Sunday, July 13, 2014

Friends Family Church You God

“You can now watch pirated movies on Google Chromecast”

That was the headline of a “business news” article I saw this week.  Yes, it’s getting easier and easier to steal - and even news outlets are letting us all know where we can participate. 

Similarly, I was approached recently by a guy who offered me free Pandora.  I explained that I subscribe, and then he insisted that I drop my subscription and sign on using his password.  He proudly explained that he had several friends and family members who were using his one password to gain access.  When I explained to him that I don’t steal, he said it’s not really stealing, and then sent me the info in email, anyway.  What a donkey 

Have you ever had such ‘opportunities’? 
Of course – we all have. 

And I don’t know about you, but I have enough temptations in my life, thank you – I don’t need any extras piled on by fools like this talking asp.

Today’s article is a bit long, but it’s important.  And I pray that the Lord will use me to confront you with two challenges:
  • Do you have friends and/or family who add to your temptations?
  • Do YOU ever tempt others? 

This world feels (to me) like one giant temptation machine.  I love so many things, and want to do and try everything.  Some things aren't even all that bad, but I want too much of it (like food, rest or recreation).  Sometimes temptation is circumstantial – I want to be gracious and forgiving, but not that person!  I want to be a worker for the Lord, but I only want to serve Him in certain ways. 

A giant wad of temptation, this world seems to be.  Everything bad looks so dang good (to me).

For some folks this isn’t an issue.  They (you?) don’t have much desire to do things – most sins simply don’t appeal to them - and so perhaps their only temptations are judgmentalism, gossip and laziness toward those of us who want to do (or try) many things.  If you’re not tempted to a particular sin, it’s easy to look down on those who are faced with it – and then it’s easy to ignore them/us and let them/us die and go to hell.  After all, we certainly deserve it.

Then as if temptations weren’t enough by themselves, there are people in my life who make my struggles even more difficult than they already are!

People who shove food at me and insist that I’ll love it – even when they know I’m struggling to control my food-worship.  When I first quit smoking, my “friends” (who predicted my failure) would delight in tempting me.  Alcoholics have “friends” who insist that they continue to visit pubs, and those with other desires of the flesh can always find someone willing to exploit them.  Anyone who loves any “sin of the flesh” knows WHY we love it – it’s awesome.  Who needs yet  more temptation from a so-called brother or sister piled on top?  

There are those who offer the delicious taste of rationalizing while cheating on their taxes or dealing dishonestly with an insurance company … because “they deserve it,” or “they’re rip-offs, anyway.”  Or we’re encouraged to be dishonest on resumes, because it’s expected or to tell “business lies,” because everyone knows that happens. 

Another hard one are those people who seem to go out of their way to be aggravating.  Sometimes they enjoy it, and other times they’re so self-absorbed, they don’t even know they’re tempting you to rage.  Temptation to anger at such steaming piles of foolishness is very hard to resist (at least for me), especially when I’ve explained to them my feelings in detail.  Goodness – just writing this is tempting me to anger as I think about it! 

It seems the only way to get a person’s attention these days is to be rude, loud, dishonest, or mean. 


Here’s what I’m hoping you’ll consider with me today:
  • Do you encourage your fellow disciples to be better people, or do you offer them temptations? 
  • Do you rationalize that some sins aren’t really all that bad, and so offer a temptation for a brother or sister to violate his or her conscience? 
  • Do you offer more food to gluttons, or alcohol to drunks or other physical pleasures to those who are struggling to avoid them? 
  • Are you so materialistic that you buy stuff you don’t need, and then show it to others who join you in glorification of the shallowness of this world? 
  • Do you know that gossip is both a sin - and a temptation to another person to sin?

My next question/challenge is much easier to answer, but very hard for action:
Are your friends, family and/or church good for you? 


Most of us want friends who enjoy what we enjoy, and dislike what we dislike.  They overlook our faults or “understand” them or sympathize or in some way “feel our pain.”  Is that in our best interest? 

Maybe we need comrades who will encourage us to do the hard thing.  Someone who will meet us where we are, and then without condescension help us to grow.  Someone who understands how hard some struggles are for us and then helps us overcome, and protects us from further temptation. 

If we’re truly devoted to God, won’t we seek people who can help us get stronger, and avoid those who keep us weak and tempted? 

I don’t need so-called “friends” who make life even harder for me.  I don’t need to be told “it’s ok” when I’m behaving foolishly or sinfully.  And I also don’t need people in my life who imagine they know more than they do – and armed with only good intentions, try to tell me how to live. 

Life is hard enough – who needs extra temptation when you’re already getting kicked around by Satan? 


This is one of, if not the biggest, problems with “churches” these days.  Many of them become collections of people who have decided to insist on particular things and overlook others.  The test for this is simple.  If/when you next attend a church service, secretly make a note of who – and how – you are helped or hurt. 

For instance, most people these days struggle with vanity.  Our culture is obsessed with outward appearance – and this happens even in church!  So make note of how many comments you get on your appearance.  We do it without even thinking: “You look nice,” or “those are cute shoes” or whatever.  The scriptures on this matter are crystal clear, but no church I know of makes any effort in this regard. 

Of course closely tied with our temptations to vanity is our lack of respect for the truth.  We seem to think that as long as we “technically” didn't lie, then a little deception is ok.  “No, you don’t look fat,” is where it begins.  Is that person helped to overcome gluttony and sloth?  No – and why?  Because we’d rather feed their vanity with our own lies than help them actually grow to become a better servant of God.  Remember the SOM how many times Jesus said to forget what people think, and instead work on what God thinks?  How often do you get THAT encouragement at church? 

So consider all your interactions at church in the past and in the future, and then ask yourself if you’re really being helped to get stronger, more generous, wiser and more teleios, or if your “church” itself is working so hard to be “cool” that they are starting to look just like the dark world in which we’re supposed to be a light.  Once your eyes are opened to this, you’ll be shocked at how true Paul’s words are, even today:
“In giving this instruction, I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse.”
(1 Corinthians 11:17)


If friends and church are bad, families are often the worst.  We are indoctrinated with the idea that “family comes first,” and that family matters are not optional.  This is so much a part of our thinking that most people don’t even consider it.  Among those who do consider it, hardly anyone will walk away from physical family to serve God more effectively, even in a limited way.  It’s probably easier if you were raised by abusive, non-believing parents; and harder for those whose parents were lovely Christian people, but that’s the nature of sin, isn't it?  Some are harder than others for various people.  One of Satan’s best tools is a well-intentioned family.  Few things in life can render us as spiritually sterile (fruitless) as family. 

Again, remember the words of he who we claim is our Boss, Master or Lord:

“If anyone comes to me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”
(Luke 14:26–27)

“And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for my name’s sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life.”
(Matthew 19:29)

Not only did Jesus teach this, but he was no hypocrite:

While He was speaking to the crowds, His mother and brothers were standing outside, seeking to speak to Him. Someone said to Him,
“Behold, your mother and your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to you.”
Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said,
“Who is my mother and who are my brothers?”
And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said,
“Behold My mother and my brothers!
For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is my brother and sister and mother.”
(Matthew 12:46–50)

Let’s talk about you

Now that I’ve picked on your friends, family and church – what about you?  Do you tempt people? 

This is a hard one.  Often we tempt people without realizing it.  Gossip, gluttony, vanity and deception can be so pervasive we “forget” we’re even doing it.  Often times we tempt others unconsciously.  In fact, the way we tempt others, and the way others tempt us are too many to offer up as examples. 

But I’ll toss out a couple for you to hopefully stimulate your self-reflection:
  • Is your self-worth so important to you that you coerce others into complimenting your appearance, or eating your best food dish, or praising your hobbies or fruitless ministry? 
  • Do you seek support in your rationalizations for “small” things? 
  • Do you offer justifications when others do “small” sins - or do you help them grow out of it? 
  • Do you find “clever” workarounds for things that may/may not be a sin? 
  • Are you judgmental, and absent compassion for the failures of others? 

Those are just a few things that make others’ temptations worse.  See if you can think of others.

Think on this and pray about it.  Ask God to highlight the temptations in your life.  Ask Him to help you become hyper-aware of times you tempt others or they tempt you, and spend some time developing your awareness of this thing.  Start on your own, and then ask a fellow disciple to join you, and make it a “game” to spot temptations. 

Once you become aware of them, it will amaze you how much harder life is because we – without thinking – make others’ lives more difficult! 

Finally, Jesus

“Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes! If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire. If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell.”
(Matthew 18:7–9)

In the passage above, we often get confused.  We ask, for example, if I lust, “do I really have to pluck out my eye (Or other body parts) so I can’t see tempting things”?  This common mistake is made because we don’t read the passage carefully.  Note again the part I underlined.  Jesus wasn't talking about physical body parts, but spiritual ones.  It’s about PEOPLE!  Specifically, it’s about disciples.  When a disciple makes you stumble … HE or SHE … is the one who needs to be cut off.  Read it again, and you’ll see it.  Better yet, take time this evening to read ALL of Matthew 18, and see it in context, and you’ll see that the whole chapter is Jesus’ teachings on how brothers and sisters are supposed to treat one another in the church/fellowship. 

Here’s a more concise and direct version of the same teaching from Luke:

He said to his disciples,
“It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to him through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble. Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.” 
(Luke 17:1–3)

Again, Jesus is no hypocrite.  He practiced what he preached, and set himself as an example to us:

He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.
And He was stating the matter plainly.

And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him.
But turning around and seeing His disciples, He rebuked Peter and said,
“Get behind Me, Satan; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.”

And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them,
“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”
(Mark 8:31–35)

Wow – Peter was tempting Jesus to consider the possibility that he might not need to suffer and die on the cross.  At that moment, one of Jesus’ best friends and strongest disciples had actually become a tool of the devil!  And so Jesus rebuked Peter harshly – even calling him “Satan.”  That’s pretty harsh stuff.  It must have really freaked poor Peter.  But then Jesus went on to explain that not only was this necessary for him, but also for anyone who follows Jesus.  Necessary

“If your brother sins, rebuke him” 

Have you ever had someone love you enough to do that for you?  Have YOU ever loved another that much?  Rebuking people who sin is easy for judgmental people.  It’s easy for angry people, frustrated people, and self-righteous people.  But a loving rebuke to/for someone we care about is really, really hard.  It’s also hard to receive a rebuke, but still – giving or receiving a rebuke from love is crazy hard.  We’d much rather tell a brother, “Oh, it’s ok, everyone messes up.” 

As you read in Matthew 18 or Luke 17, you’ll see that these temptations and responses to sin are ALWAYS one disciple trying to help another to be a better servant of God. 
This is never, EVER, something we do to/for those who are not disciples.  They’re lost and need rescuing.  This is entirely about how we should treat each other!  Read what Paul wrote to the Corinth church of Christ:
I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people;
I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world … (for then you would have to go out of the world.
But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindlernot even to eat with such a one.
For what have I to do with judging outsiders?
Do you not judge those who are within the church?
(1 Corinthians 5:9–12)

And it’s never about anger or hatred or disgust – it’s about loving teammates helping each other to get stronger, bolder, more generous, more loving:

He who blesses his friend with a loud voice early in the morning, it will be reckoned a curse to him.
A constant dripping on a day of steady rain & a contentious woman are alike.... 
As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.
He who tends the fig tree will eat its fruit, & he who cares for his master will be honored.
(Proverbs 27:14–18)

How does “blessing a friend” become “a curse”?  Why is an uncooperative woman so annoying?  Because they are not “iron sharpening iron.”  They aren’t helping each other, they’re tempting others – they are stumbling blocks. 
The “blessing friend” is always there to help you feel good about yourself, but what you need is to improve. 
The aggravating woman tempts us to violence – or at least to unkind thoughts. 
Neither is our partner. 
Neither is helping us to be better servants of God. 
Both are spiritual quicksand that is sucking us down to the eternal fire. 

We disciples are people who have made a simple but difficult pledge: we will sell all we have to buy the pearl of great price (Matthew 13.44-46).  We want to know Christ and the fellowship of his suffering and be conformed to his death, so we can attain resurrection from the dead (Phil 3).

The question was asked by Jesus: “What will a man give in exchange for his soul”?  Every time we make it easier for a disciple to make the sinful choice, we make their walk harder.  Each of us who spends time with those who call themselves disciples but are not – we are endangering our souls and the souls of everyone we influence. 

I know this article is long, and if you've made it this far, congratulations.  But now comes the hard part: put this into practice. 

Start by doing this over the next few weeks.  Consider how often people cheer you on to do the right thing, and rebuke you when you sin.  And not just what they say, but how their presence in your life really produces changes within you.  Is being around them merely fun or pleasant, or do they actually help you to become a better servant of God, increasingly focused only on His kingdom and His righteousness, and always helping you to love your neighbor as yourself? 

Also, consider how you treat others – do you put temptation in their pathways?  Have you been a tempter without even realizing it?  Ask God to reveal these moments to you.  They are hard to see until you go out of your way to eliminate them.  But if you sincerely ask God to show you, He will, and it’ll hurt when you realize that you have been the person Jesus was talking about when he said you’d be better off drowned. 

This life is shorter than you think.  Use each precious moment to help others and associate with only those who help you (or whom you can help).  Our culture makes that a lonely lifestyle, but believe me – it’s far better to face temptation alone than to be joined by a “friend” who enhances temptation.

Like Jesus, we give our lives for others.
Also like Jesus, we give heart, soul, mind and strength to God – first and only.

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