and prayer this week? Schedule it out and then make sure to fit it in. Don’t do this to check it off your Christian living list, but because this is what works. This is what will help you overcome those temptations.

May God richly bless you as you draw closer to Him.
More importantly, may you richly bless God. 

August 26, 2008 Posted by | Christian living, Overcoming Sin, Preparing for Temptation | , , , , , | Leave a comment

What I’ve Learned about Preparing for Temptation: Part 1

 

“I can overcome anything except temptation.” An overly used one-liner and yet overly used because it is overly true. It certainly has been overly true in my life. With that in mind, I want to share with you what helps me face the daily battle, what helps me prepare for Satan’s attacks. This is the first part in what looks like will be a four part series on how to prepare for temptation. Of course, who knows what I might learn over the next several days that gets added in. I hope it helps.

 

 

Preparing for Temptation: Part 1

Regrettably, the “Just Say No” tactic that sounds so good in the safety of our assemblies doesn’t always hold water when we are face to face with Satan’s weapons on the battlefield. We need some real help to overcome temptation. What should we do? Like any battle, without preparation, we will fall. There are several things we must do to prepare; in this article, I want to share two—Repentance and Confession.

The first thing we have to do is Repent. II Corinthians 7:10 says, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret…” (ESV). We have already sinned (Romans 3:23). This isn’t about getting perfect people to stay perfect, but helping sinful people avoid future sin. Without repentance, the battle is already lost.

Repentance is a change of mind leading to a change of action. If we still think some sin is alright, not that bad, not a big deal, a social faux pas, a mistake or any other mitigated concept, change of action will not take place. Only when we mourn our actions and change our minds will we overcome temptation. As long as I believe there’s not really anything wrong with having bitterness, wrath or clamor toward my wife and kids, I will not stop. Oh, I may white-knuckle it for a while to please other people, but it will always creep back in. I must rethink my sins and see how bad they really are.

At the same time, I also need to Confess. I John 1:9 says if we confess our sins, God will forgive us. Forgiveness is a prerequisite to salvation, but that is not why I bring it up. Confession literally means to say the same thing as. In spiritual things, it means to say the same thing as God about something. Thus, confessing my sins to God is not merely admitting I sinned. Confessing means verbalizing exactly what God thinks about the sin.

If I want to overcome sin in the future, I have to get God’s view of something entrenched in my head. I have to see it the way God sees it. I have to speak about it the way God speaks about it. When I confess my sins to God, I’m agreeing with Him. I am communing with His mind. I am connecting with His thoughts and ways. The point is not that we have to hit a checklist of confession for each sin to be saved. The point is working through the exercise of seeing what God sees and thinking like God thinks is necessary if I want to live God’s way.

If I don’t repent of and confess my sins, I won’t make it when the temptation hits again. So let’s start here. Be honest. What are your sins? What does God say about them? What are you going to say about them? Feel free to write out the list and work through them one by one. God will help. God will forgive. You will grow.

May God richly bless you as you draw closer to Him.
More importantly, may you richly bless God.

August 23, 2008 Posted by | Christian living, Overcoming Sin, Preparing for Temptation | , , , , , , | Leave a comment