Sep 15, 2022
THEME: Buckle up the belt of truth by FOCUSING YOUR GAZE ON CHRIST.
OK, in my last episode I told you about my nightmare. There was a visitor on my porch that night. That visitor was a picture of the demon who had gained a foothold in my life. He had been tempting me for years and knew just how to do it. He got on the exercise bicycle on my front porch— which, as I told you, did not exist— rather it was a symbol. I believe that the Lord helped me figure out the meaning of that symbol.
The night-time visitor got on the bike and kind of lazily gave a few turns of the wheel. But he was watching me. This time the wheel didn’t do the trick. Normally if he said the tempting two words and generated that flickering light by turning the wheel, I would go back into my past to re-live one of several temptations. Now I will say the awful truth: His temptation was sexual fantasy. If I went with him on the journey into my past, I would fantasize about taking advantage of situations where in the past I had wisely avoided completely falling into sin. I would, in other words, take advantage of the situation and plunge into sin. Oddly, I never seemed to fantasize about all the times when I had actually acted sinfully with some woman, but rather it was all the times where I had actually escaped from a very sinful situation. Normally, if I would let the demon take me back into the past, he would pedal the bike longer and harder.
But this time when I didn’t go with him, he got off the bike and came up to the window. He shone his flashlight in. That’s when, with great effort, I was able to force my body to move, grabbing my pillow and covering up my face. The demon was shining his light in to look for some other weakness where he could find an additional foothold.
I was not safe. He would succeed. The strategy of Satan was all too clear. The constant lure of sexual fantasy would slowly weaken me. Then Satan would arrange a perfect opportunity for me to fall into sin. He would provide the perfect time to live out my fantasy. Then the world would hear of another missionary who committed a shameful moral failure. He would make certain that my fall didn’t go unnoticed. For one thing, I knew that I myself would not have the heart to conceal such a sin forever. I would confess the devastating truth to my wife, my family, plus our mission’s leadership, and we would leave the mission field in disgrace.
I could see a pattern: Satan had already tried that trick on me. But I escaped. Those experiences joined older ones for me to fantasize about. But one day the temptation of a perfect opportunity would be too great to escape. I was not getting wiser and stronger, but weaker.
To go back to the last lesson, when I was with Jim, rebuking and forbidding that demon’s influence on me, I called that tempter, “Demon of sexual fantasy.” I verbally forbid the demon to bother me. This included naming the women, one-by-one, who had become the objects of my lust. I broke any bond or hook that Satan had in me based on my experience with them.
At the risk of sounding really dumb, I admit that it took me way too long before it dawned on me that my worst sinful desires have to do with revisiting my past. There must be people who are more tempted by imagining sins in the future, but not me. It just so happened that when God showed me the backward-looking nature of my problem, my translation team was working with me to translate Philippians and we were in the 3rd chapter. Philippians 3:13b-14 GW says, “I don’t look back, I lengthen my stride and I run straight toward the goal to win the prize…” Other translations are just as helpful— such as NLT: “Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead.”
Before the realization above dawned on me, if I managed to realize that I was entering into sinful territories of my mind, I would despair, “How can I stop thinking about these things?!” Each time I told myself to stop thinking of some past event, the stronger the desire would be to follow those thoughts again. And it was at night when I was the weakest and couldn’t resist. But now I am no longer powerless. I have found the way to banish those evil thoughts! The answer is in the verses just quoted. It is to ask the question, “What are the most beautiful things I might be able to do to please the Lord in the near future?” I find that if I consciously direct my mind to the future where— praise the Lord— I have goals and aspirations I am enthusiastic about, then those tempting thoughts vanish. And not surprisingly, it helps even more if I pray, “Lord, help me to forget that terrible and worthless memory and lean forward and gaze at what is ahead.”
Some of my listeners will probably be thinking, “Well Phil should have realized he could just think of something else.” There’s more to it than that. As long as there was that demon tempter maintaining his stronghold over me, just trying to turn my thoughts to something else never worked. When I was finally free from him, suddenly things that other Christians recommended worked for me too.
Philippians 3:10-14 NLT 10 I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, 11 so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!
Philippians 3:12-14 GW It’s not that I’ve already reached the goal or have already completed the course. But I run to win that which Jesus Christ has already won for me. Brothers and sisters, I can’t consider myself a winner yet. This is what I do: I don’t look back, I lengthen my stride, and I run straight toward the goal to win the prize that God’s heavenly call offers in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 3:12-14 NLT I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.
It is not just the future we are to gaze at! Hebrews 12:1-2 tells us to “fix our eyes” on Jesus. While in that passage, in addition to gazing at Jesus, it is no small encouragement to realize that we have an awesome crowd of witnesses cheering us on and waiting for us at the finish line. If we focus on that, we are using the same strategy for victory that Jesus used when He was suffering on earth.
Hebrews 12:1-2 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. 2 We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.[a] Because of the joy[b] awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.
We’re not just vaguely looking in Jesus’ direction. In our passages in 2 Corinthians we are encouraged to gaze right into his face. This is beyond my ability to imagine! But we are helped in this life-transforming vision by the Buckling Belt Lesson 2 (being resurrected and seated now with Christ in heaven) and Lesson 3 (being aided by the Holy Spirit).
My favorite thought in this is: This is what I do: I don’t look back, I lengthen my stride, and I run straight toward the goal.
A few years ago when a board member was helping me with organizational planning, because he is so talented in helping people plan, I asked him to help me with my personal planning. I thought, “I only have a few years left in my life, and I want to end well.” We went through a process where I figured out three things:
What I wanted to achieve
Activities that I thought would bring about the achievements
Why I wanted to do those things
He told me that the #3 Why list (which expresses my motivation) would be the engine that would keep me going.
The reason I mention this is that it seems to me that it will help you to overcome Satan's temptations if you have goals and motivations that you are excited about. For Harry Potter fans, this is your Patronas charm to expel your Dementor. It makes sense to me to take the time to thoroughly understand and powerfully express your core motivations.
I have heard many people complain that they cannot get rid of certain evil thoughts. I have just given you the answer and will say it one more time: “This is what I do: I don’t look back, I lengthen my stride, and I run straight toward the goal to win the prize that God’s heavenly call offers in Christ Jesus.”
If turning your thoughts to the things you know Jesus wants you to meditate and the goals you want to achieve doesn’t work, then please go back and check out Lesson 4 of the Buckling the Belt series.
Pray like this: Lord help me to lengthen my stride and strain forward— forgetting what lies behind. Help me to keep my eyes fixed on the glorious face of Jesus.
So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.
For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.
So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.