Thursdays With Spurgeon—Our Tricky Tongues

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

Our Tricky Tongues

I said, “I will guard my ways, lest I sin with my tongue; I will restrain my mouth with a muzzle, while the wicked are before me.” I was mute with silence, I held my peace even from good; and my sorrow was stirred up. My heart was hot within me; while I was musing, the fire burned…. (Psalm 39:1-3)

     Tongue sins are great sins; like sparks of fire ill words spread and do great damage. ‘I will guard my ways, lest I sin with my tongue’ (v. 1). If believers utter hard words of God in times of depression, the ungodly will take them up and use them as a justification for their sinful courses. If parents’ own children rail at them, no wonder if their enemies’ mouths are full of abuse. 

      Our tongue always wants watching, for it is fidgety as an ill-broken horse, but especially must we hold it in when the sharp cuts of the Lord’s rod excite it to rebel. 

     David was not quite so wise as our translation would make him; if he had resolved to be very guarded in his speech, it would have been altogether commendable. When he went so far as to condemn himself to entire silence, ‘even from good,’ there must have been at least a little sullenness in his soul.

From Spurgeon And The Psalms

Oh, how often our tongues trip us up! More times than we would like to admit, our tongues completely undo the good example we have previously shown. James spends almost an entire chapter talking about the fire our tongues can kindle, concluding that our tongues are “a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:1-18)! 

Part of David’s solution was to notice who was around him so that his words would not add fuel to their skepticism about God. But notice that he went too far because he didn’t speak out the good that he should have spoken. 

Clearly, there is a time to speak and a time to be silent. David’s son Solomon talked about the wisdom of speaking the appropriate words at the appropriate time (see especially Proverbs 10).  

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis talks about a valuable discipline: A personal review of our words and actions at the end of the day. After all, it’s hard to correct something of which we are unaware. Here’s what Lewis wrote—

“When I come to my evening prayers and try to reckon up the sins of the day, nine times out of ten the most obvious one is some sin against charity; I have sulked or snapped or sneered or snubbed or stormed. And the excuse that immediately springs to mind is that the provocation was so sudden or unexpected. I was caught off my guard, I had not time to collect myself…. Surely what a man does when he is taken off guard is the best evidence of what sort of man he is. Surely what pops out before the man has time to put on a disguise is the truth. If there are rats in the cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness did not create the rats; it only prevents them from hiding. In the same way the suddenness of the provocation does not make me an ill-tempered man: it only shows what an ill-tempered man I am.” 

We would do well to pause and ask the Holy Spirit to show us the rats in our cellar—evil words spoken that shouldn’t have been uttered, and helpful words left unspoken at the moment they should have been said. If we will humbly listen, the Holy Spirit will help us mature in this vital area of taming our tricky tongues. 

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Forgive Like You’ve Been Forgiven

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Jesus said that the devil’s agenda was to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10). We see this on full display in the aftermath of the first sin in the way relationships humans had with each other changed. 

God said to Eve, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (Genesis 3:16). Dr. Henry Halley commented, “The last two lines of this verse could be paraphrased, ‘You will now have a tendency to try to dominate your husband and he will have the tendency to act as a tyrant.’” And to Adam, God said that he would now have to work harder than ever before to harvest the food he needed for survival, which undoubtedly caused stress in his relationship with Eve. In the very next chapter, the strained relationship between Cain and Able resulted in the first homicide (Genesis 3:17-19, 4:1-8). 

In these relationships, intimacy was stolen, closeness was killed, and life was destroyed. 

An irreplaceable tool for avoiding this heartache and destruction that sin causes in our relationships is forgiveness. 

Peter asked Jesus, “How many times should I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” (Matthew 18:21). In reply, Jesus told a story about a man who owed the equivalent of 20 years of a day laborer’s wages and a man who owed about three months of a day laborer’s wages. The first man who owed so much was forgiven entirely of his debt, but he wouldn’t forgive the paltry amount that was owed to him by the second man. 

To the forgiven but unforgiving man, Jesus said, “Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” (see Matthew 18:22-35). 

That should be our standard: Not how others treat me, but how God has treated me! Not how much others owe me, but how much God has forgiven me!

Do I want God to put a quota on how many times I can be forgiven? Do I want there to be a limit on how big of an offense God will forgive in me?

Of course not!

That’s my standard. I must show the same mercy to others as I have been shown by God. 

If my forgiven sins are forgotten sins (and they are), then I need to treat my brother and sister the same way. This is why Jesus told Peter to stop counting the number of offenses. We are to treat every offense as though it was the first and only offense.

The man who owed so much money asked for more time to repay his debt. But the master did more than that: He forgave the debt—he wiped it off the books completely, as though it had never happened! 

When God forgives our sin, He separates our sin from us as far as the east is from the west. He keeps no record of the offense ever having occurred (Psalm 103:10-12). 

This is to be our standard too. We are to forgive others as God has forgiven us. Forgiveness will restore intimacy, closeness, and life to our relationships. 

This is difficult to do. As Peter pointed out, a brother or sister—someone close to his heart—had sinned against him. But this is why Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us” (Matthew 6:12). Or as Eugene Peterson paraphrases that verse in The Message, “Keep us forgiven with You and forgiving others.” 

May the Holy Spirit help us in this important work of ongoing, complete, and restoring forgiveness!

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Thursdays With Spurgeon—Understanding Repentance

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

Understanding Repentance

     Repentance is an old-fashioned word, not much used by modern revivalists. 

     “Oh!” said a minister to me one day, “it only means a change of mind.” This was thought to be a profound observation. “Only a change of mind”; but what a change! A change of mind with regard to everything! 

     Instead of saying, “It is only a change of mind,” it seems to me more truthful to say it is a great and deep change—even a change of the mind itself. But whatever the literal Greek word may mean, repentance is no trifle. You will not find a better definition of it than the one given in the children’s hymn:

     Repentance is to leave
     The sins we loved before
     And show that we in earnest grieve,
     By doing so no more.

From The Soul Winner

The Greek word Spurgeon references that is rendered as repentance is metanoia. Many have translated this as a “new mind.” But a more literal translation is “with new understanding.” When my carnal mind has been replaced by a spiritual mind, I now see everything differently—I understand everything differently. 

The Amplified Bible elaborates it like this: Bring forth fruit that is consistent with repentance—let your lives prove your change of heart (Matthew 3:11). 

More than just an about-face away from my old sinful habits, repentance is a more profound understanding of just how grievous my sinful lifestyle was to God. It repulses me to even consider indulging in those sins again because now that I understand how joy-filled my relationship with Jesus is when I walk in righteousness, I never want to even dabble in that slime again! 

I don’t want to see how close I can get to sin, but I want to see how close I can get to Jesus! When I truly have repented of my sins, the Holy Spirit has given me a whole new understanding of both the pain of sin and the joy of righteousness. Let’s become people so quick to repent anytime the Holy Spirit convicts us of even the smallest of sins.

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Links & Quotes

“…when it comes to following Jesus, life is never as good as it gets. There is always more righteousness, more peace, and more joy in the Spirit to know, and more love and truth to share, as long as we are willing to press on.” Read more of this post from T.M. Moore here.

Commenting on Haggai 1, Dr. Henry Halley reminds us, “One of the most insistent Old Testament teachings is that national adversity is due to national disobedience to God.” In a series of messages I shared from the minor prophets, I noted the precision of the fulfillment of God’s prophecies, especially in the book of Haggai. So when God promises punishment for disobedience, we should take notice. Revival will come when we repent from those sins.

J. Warner Wallace understands why the church is often confused about the role of apologetics in evangelism. In this video he does a marvelous job of explaining the value of apologetics—

Lubricate The Message With Tears

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Therefore groan, son of man! Groan before them with broken heart and bitter grief. And when they ask you, “Why are you groaning?” you shall say, “Because of the news that is coming.” (Ezekiel 21:6-7)

Judah’s sin had exhausted God’s patience. Now punishment was coming in the form of the invincible Babylonian army, and Ezekiel was tasked to deliver the news. 

I and my fellow pastors often have to speak a heavy word. How we speak this word may make all the difference in the world in how it is received. We cannot speak brashly nor robotically. The Word of God should break our own hearts first, just as it did to Nehemiah.  

I must tell people about the consequences of their sin, but I must tell them with groaning. 

I must warn people of the horrors of hell, but I must warn them with bitter grief. 

I must confront a wayward brother or sister, but I must do so with a broken heart. 

I hope all my fellow pastors will join me in praying this: Holy Spirit, help me! May Your word break my heart before I open my mouth. May tears always lubricate the painfully loving words I must speak! 

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The Gift Promised

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Have you ever seen kids tearing into a Christmas present and then being disappointed that what they got wasn’t what they wanted? They may say something like, “This isn’t what I put on my wish list!” 

From the response of the religious leaders in the Gospels, it appears that the gift of Jesus on that original “Christmas morning” was very similar. It’s almost like they were saying, “This isn’t the type of Messiah we wanted!” They wanted someone to give them freedom from the Romans, but their Heavenly Father wanted them to have something far bigger and greater: Eternal freedom from the penalty of sin. 

The first humans had the joy of being innocent in God’s presence, where they had everything they needed. But satan got Adam and Eve to focus on something they wanted, and that sin of disobedience brought an immediate separation. They now feared the nearness of God. 

There were immediate and painful consequences for their sin, but God wanted the heaviest of penalties to fall on Himself. To foreshadow this, God sacrificed an innocent animal to cover their nakedness, showing us what the gift of Jesus would do for us (Genesis 3:1-21). 

In The Holy War, John Bunyan tells the story of the town of Mansoul enslaved to Diabolus. The crafty serpent plays on their fears by reminding them how terrible it would be if they allowed Holy God to come near them while they were in their sinful state: 

“‘Gentlemen,’ quoth he, ‘and my faithful subjects, if it is true that this summoner hath said concerning the greatness of their King, by His terror you will always be kept in bondage, and so be made to sneak. Yea, how can you now, though He is at a distance, endure to think of such a Mighty One? And if not to think of Him while at a distance, how can you endure to be in His presence?’” 

Diabolus even tried to make their slavery to sin look like freedom: “I, your prince, am familiar with you, and you may play with me as you would with a grasshopper. Consider, therefore, what is for your profit, and remember the immunities that I have granted you.’”  

As John Piper reminds us, “Christmas is for freedom.” Indeed, that’s just what we see on the first “Christmas morning” in words like salvation, no fear, and great joy (Matthew 1:21; Luke 2:10-11). 

Turning again to The Holy War, here’s what the Father said to His Son: “Wherefore the King called to Him Emmanuel, His Son, who said, ‘Here am I, My Father.’ Then said the King, ‘Thou knowest, as I do Myself, the condition of the town of Mansoul, and what We have purposed, and what Thou hast done to redeem it. Come now, therefore, My Son, and prepare Thyself.’”  

Immanuel (or the Romanized spelling Emmanuel) is the One who removes the separation caused by our sin, and rejoins us to God. That prefix “im” means with, and the suffix “El” means God. The root word means God’s kinsmen. Immanuel comes to repair what was severed by taking sin’s penalty on Himself, and allowing us to once again enjoy the closeness of kinship with our Heavenly Father (Matthew 1:22-23; Galatians 4:4-7). 

When the people saw this Gift on Christmas morning, they said, “This isn’t what we wanted! We wanted a rich, powerful, conquering King. One who would send the Romans running in fear!” As a result, very few unwrapped this Heavenly Gift. But God reminded them, “That may be what you wanted, but I have given what you need. I want you to have not just temporary freedom from the Romans, but eternal freedom from your sin so that you can be forever in My presence!” 

This is what Jesus rejoiced to do for us with the Gift of His life, death, and resurrection. One more passage from The Holy War tells us, “Then said the King’s Son, ‘Thy law is within My heart: I delight to do Thy will. This is the day that I have longed for, and the work that I have waited for all this while. … I will go and will deliver from Diabolus, and from his power, Thy perishing town of Mansoul. My heart has been often pained within Me for the miserable town of Mansoul; but now it is rejoiced, but now it is glad.’” (The timing for the Incarnation of Jesus and even these words of Immanuel Himself are found in Hebrews 2:14-15; 10:5-7). 

God’s love is too great to be limited to just meeting our wants because in our immaturity and sinfulness we don’t know what we really need—but He does. So His love sent Immanuel to us. 

The Gift was given to us at Christmas, but in our immaturity and shortsightedness, we didn’t realize the full impact of this Gift until Jesus rose victoriously from the grave! Now by placing our faith in His completed work, we can be rejoined to God and live in unshakable hope of an eternity with Him! 

If you would like to follow along with all of the messages in this series called Christmas Unwrapped At Easter, please check out the links I’ve shared here.

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Judgment Must Start With The Leader

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Ezekiel 9 is a sobering chapter for anyone, but especially for those in leadership. Listen to the opening verses—

Then I heard [God] call out in a loud voice, “Bring the guards of the city here, each with a weapon in his hand.” And I saw six men coming from the direction of the upper gate, which faces north, each with a deadly weapon in his hand. With them was a man clothed in linen who had a writing kit at his side. They came in and stood beside the bronze altar.

Now the glory of the God of Israel went up from above the cherubim, where it had been, and moved to the threshold of the temple. Then the LORD called to the man clothed in linen who had the writing kit at his side and said to him, “Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it.”

As I listened, He said to the others, “Follow him through the city and kill, without showing pity or compassion. Slaughter old men, young men and maidens, women and children, but do not touch anyone who has the mark. Begin at My sanctuary.” (Ezekiel 9:1-6)

It is no small thing to be called a leader. God calls leaders and expects them to represent Him well in their leadership assignment. That’s why God’s judgment always starts with those who are called by God to be leaders. 

It starts with me. 

Why? Because as a leader goes, so go the people. The smallest of sins that the leader tolerates in his own life give license to the people to sin even more. So it is right that God’s judgment begins at the top. It is right that God’s judgment on leaders be even more severe (James 3:1). 

Ezekiel reports that God’s glory moved from the temple to the east gate, and then from the east gate to the mountain outside the city (9:3; 10:4, 18-19; 11:23). God was still speaking clearly and distinctly (10:5), but the leaders were so blinded by their sin that they neither noticed God’s glory moving away from them and repented of their sin, nor did they call the people to repentance. 

The only ones who were spared from God’s judgment where those who were grieving and lamenting all the sins of the city. 

If God is going to continue to use me as his leader—if He is going to give me His Word to speak to others—I must be sensitive to His searching of my heart. I must grieve over my own sin first and repent from it. Then I must be a willing servant to speak God’s Word of both judgment and salvation to whomever He sends me. 

A mark of a godly leader is one who grieves and quickly repents over his revealed sins.

It starts at the top. It starts with me. Leaders must be held to the highest of standards.

I hope all godly leaders will join me in this prayer: Father God, may I be usable by You. May I be sensitive to the prompting of Your Holy Spirit, and grieve over my sins. May I be quick to repent and receive Your restoration, so that I can continue to lead other people into an intimate relationship with You. 

This is part 62 in my series on godly leadership. You can check out all of my posts in this series by clicking here.

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The Sovereign King

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What people were saying about Jesus right from His birth—before He preached a sermon, performed a miracle, or stepped on the toes of religious or political leaders—was revealing the truth. 

As the Gospel of Matthew’s account of Christ’s birth begins, Persian Magi came from Babylon, having been keepers of the Truth handed down to them for over 500 years from Belteshazzar the Chief of Magician. This was the Babylonian name given to the Hebrew exile Daniel. 

Daniel served under multiple kings, even as the regimes changed from Babylonian, to Median, to Persian. He never waiver in his adherence to the Truth that God had spoken. He fearlessly told these world leaders, “The Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone He wishes” (Daniel 4:25). 

Most leaders forget this the moment they obtain power. Such is the case of the man the Magi met: King Herod the Great. Listen to how William Barclay describes this monarch: 

“Herod the Great was always despised by the pure-blooded Jews because he was half an Edomite; and we can see the importance that even Herod attached to these genealogies from the fact that he had the official registers destroyed, so that no one could prove a purer pedigree than his own. … 

“He had made himself useful to the Romans in the wars and civil wars of Palestine, and they trusted him. He had been appointed governor in 47 B.C.; in 40 B.C. he had received the title of king. … 

“But Herod had one terrible flaw in his character. He was almost insanely suspicious. He had always been suspicious, and the older he became the more suspicious he grew, until, in his old age, he was, as someone said, ‘a murderous old man.’ … He murdered his wife Mariamne and her mother Alexandra. His eldest son, Antipater, and two other sons, Alexander and Aristobulus, were all assassinated by him. Augustus, the Roman Emperor, had said, bitterly, that it was safer to be Herod’s pig than Herod’s son. … 

“When he was seventy he knew that he must die. … He gave orders that a collection of the most distinguished citizens of Jerusalem should be arrested on trumped-up charges and imprisoned. And he ordered that the moment he died, they should all be killed. He said grimly that he was well aware that no one would mourn for his death, and that he was determined that some tears should be shed when he died.” 

Lord Acton famously said, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. …  Despotic power is always accompanied by corruption of morality.” This is so obvious in Herod! So we can understand why the city of Jerusalem was disturbed when the Magi arrived! Whether Herod knew the prophecy of the coming Messiah or not, it’s inescapably true that his days and his legacy were numbered (see Isaiah 9:2-7). 

When King Herod heard the announcement from the Magi, his reaction was violent. Perhaps Herod lashed out so ferociously because these words of Truth from the Magi reminded him his end was near, his power was not absolute, he had to answer to The Most High who is sovereign over all. 

We are no better. Oswald Chambers defines sin as “my claim to my right to myself.” We want absolute sovereignty over ourselves, but Jesus will allow no rival to His throne! He is either King over all or else He is not King at all. 

Beware of your own reaction when the Holy Spirit convicts you of a rival to Christ’s throne in your heart. If you lash out like Herod, dismiss it, or try to justify it, that is proof that you needed to hear that word of Truth. Don’t delay: Repent and allow Christ to have His rightful throne.

Jesus came as a Baby and a Savior at his First Advent. He opened the way for us to enter the presence of The Most High God, but it will cost us something to enter. Oswald Chambers tells us: 

“Redemption is easy to experience because it cost God everything, and if I am going to be regenerated it is going to cost me something. I have to give up my right to myself. I have deliberately to accept into myself something that will fight for all it is worth, something that will war against the desires of the flesh, and that will ask me to go into identification with the death of Jesus Christ, and these things produce a struggle in me.” 

Christ’s Second Advent will be as the conquering King and righteous Judge of all humanity. We have precious little time to tell others the good news. People may react violently like Herod did, but that is simply proof that they needed to hear that Truth. 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in our series People Will Talk, you can find the complete list by clicking here. 

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Oy!

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Woe is me!” said the prophet (Isaiah 6:5). 

The Hebrew word for “woe” here is the word “oy!” Although the word “woe” appears 20 times in the English translation of Isaiah, the Hebrew word “oy” is only used four times, and two of those times are Isaiah speaking of himself (6:5; 24:16). “Oy!” is a cry from a profound stab of pain from the realization that my sin has transgressed an All-Holy God. 

Isaiah saw his own sin (6:5) as well a the sin of his people (3:9, 11), and it took his breath away. He stood trembling before a holy God pleading for mercy and cleansing before he could answer the call to be God’s messenger to the people of Israel (6:5-8). 

The other Hebrew word that gets translated into the English word “woe” is “howy.” This is usually uttered from someone in pain because things aren’t going well. It’s a cry of, “Hey! Look! This is painful. This is not good at all.” But unlike “oy” which requires a profound heart change, “howy” can be said with the mouth without any change of the heart. 

Isaiah cried, “Oy!” because his sin deserved the punishment of the Righteous Judge, but his heart posture called on God’s mercy for forgiveness and restoration. Because of his cleansed heart, Isaiah could now call, “Howy!” to the people: “Hey, sinful Israel, look at your sin. Look at how you’ve transgressed against God. Feel that pain, then don’t delay, but cry out ‘Oy!’ to Him now, while mercy may still be found.” 

Isaiah’s “howy” had the impact of godly integrity because he had first cried “oy” in God’s presence. His “howy” was a call to others to do what he had done: see the holiness of God, see their sin, tremble in fear before an All-Holy God, and then cry “oy” to an All-Merciful God for forgiveness and restoration. 

We should do the same thing. When the Holy Spirit convicts you of sin, don’t merely say, “Hey (howy), that hurts!” But say, “Oy! I have sinned, but God is a merciful Forgiver of sin.” Let that stab of pain from the conviction of your sin bring a change in your heart as well as a cry from your lips. God is merciful, and He does forgive. 

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You’re No Match For Sexual Sin

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At the window of my house I looked out through the lattice. I saw among the simple, I noticed among the young men, a youth who lacked judgment. He was going down the street near her corner, walking along in the direction of her house at twilight, as the day was fading, as the dark of night set in. Then out came a woman to meet him, dressed like a prostitute and with crafty intent. … 

With persuasive words she led him astray; she seduced him with her smooth talk. All at once he followed her like an ox going to the slaughter…. Many are the victims she has brought down; her slain are a mighty throng. Her house is a highway to the grave, leading down to the chambers of death. (Proverbs 7) 

Solomon tells us that we know the place—her corner, her street, her house. 

Solomon tells us that we know her goal—she came out to meet him with crafty intent. 

Solomon tells us that we know her strategy—speaking lies with a brazen face, speaking words that are seductive, persuasive, smooth, and with an outfit to match the vocabulary. 

Solomon tells us we know the outcome—her victim is brought down into the chambers of death. 

The Bible never counsels us to fight sexual sin, but it says we should flee sexual sin. Stronger people than me have been sucked into the quicksand of sexual temptation. 

It sounds innocent enough (“it’s just a little flirting”). It sounds harmless enough (“there’s no harm in looking”). It sounds tame enough (“who will ever know?”). But her slain are a mighty throng! 

Solomon also tells us the way to avoid sexual sin—keep God’s words close by, store up His commands in your heart, keep wise and God-fearing friends around you, and stay away from her corner, her street, her house. 

This is not a trivial thing. I’m no match for the silky seduction of sexual temptation! Flee! Run away! Don’t even get close to it! Jesus said that drastic steps may be needed—get rid of your computer, stop watching TV alone, get a new job. 

Don’t fight it—flee it! Your best strategy is to stay as far, far away as possible. Let me say it again: You are no match for the crushing power of sexual temptation, so FLEE! 

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