This is part one of three part series inspired by the message I shared on Father's Day weekend at our Newport News Campus.  The focus of that message was directed toward men but the challenge these three temptations present are true for both men and women.  If you are struggling with any of these three temptations, I hope these words encourage and motivate you to lean into the wisdom and Scripture and the insights of some authors I will recommend.

Sal or Tessio is one of my favorite characters from The Godfather because of the insight his role provides for understanding temptation.  Sal was an underboss for the Corleone crime family but when it appeared they had lost power, he betrayed them and conspired with a rival family.  This is what temptation is in our's opportunistic, crafty, devious, and always scheming for a way to take advantage of us!

Check out Proverbs 14:11-12 and discover something about temptation.  Temptation never comes to us and says "Hey, let me help you ruin your life and destroy your family!"  No.  On the outset, temptation appears to be pleasing.  The lure of something promising gratification but ultimately only bringing brokenness and destruction.

SAL has put out a hit on the character of men and women and their names are stress, anger, and lust!  I first heard these three temptations shared together at a men's breakfast sponsored by our church, City Life Church.  One of the men who shared talked openly about his struggle with each of them.  I felt the Holy Spirit whisper to me that Saturday, "Talk about these on Father's Day weekend."  I felt that same whisper last weekend..."Keep talking about these!"

Stress.  Some of you are so stressed out you are finding it difficult to sit still to focus on this blog.  Don't relent to the temptation to stop reading!  The temptation of stress doesn't want you to be free from it's treacherous grip!

A Stanford neuroscientist, Robert Sapolsky writes,

"Stess hormones are brilliant, adapted to help you survive an unexpected threat.  You mobilize energy in your thigh muscles, you increase your blood pressure and turn off everything that's not essential to surviving, such as digestion, growth, and reproduction systems in your body.  You think more clearly, and certain aspects of learning and memory are enhanced.  But non-life-threatening stressors, such as constantly worrying about money or pleasing your boss, also trigger the release of adrenalin and other stress hormones, which, over time, can have devastating consequences to your health.  If you turn on the stress response chronically for purely psychological reasons, you increase your risk of adult onset diabetes, high blood pressure, and a host of other health risks."

First, consider picking up a copy of John Ortberg's book "Soul Keeping" as it is a wonderful resource that not only talks about dealing with stress but also how important it is for each of us to be good stewards of our own well-being.  So often people are so consumed with caring for others, they neglect themselves.

What about Scripture?  Does the Bible have anything to say about stress?  Yes!  Here are three ways I defend against the temptation of stress in my own life:  prayer, power, and people.

Prayer.  Philippians 4:6-7 must be a mainstay in every Christian's battle against stress.  The temptation of stress lures us into a place of worry over things we cannot control.  The simple difference between praying and worrying is talking to God instead of yourself when facing something beyond your control.  We have all been in those places where we are obsessing over a situation.  Thoughts are flooding our minds at times seemingly uncontrollably.  A situation just keeps replaying in our heads, an unrelenting hounding.  Prayer is how we are supposed to deal with situations like this.  We turn that worry into prayer by converting obsessing into praying!  Direct your thoughts to God.  Talk to Him out loud if that helps you.  Ask someone to spend some time in prayer with you.  Prayer reminds us that God is sovereign and in control of our lives and every situation affecting us.  We may not see an immediate change in our situation but there will be a change in our outlook and emotions.  The peace that we read about in Philippians 4 begins to displace stress and worry because we are connecting our sense to peace to God and not to our circumstance.

Power.  Colossians 3:15 is a powerful verse challenging us to take control of ourselves.  The temptation of stress lures us into a place of believing we can't control the impact of our emotions.  This is one of the devil's most insidious strategies.  He wants us to obsess over things we can't control and ignore the areas of our lives that we can control.  In Colossians 3 note two words, "let" and "rule" are keys to this verse.  First, we must "let" or choose to resist stress.  We can't avoid the onset of emotions.  That is part of the human experience.  But we must control their impact and our actions in response to those emotions.  If the peace of Christ is going to "rule" in our heats as commanded in Colossians 3 then we must believe that we have power to control how our emotions direct us.  God gave us emotions to serve us and enrich our lives.  We are not supposed to be a slave to our emotions.  They are to serve us!  Some people have diagnosable chemical imbalances in there lives.  Others may be dealing with conditions like PTSD...those situations need professional help and oftentimes life long assistance.  But if our situation does not fall into one of those exceptions or something similar, we must find a place of power over our emotional life if we are going to resist the temptation of stress!

People.  Proverbs 12:25 reminds us we need the encouragement of others.  The temptation of stress lures us into a place of false loyalty to relationships that are unhealthy.  People tend to hold onto relationships longer than they should because they are more concerned about their image than they are their character.  Sometimes you need to change your crowd if you are going to change your outlook on life.  Surround yourself with people who are hopeful about the future because of what they believe about the goodness of God!  Now all you evangelists out there might cringe at this advice because you feel this will undermine people's efforts to reach others with the love of God.  On the contrary.  I am not suggesting isolation from everyone except those who can encourage us.  I am saying that we must be wise in regards to who is in which circle of relationship.  I should have an inner circle of people who I can trust and can lean into when I am struggling with the temptation of stress.  These people need to be mature Christians who can offer the word of encouragement referenced in Proverbs 12.  I still need to have people I am trying reach with the love of God, being careful in those circles to be the one doing the influencing!

My prayer today is that you find the peace of Christ and not be overcome any longer by the temptation of stress!  Stop giving stress permission to wreak havoc in your life!  Prayer, power, and people are an impenetrable defense!

Pastor Fred