What the Promised Land did for Me

The most frequently asked question since our return home from Israel has been, “What was your favorite part?”  That is nearly impossible to answer.  There were too many wonderful experiences and highlights, each of them meaningful for different reasons.

I can say for certain that it was my “trip of a lifetime” and that it impacted me in multiple ways.  I am most thankful for three of those ways:

It strengthened my faith in the Word.

No doubt about it, the places and people we read about in the Bible are REAL.  Archaeologists continue to uncover locations, discover documents, and learn about practices that prove the truth of God’s Word.

For example, the Bible mentions a place called “Sha’arayim,” which means “two gates” (Josh. 15:36; 1 Sam. 17:52; 1 Chron. 4:31).  Scoffers declared this unlikely as no Judaean city ever had more than one gate, according to archaeological discoveries.  But in 2007, an entire fortified city was unearthed having, not one, but two major gates.  It overlooks the Elah Valley, confirming the Bible’s mention of it in the account of David and Goliath.

I knew the Bible was accurate and reliable.  But it is so faith-building to have that truth confirmed by walking through the MANY “proofs” that populate the land of Israel!

It enhanced my understanding.

David took refuge in “the stronghold” (1 Sam. 22:3,4).  Masada (which means “stronghold”) was a city that sat atop a steep hill out in the middle of an arid wilderness, overlooking the Dead Sea.  It’s location made it easy to see approaching enemies.  It had a “snake path” up the side that could handle only two people wide at a time.  It was impressive!  Scholars believe that this was David’s stronghold.  Now when I read about it, I will be able to see it.

In You, O Lord, I have taken refuge…Be to me a rock of strength, a stronghold to save me, for You are my rock and my fortress.

Psalm 31:1-3

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First view of Masada

 

And when I read about David hiding in caves in Adullam (1 Sam. 22:1-4), I will be able to see it.  I understand how easy it was to do that in a land dotted with large, hidden caves.  Adullam means “refuge.”

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One of the caves at Adullam

When I read about Jesus praying at Gethsemane (Matt. 26), I will be able to picture Him among the twisted trunks of the olive trees.  I can now see exactly where He pleaded with His Father.

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Olive trees in Gethsemane

There are so many accounts that have come alive in my mind!  I can add extra senses (sight, sounds, smells, touch….) to my understanding.

It engaged my heart.

You don’t have to go to Israel to be touched by the love stories in the Word.

(How can you read about God’s call to Abraham to take his son and offer him, and then God’s deliverance and provision when He rewarded Abraham’s obedient faith without being moved?)

But I had the opportunity to go to Beersheba.  It’s in the middle of the Negev desert.  It’s where Abraham made a covenant with Abimelech and planted a tamarisk tree (Gen. 21), where he sent Hagar into the wilderness, and where he went to live after God said, “Because you have not withheld your son, your only son, I will greatly bless you….” (Gen. 22).  I looked all around me and imagined the account playing out in front of my eyes.

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Beersheba

I had the opportunity to visit the two proposed sites of the Garden Tomb.  While at the first one, I read John’s gospel account of the empty tomb.  I looked at the rock tomb in front of me and read of Mary standing there weeping, of Jesus approaching her and calling her by name, and of her declaration to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord!”

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The Garden Tomb

There were so many emotional moments as we walked through the land of Israel.  I imagine part of that had to do with stepping away from the distractions of the world and immersing myself in the unfolding story of God’s redemption and love.  My heart was revived.

I pray that I will remember that I don’t have to go to Israel to do that.  I can still shut out the world’s distractions and immerse myself in the beautiful and powerful message of God’s love. 

There’s a Sea in Galilee

I wish I were better with words.  I’m going to try to convey what’s filling my heart but I know the words will fall short.

For the past six days I have been in Israel with my husband and our dear friends, John and Carla Moore.  The experience has far exceeded my expectations.  I’ve visited Beersheba where Abraham lived and probably received the call to offer up his son.  I’ve stood in the very valley in which David ran to meet Goliath (and even pulled five smooth stones from the same brook he did).  I’ve explored the impressive sites of Masada and Megiddo.  I’ve seen the wildernesses and the Shephelah.  And so much more.

I knew I’d love it all.  I can already tell that I will never read my Bible the same again.  I knew I’d learn more about geography, archaeology, and history.  What I wasn’t expecting was the soul-searching that would accompany it.

I’ve been impressed with the courage, bravery, faith, and trust of God’s people in harsh environments or overwhelming odds.  Would I be brave in the same situation?  Would I trust God when I couldn’t see my way through?  It’s been good, so good, to hold my heart up for examination.

But today was something special.  Today we went to the Sea.  We hiked up a path to the top of Mount Arbel.  There were sheer cliffs along the way.  When we crested the top and took in the view of the Sea of Galilee and its northern shore, it was as if all the noises around me faded away and I could only hear my own breathing.  My heartbeat slowed as it dawned on me what I was actually viewing.

Up to this point, we’ve visited places where great men and women of God have lived out their faith.  Today we came to the place where the Son of God lived out His faith so He could walk with us through ours.  I saw the towns where He taught in the synagogues.  I saw the shoreline where He called His disciples and where He would later have breakfast with them.   I stared at the waves on which He walked and imagined the storms that He calmed.  Jesus taught the Sermon on the Mount here.  He healed here.

As the four of us took it all in, John led us in a verse of “How Great Thou Art.”  Then he prayed a beautiful, heartfelt prayer of praise.  I couldn’t help but think that perhaps Jesus prayed in the very same spot when He would go up on the mount by Himself.  Jesus.  My Jesus.  Today, and the next couple of days, I am walking where He walked.

So many things happened by the Sea on the Sea in the life of Christ.  The same sea is surrounded by bustling and thriving towns today.  The same sea is filled with boats.

I am walking where He walked and in awe of that fact.  But what would He want me to see here?  The Sea?  As impressive as it all is–the cliffs, mountains, villages, and the blue, blue water–there are people all around the Sea who still need to see Jesus in their midst.

Only one place on earth is where Jesus walked but every place on earth is where He wants us to go and tell others about Him.

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I Was Such a Taker Yesterday

I felt like I was on the receiving end all day long.  I went to bed last night with a full heart and an overwhelming love and gratitude for God and His family.  Here’s a sample of what I got:

  • A sermon that served as a reminder of God’s merciful grace and His presence in my life.  It seemed tailor-made for me.
  • Lots of warm hugs
  • Some sisters specifically asked how I was doing with my boys leaving home.  They hugged me and told me they were thinking about me.
  • A couple of friends know of a confidential situation that is weighing on me.  They took the time to listen and assured me of their prayers.
  • A new Christian led a public prayer for the first time.  It was heart-felt and beautiful.  I was reminded of God’s power to transform lives.  I was filled with joy and grinned all the way through the prayer.
  • A couple of men responded to the invitation yesterday morning.  Others went up to sit with them on the front row to offer support.  I love that.  It makes me feel good.
  • Last night a godly, faithful widow responded to the invitation.  She mentioned a specific sin she struggled with and asked for forgiveness and help to overcome it.  I was so touched by her humility and courage.  My love and respect for her grew even more.  She went forward to ask for help but I wonder if she knows how much she helped me?
  • The fellowship seemed to linger longer yesterday.  We stood in the parking lot “forever” chatting.  No one seemed in a hurry to head home.  We talked about nothing overly significant…just flowers, school, our kids.  On the way home I told Neal how dear it is to just share LIFE with so many fellow Christians.

The tone of this post is completely self-focused.  And really, I left some things out that I was able to take away from yesterday.  The focus of our coming together to worship shouldn’t be “what can I get out of this?”  “Does it meet my needs?”  We are to gather together to GIVE.  We’re to bring our hearts to God (Matt. 15:8,9).  We’re to bring our sacrificial offering (2 Cor. 9:7).   We’re to encourage and exhort one another (Heb. 10:24,25).  We’re to offer up praise (Acts 2:41-47).  And yet, I couldn’t help but notice all that I GOT.

Yesterday wasn’t an isolated case.  I always “get” when I gather with fellow Christians to worship and learn and grow.  Even though my purpose and focus should be on bringing, giving, and offering, it’s amazing how I can leave with a heart so full of everything I have taken in.  It reminds me of the saying, “You can’t out-give God” (Luke 6:38).

“For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace” (John 1:16).

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They Love Me, Too

One thing I love about the Lord’s church is the fact that we are family.  We are brothers and sisters united by the precious blood of Christ.  That means no matter where we go, we can find family.

This past week Neal and I have been with the Hollywood Rd. church of Christ in Houma, LA.  We both feel like we have been among true family and gained true friends.  In the body of Christ, it doesn’t take long to form heart connections!  The Christians here are warm, friendly, and giving.  It is obvious they love being together.  That’s how it’s supposed to be.  Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

It was easy for Neal and I to identify that common love in the church here.  We are Christians coming in among fellow Christians.  But what does the world see?

Tuesday night one of the members brought a guest to the gospel meeting going on this week.  The guest showed up early enough to enjoy the meal we had together first.  What was his impression?  What did his first glimpse of  the Lord’s church reveal?  I am so thankful that we learned the answer to those questions.  Last night we found out that this visitor went to work the next day talking about his experience.  He said, “Those people not only love Jesus, they love me, too.”

A higher compliment to the church here in Houma could not be paid!  Isn’t that how it’s supposed to be?  Isn’t the goal of every church to be so loving that visitors walk away with the impression of being loved? This visitor knew that he was taken in and loved because the Christians here love Jesus.  What’s their secret here?  How did a one-time visit leave such an impression on this man?  I know the answer to that, too, because I saw it unfold.  He was greeted warmly, he was hugged, and he was served.  This visitor knew the Christians here love Jesus because they acted like Jesus.

I hope I remember this for a long time.  I am so convicted by this simple experience.  I am challenged to do my part in my home church to make visitors feel loved.

What impression are people left with when they visit your home congregation?  How do you make them feel?  May we all do our part to make sure others “know we are Christians by our love.”

Those people not only love Jesus, they love me, too.

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David & Kathy Jones, a couple who lives out the love of Christ here in Houma, LA!

 

 

 

Revive Me

I’m going to do something different with this blog for the year of 2016.  Each Monday morning I will post a short devotional that will emphasize one specific way to grow closer to the Lord.  The devotional will include a goal for the week–something to focus on and pray about all week long.  By each Sunday, the challenge will have been on our minds all week so hopefully it will affect our worship and our relationships with fellow Christians as well.  My prayer is that by the end of 2016, we will all feel closer than ever to our Savior.

To prepare for these devotional thoughts, I’ve been reading up on the promises of strength for those who continually turn to God and HIs Word:

  • I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Phil. 4:13).
  • He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power (Isa. 40:29).
  • My soul weeps because of grief; strengthen me according to Your Word (Psa. 119:28).
  • Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary (Isa. 40:31).
  • God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble (Psa. 46:1).
  • Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might (Eph. 6:10).

I will still post occasional articles that have to do with other thoughts and topics, but every Monday will be dedicated to “Revive Me–a Year of Growing Stronger in the Lord.”  If you have any friends or loved ones that you think might enjoy these weekly devotional challenges, you can encourage them to sign up to follow this blog.  The devotionals will go straight to their email inbox each week.  If you participate in a ladies’ Bible class or teach teen girls, feel free to print/ use the posts so you can share the challenges together.  There’s strength in numbers!

Thank you, readers, for the encouragement you’ve given me.  I hope your year is ending in a sweet and peaceful way.  There’s no telling what we may face in the new year…more changes, or trials or loss…but I look forward to what God can do through us as we grow ever closer to Him.

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An Exercise for Our Christian Walk

Christians are to “walk in the Light” (1 John 1:7), “walk by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16), and “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord” (Col. 1:10).   How can we make that real and personal?  Here is an activity that can help accomplish that.  It’s a simple activity to work on with your children, to discuss with a group of teens or in ladies’ Bible class, and to incorporate into your own daily to-do list.  It’s a practical way to help us take our Christianity from the generic to the specific.

Brainstorm:  List some verbs that are a part of Christianity.

LOVE (Col. 3:14)

SERVE (John 12:26)

GIVE (Acts 20:35)

SACRIFICE (Rom. 12:1)

FORGIVE (Matt. 6:14)

GROW (Eph. 4:15)

TEACH (Matt. 28:19, 20; Tit. 2:3)

CONFESS (1 John 1:9)

etc.

Perform:  Next to each word, write down how you (personally) can fulfill that command.  Be specific.  Serve whom?  How?  Sacrifice what?  Forgive whom?  Grow how?  Teach whom?  When?

This would be a great exercise (for personal reflection or for family devotionals) to do every first day of the week.  For extra study, find as many Scriptures as you can that teach about each command.  For instance, some verses talk about loving and serving God while others talk about loving and serving others.  This activity can help us take some of these big, general concepts and make them personal and real.  It’s one way we can intentionally walk in the Light.

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Sin is Gross

For the past week, my family has been taking turns with the stomach virus.  Carl the Culprit brought it into our home a week ago.  A couple of days later, Gary got it and ended up in the E.R.  48 hours later, Neal and I stayed up all night with it (not the most romantic thing we’ve done together).  Dale got it the next day.  That’s all of us, so we should’ve been in the clear.  But then at 3:00 this morning, Carl was in the bathroom being sick again.  And literally, as I type this, I can hear Dale getting sick.  He just said, “I didn’t get it all in the bowl….”

I thought we were supposed to be immune once we already had it?!  I now know that this monster virus comes from a persistent germ.  You have to use a bleach-based cleaner to get rid of it.  Neal hates the smell of bleach so I’ve been using other cleaning products and disinfectant spray.  I also learned that you’re contagious for three to seven days after you feel better.  We are a household of cootie carriers, surrounded by germs, and I hate seeing my big strapping teenagers doubled over in pain.  This week alone we’ve missed or will miss Teens in the Word, Wednesday Bible class, tonight’s soup and singing, and Sunday’s worship and Teacher Appreciation dinner.   This virus has become the enemy and I want it out of my house.

I can’t help but make the analogy:

  • Sin is pervasive- Isa. 1:4-6
  • Sin is “crouching at the door; and it’s desire is for you, but you must master it”– Gen. 4:7
  • Those who engage in willful sin miss out on the Good Life– Gal. 5:19-21
  • It’s possible for sin to rule over us– Psa. 19:13
  • The cords of sin hold us down– Prov. 5:22
  • Sin is described as an “unclean,” “filthy,” “withering,” “powerful” thing that “takes us away”- Isa. 64:5-7
  • Sin separates us from God– Isa. 59:2
  • Sin is contagious– 1 Cor. 15:33
  • Sin can only be removed by the blood of Christ– Rom. 6:1-18; 1 John 1:7-9

We all struggle with it and I’m thankful for God’s grace in covering it, but may we never gloss over it.  Sin is sin.  It’s contaminating, poisonous, and can take down loved ones.  It has lingering effects.  It makes us weak.  The world may embrace it or rename it, but let’s always see it the way God does.  May even the thought of sin cause us to shudder with revulsion.  Let’s want nothing to do with it (not sinners, but sin itself). Let’s determine to keep it out of our homes.  Jesus suffered for it, and that alone makes it vile.

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Getting Back to Hospitality

If getting back to homey hospitality is a desire of yours, then I understand how you feel.  When it comes to relationships, nothing compares to having someone in your home.  Yes, we can go out to eat and still get to know one another, but there’s something special about being in someone’s home.  Your smile is a little wider and warmer the next time you see each other.

So what’s the hangup?  We’re just busy, busy, busy.  Even “stay-at-home” moms are starting to feel like real time at home is a luxury.  How can we get back to the joys of hospitality?

Make It a Priority

We’re always trying to squeeze in oooooone more thing– exercise, a Bible study with someone, a child’s extracurricular activity.  But just like anything else, if hospitality is important to us, we’ll make it work.  If our life is too busy to have anyone over, perhaps it’s time to reevaluate our schedule.  Is there anything we’re doing that hospitality should take a priority over?  Some say they don’t want to take away from family time, but being hospitable can be a very good family activity.

Drop the Excuses

They’re easy to come up with.  It’s been a rough week.  We need some down time.  The house is a wreck.  I could name some women whose homes are always open to visitors, guest preachers, members, friends, and students.  Is it because they’re not as busy as I am?  Ha…most are even busier!  One family is experiencing painful hardships yet still opens their hearts by opening their home.  Excuses may make us feel better temporarily but the blessings of hospitality have a much longer and happier impact.

Remember What Hospitality Is

A beautifully set table and a home cooked meal are lovely, but hospitality is so much more than that.  It’s about serving others by making them feel loved.  It’s about building relationships by talking, laughing, and praying together.  It’s about being a good steward by using your home to bless others.  These goals of hospitality can be accomplished with simple sandwiches or a store bought pie and coffee.

Moms, being hospitable to your children’s friends counts.

Be Prepared

Regret comes when I know I should offer my home for a meal or a bed but I don’t because I’m just not ready.  With some forethought and a little effort, we can be prepared to seize opportunities to show Christ’s love.

  • Keep easy meals on hand, like spaghetti and sauce, cookie dough, etc.
  • Some clean sheets/ blankets nearby make it easy to offer a warm bed.
  • Store convenient cleaning wipes in the bathroom to shine things up real quick.
  • Pray for a heart that is willing to be inconvenienced.

Don’t Wait for a More Convenient Time

Just begin.  Here are some ideas.  See if any of them seem worth trying:

  • When your next gospel meeting, lectureship, ladies’ day, or whatever comes up, let the ones in charge know you’re willing to house speakers or visitors.
  • Commit one night every other week to having people over for dessert and coffee.
  • Invite different families over on Sunday nights for sandwiches and singing.
  • Challenge yourself to have enough food prepared for Sunday lunch so you can invite others to join you. What a thrill to be able to look around and find someone to invite into your home on Sunday!  It just enhances the idea that the very first day of the week is the Lord’s day.
  • Look through your church directory and see if there’s a demographic you don’t know as well (singles, elderly, young people, etc.).  If you’re having close friends over, invite others as well.
  • Be sure to include people that don’t like you, people that you’re having a hard time liking, or people with whom you have unpleasant history.  God can work wonders through hospitality and humility.
  • Don’t forget your neighbors and co-workers.

“Be hospitable to one another without grumbling” (1 Pet. 4:9).  “Be kindly affectionate to one another in brother love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord…distributing to the needs of the saints, giving to hospitality” (Rom. 12:10-13).  It’s possible to get into the habit of hospitality!

Image credit:  Michael Hite

Image credit: Michael Hite

God’s Wonderful People

Last night after dinner, Neal explained to his cousin, Naomi, that we have never lived close to our families, and that he would’ve liked our sons to have had more opportunities to be with their grandparents and other family members.  Naomi replied, “But you’ve had your church family.”

Oh yes, we have had our church family!  Whether in AL, VA, or CO, we’ve had brothers and sisters and role models and friends.  When we were young newlyweds and then new parents, we had couples take us under their wing and act as our own parents would.  Our boys have had adopted grandparents and mentors.  What a treasured blessing!  But that’s just one aspect of the beauty of the Lord’s church.  Consider some other blessings of being in God’s Family:

  • Continual support and encouragement (Heb. 10:24,25)
  • The much sought after feeling of belonging and community (Eph. 2:19)
  • Being with people who try to treat others with love, honor, and respect (Rom. 12:10)
  • Available help in time of need (Rom. 12:13)
  • Never having to suffer alone (Rom. 12:15; 1 Cor. 12:26)
  • A feeling of usefulness and purpose (1 Cor. 12:14-25)
  • Togetherness, devotion (Acts 2:42-47)
  • Fellowship with one another (1 John 1:7)
  • Always having family (1 Tim. 5:1,2)
  • Being loved even when unlovable (John 13:34,35)
  • Being in God’s household (Eph. 2:19-22)
  • Pure and sincere love (1 Pet. 1:22)

Sometimes relationships in physical families are severed for various reasons.  Or sometimes it’s just not possible to be with our physical family as often as we’d like because they live so far away.  But God’s Family is God’s gift to us.  In God’s Family we always have loving relationships.

Sadly, some have not felt the love or sense of belonging in their church family.  If this is the case for you, there are a couple of things you can do:

  1.  Make sure you are doing your part to reach out, love, serve, and sacrifice for your brothers and sisters in Christ.  Sometimes we are quick to point out when others let us down but neglect to consider our own lack of involvement.  Maybe no one called you when you missed a service or two.  Before feeling indignant, do some soul-searching.  How many people did you call that week?  Focus on being an active, loving, giving member of your local congregation.
  2. Remember the church is worldwide.  Perhaps you worship with a small congregation and when experiencing a difficult situation you received little to no support (and maybe even received criticism or were the object of gossip).  In those cases, it helps to remember that the Lord’s family consists of more than just your local congregation.  There may be another one in the next town over.  You can find brothers and sisters (and their love and support) nearby and worldwide.  Look for strong, encouraging members and groups on Facebook.  Write letters of encouragement to stateside missionaries or those serving on foreign lands.  There are all kinds of ways to connect and serve in God’s Family.

God’s people are wonderful.  None of us are perfect, and we may even let each other down occasionally, but I’m thankful for this blessing of our dear church family.  I can’t help but think that if we each strive to be even more close and loving in the Lord’s church, those in the world around us will want to enjoy this blessing, too.

Photo credit:  Tracy Threlfall

Photo credit: Tracy Threlfall

There’s a Verse for That

I can tell it’s time for some personal spiritual growth.  I’ve found myself leaning toward comfort over outreach and control over trust.  I’ve allowed pride to reign more than once recently.  When my heart is battling the flesh (Rom. 8:5-8), I know it’s time to fill it with more of the Word.

  • “Your Word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You” (Psa. 119:11).
  • Referring to the righteous…“The law of God is in his heart; his steps do not slip” (Psa. 37:31).
  • “I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your Law is within my heart” (Psa. 40:8).

I need to be able to recall the perfect Law in each moment of temptation.  In order to resist the flesh, I need to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might” by arming myself with the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:10-18).  I need to memorize more of the Word.

Neal recently said, “If there’s a struggle, a difficulty, a problem, a situation that arises in life, there’s a text for that. There’s somewhere that God has dealt with that–at least in principle.”  So here are a few verses to fight specific temptations that I’m going to work to treasure in my heart.  If you find yourself struggling with some of them, too, perhaps you’d like to memorize them with me. Good news for the not-so-young–I recently learned that our brains never lose the ability to memorize new things (but I still tried to choose verses that are short and to the point)!

PRIDE

“Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord;
Assuredly, he will not be unpunished” (Prov. 16:5).

SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS

“But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God” (Rom. 14:10).

SELFISHNESS

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3).

ANGER

“He who is slow to anger has great understanding,
But he who is quick-tempered exalts folly” (Prov. 14:29).

COMPLAINING

“In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:18).

BITTER SPEECH

“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29).

LAZINESS

“Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men” (Col. 3:23).

JEALOUSY

“For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing” (James 3:16).

CONTEMPT

“Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32).

GREED

“Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, ‘I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you'” (Heb. 13:5).

GRUDGE-BEARING

“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).

Obviously there are many more fleshly temptations, but I tried to choose the ones that can so quickly sneak into our hearts.  If you can think of any others (and the verses that combat them), please share them with us!

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