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Purpose of Object Lesson:
To give hope and encouragement to believers as they face temptations and challenges.
This is one of my favorite lessons to teach, not only because it’s so visual and interactive, but also because of its message. And, its message is particularly effective with teens and young adults because it clearly demonstrates how they can deal with the temptations and challenges they face day in and day out. It’s a terrific lesson if you don’t use the visual effects, but it’s so much more meaningful if you use them. Getting Started: The first step of the lesson is to establish the major chronological milestones of life, such as:
There are benefits to listing the educational milestones in the small increments listed above rather than just listing “school.” Those will become clear as you progress through the lesson. Also, as you’ll note, the adult years are very broad and listed in a very traditional order, but your group can list them in whichever order they prefer.
I recommend preprinting these milestones on long, vertical paper (or poster board) strips in a bright color. Having them preprinted helps manage your time so that you don’t have to take the time to write out the responses during the study. If the room you’re in allows, consider hanging a light rope or heavy string clothesline style across the room (and don’t forget the clothespins). If that’s not possible, use masking tape to stick the paper strips onto the widest wall.
As the facilitator, you can proceed with this first section in a variety of ways. One option is to pre-hang the paper-strip milestones prior to the start of the Bible study. Be sure to spread out the milestones, leaving plenty of space between each. Another option is to hang only the words “birth” and “death” at the opposite ends of your designated timeline. Both of these methods establish visual intrigue and curiosity about the lesson. Or, you can wait until you begin the lesson to hang any of them.
If you use either of the latter two options above, begin the lesson by asking the students to assist you in establishing a typical person’s lifeline by naming the various life milestones. If you distribute the preprinted paper strips prior to the lesson or as students enter the room, ask them to come forward one by one to hang the milestone where they think it fits on the lifeline. Or, you can hang them as they call out their answers. Be prepared with some blank paper strips on which to write milestones they suggest in addition to those you preprinted.
After the milestones have been hung, ask your class participants for another set of words/phrases. Ask them to name activities in which teens and adults alike are tempted and tested. Ask them to also include societal pressures, challenges and life-changing events they might possibly have to face (or have already faced) during their lifetime. Possible responses are listed below. You might want to prepare another set of preprinted paper strips with many of these words/phrases written on them. Consider printing these on a different color from the color you used for the milestones.
Temptations, Trials, Challenges and Life Changing Events
As a participant volunteers a temptation or a life-changing event, ask him/her to hang the event (or direct you where to hang it) at the point on the lifeline in which that temptation, challenge or event will first become an issue for them. One of the sad evidences of this Bible study is that the temptations and trials start showing up earlier and earlier on the life line. Not long ago, issues such as alcohol, smoking, pre-marital sex and drugs would have been posted at some point during the high school years. Now those temptations are prevalent among middle schoolers, and in many instances, even among elementary school-aged children. Whether you hang the words/phrases at the point on the lifeline when they first become an issue, or when the temptations, etc. are at their peak, it’s critical that the participants understand that those issues, though posted in middle school, will most likely be temptations they will face throughout their lifetime. Once something is a temptation or challenge, it will continue to be a temptation and challenge in their lives, regardless of age.
It’s certainly not necessary to list every single item in the lists above. They are there to give you suggestions. As in the first section, I suggest you have as many of the words and phrases preprinted to save time and to show preparedness; and if your participants give responses for which you don’t have a preprinted sheet, be prepared with some blank strips on which to write their suggestions. If your participants fail to mention any temptations or challenges you deem crucial to the lesson, or specifically relevant to those in the group, you will want to be sure to hang those particular issues yourself before concluding this section.
At this point, the life timeline should be hanging in one color scheme, with the life temptations and challenges in a different color scheme interspersed in between. I hope you and your students find it as interesting to see this display of life’s potential challenges as I do. Though life may be chaotic at times, this process somehow gives order to it. We can expect some things to happen at certain times of our lives, while the unexpected can happen to us unawares. Yet, it is possible to be prepared even for the unexpected by how we prepare ourselves spiritually.
The next thing I do is gauge the average age of my audience as to when they trusted in Christ. Depending on the general age of your audience, you may want to ask for a show of hands of who trusted in Jesus Christ as Savior before a particular age, such as before 10 years old, or between, let’s say, 10 and 20, or between 20 and 30, etc. If you know your group well, and it’s a fairly small group, you could ask each member the specific age they became a believer, but be careful not to embarrass anyone who may not have the assuredness of their salvation. Remember, the average age doesn’t have to be derived at through exact or scientific means. It’s just a point for discussion. Once I determine an estimated average age, I hang a large red, precut cross on the timeline to represent that age. When I teach high schoolers, that average age is generally around 12 to 13, so I attach the cross between the middle school and high school markers. Obviously, the older the age group being taught, it’s likely the higher that average age.
I think one of the things we so easily overlook when studying the Bible is not grasping Jesus’ own life span. When reading through scripture, we only see glimpses into His life. We read about Him at His birth, then when He’s twelve in Jerusalem, and bam! The next thing we know he’s a 30-year old carpenter who is now beginning an earthly ministry. We don’t read about the boy playing tag with his brothers and sisters, or chasing a pet dog. We don’t see the teenager or young man who may have been attracted to a girl. We don’t see the young man who had to watch his close friends and siblings get married and start their families. We don’t know how He felt about that. Though 100% deity, He was also 100% male, with all the testosterone and hormonal drives as all the rest of the human male gender. We are told in Hebrews 4:15 that He “was in all points tempted like as we are.” He faced the same temptations that we face. I have no choice but to take that verse literally. That means He was tempted to cheat at the games He played as a child. As He went through puberty, He had the same sexual drives as the other young men. At times, He was probably tempted to lie to His parents. Though we find him popular as Messiah because those He healed followed him around, He may not have been popular as a child or teenager. Because He was a “goody goody,” He might have been shunned by his siblings or neighbors. He might have been bullied by neighbor boys, or not felt accepted by the “in” group. Maybe He would have preferred hanging out with his friends, instead of helping his dad in the carpentry shop. That situation may have tempted Him to “cop an attitude” about how life was so unfair. Hebrews 4:15 says he was tempted in all points as we are, so I have to believe that He really was, or else the Scripture is heresy.
The end of that verse indicates that though He was tempted in all these ways, He didn’t sin. That’s good news for us, because otherwise He wouldn’t have been worthy to die for our sins. That’s good for us, too, in the fact that since He overcame all the temptations we face today, and will face in our future, He has the wisdom, the power and the know how to face those temptations, trials and challenges head on and not give in. Philippians 3:10 speaks of knowing Christ, and the power of His resurrection. Even though this verse speaks primarily of suffering, it still tells me that I can know, I can experience, I can have knowledge, and I can have access to all the power and glory involved in Jesus’ raising up from the dead. Hallelujah!!!! All the atom bombs and nuclear warheads of the world don’t pack that much power. Jesus Christ has all the tools in which to overcome temptation and the calmness to pass through trials, and He has made that available to me and to you. Does that excite you? Do I hear an AMEN?!!
The significance of emphasizing this point is this: A close look at the timeline reveals that a great many of the temptations, trials and challenges we will face during our lifetime will happen AFTER we become saved. This is particularly true for those groups who are younger in age, and for those who trusted in Christ early in life. I especially like to point out to teenagers who are believers that they have access to all of Jesus’ know how and power for just about every major life event that will happen to them during their lifetime. Not only can they visually grasp that their salvation holds tremendous advantages to them over those who don’t know Jesus as Savior, but they would be a fool not to tap into those advantages.
You’ll recall earlier in the lesson that I suggested stressing that once something is a temptation or challenge, it will always be a temptation and prevalent in their lives, regardless of age. While those who trust in Christ early in life can draw on His power to flee those temptations and hopefully never get trapped in their snare in the first place, those who trust in Christ later in life can now draw on His power to overcome any hold those sins have over them. First Corinthians 10:13 is a great companion verse to Hebrews 4:15. It says, “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not suffer (permit) you to be tempted above that ye are able, but will, with the temptation, also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” Because Jesus personally overcame every possible temptation Satan can throw at a person, He knows what it will take for us to overcome them. His Word (sword) is a primary source of power. The indwelling Holy Spirit is another. His Word promises that nothing will ever be thrown at us for which He has not already provided the way of escape “because greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4). Do I hear another AMEN?!!
After driving home this point, I continue on to Hebrews 4:16 that says that we can go “boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” I put on my “actor’s” hat at this point to illustrate and dramatize how that scripture tells us to approach the Lord. It doesn’t say we’re to speak in a small, humble voice. It doesn’t say we’re to be meek or mousy. He doesn’t say whisper a prayer. Hebrews 4:16 states that we can go BOLDLY to the throne of grace. I’m not timid, so I get verbally loud at this point to emphasize how we’re to approach the Lord. The thesaurus feature on my computer gives me the following words to describe boldly:
When I need the Lord’s help in dealing with temptations and trials, I am told by Scripture that I can be BOLD in my request for help. I know that in real life, if I ever find myself drowning, or in a burning building, or in an overturned car, I won’t whisper out my cries for help. I will put out every ounce of energy within me to shout “HELP” to attract the attention of passers by. Hebrews 4:16 gives us permission to do just that for the Lord’s help. Ephesians 3:12 emphasizes the confidence we can have in crying out to the Lord. It says, “In whom (speaking of Christ Jesus, our Lord, vs. 11) we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him.” In addition to boldness, we have access to Christ. He is available. This access and boldness have been provided to us by the blood of Jesus (Hebrews 10:19). Jesus paid the price for the privilege of our seeking His help. Therefore, we should not take this lightly.
Unfortunately, we don’t always see our spiritual battles and challenges as life threatening as a burning building, so we’re not as apt to cry out for the Lord’s help in the midst of those crises. Instead, we face them spiritually unprepared and in our own power. More often than not, those results are disastrous. To illustrate this, look at the battle the Israelites faced in front of the walls of Jericho. While the assignment of leveling the walls, let alone getting inside Jericho, seemed insurmountable, the Lord’s intention was for His power, not the Israelites’ power, to accomplish the feat. In submission to the Lord’s instructions, we see in Joshua 6:20-21 that the priests blew trumpets and the Israelites shouted with a great shout, causing the great walls of Jericho to fall down flat. Note that they didn’t play a harp, or hum a soft melody. God told them to BLOW their horns. He told them to SHOUT with their voices. In other words, He told them to be BOLD and make a lot of noise. The Israelites’ obedience resulted in the walls of Jericho being utterly destroyed. While you may see this as a real stretch of the principle we find in Hebrews 4:16, is it really? The Israelites received a directive from the Lord to be bold and to make a lot of noise, and He responded by fulfilling a promise. In Hebrews 4:16, we’re also given a directive from the Lord, and He says to come BOLDLY unto the throne of grace. He has promised that when we do that, He will respond with help in our time of need.
In the middle of Joshua 6, God gave the Israelites another directive. He told them specifically what goods they could and could not bring out of Jericho (vss. 17-19, 24). Anything not on God’s “okay” list of things to bring out was referred to as the “accursed thing.” In Joshua 7: 1 we learn that Achan didn’t adhere to God’s Word. He took the accursed thing while plundering Jericho. After the amazing victory Israel enjoyed over Jericho, Joshua got a little cocky; and without consulting the Lord, he sent out troops to attack Ai. The number of soldiers he sent out, in his mind, was more than enough to guarantee Israel victory over Ai. What happened next was disastrous for Israel. Had Joshua consulted with God, and asked for His help over Ai, the Lord would have had an opportunity to inform Joshua about Achan’s sin, and the matter would have been resolved prior to going into battle. Instead, Joshua decided to go into battle based on Israel’s power, not the Lord’s. The result? The troops suffered a humiliating defeat. Joshua then went to the Lord, and questioned Him with a poor attitude, “how could you let this happen to us?”
How often have I said those words to the Lord myself! I have blamed God for my troubles and problems, and questioned Him as to His whereabouts when my life seemed to be upside down and miserable. Like with Joshua, the Lord had to tell me that my troubles and problems had nothing to do with Him, but they were due to my disobedience and my failure to adhere to His Word. I had failed to come to Him for help in times of need, during times of temptation, which resulted in my failing miserably in my own power.
Unfortunately, like Joshua, many of us cry out for God’s help after we’ve gotten ourselves in a mess. We ignore His Word, His directives, and do things our own way. When we’re up to our necks in trouble and about to drown in our own self-centeredness, that’s when we think about coming boldly to His throne of grace. We hit a brick wall, like the walls of Jericho, and we finally realize there is no other way out than to call on the Lord. We send up an S.O.S. call for help after we’re in trouble. We minimize the price of His blood that gives us this privilege, and we make empty promises that if He’ll just get us out of this mess, we’ll serve Him better. Fortunately for us, as in the case of the Israelites, the Lord is faithful and will forgive. He can clean up our lives, but not without consequences. Even as believers, we can’t live any way we want without paying a penalty for our actions. When we live according to our standards, instead of God’s, the results are always less than satisfactory.
That’s why God included verses such as Hebrews 4:15 & 16 and Ephesians 3:12 in the Scriptures. He wanted us to know that He understands the temptations and struggles we will encounter, and He has offered us His help. If Jesus’ coming to the earth had no other value than to die on the cross, He could easily have come to the earth as the equivalent of a 30-year-old man to begin His ministry. He could have descended from the clouds in the sight of thousands, leaving no doubt as to His deity and power. Instead of spending 33 years in this world, He could have successfully accomplished the teaching of the disciples and work of the cross in 3 years. But it was significant that He understand all of life’s struggles, the temptations and pressures. He needed to be that toddler who felt the physical hurt of a scraped knee. He needed to be that ten-year-old boy who was ridiculed and bullied on the playground. He needed to mourn the loss of an earthly father. He needed to say “no” to sexual temptation. He needed friends to tempt Him to rebel against authority. Because of His life experiences, He can make the claim that He understands anything and everything we will ever encounter in our lifetime. His victories in being an overcomer can also be our victories.
After the Israelites suffered the consequences of their sin, the Lord not only forgave them and restored them back into His fellowship, but He gave them victory over Ai. While this type of victory is sweet, how much sweeter the victories are when we do things the way God wants them to be done in the first place. How much sweeter when we obey His Word. How much sweeter when we approach Him for help, instead of doing things our way. Ultimately, it’s our choice.
We can choose to take advantage of Jesus’ experiences, His understanding, His wisdom and His power as soon as we face the crossroads of decision-making. We can choose to depend on Him during spiritual struggles and temptations. Or, we can choose to depend on ourselves and on our own power. Looking at the two choices, there really is no comparison. It should be a no-brainer. Unfortunately, many of us ignore God’s Word, His help and His throne of grace; instead, we give into the tug of our lusts, wants and desires.
First Peter 5:8 & 9 (see Commentary) stresses God’s desire for us to be vigilant and resist steadfast when encountering the devil. A critical aspect of accomplishing that is to put on the armor of God each and every day to protect and arm ourselves from the devil’s wiles. That’s one key method of achieving victory over many of the temptations and challenges we face on a daily basis. There are other temptations we may encounter for which God gives a different directive. For those He says, “FLEE!” In 1 Corinthians 10:14, we’re told to flee from idolatry. In 1 Timothy 6, beginning in verse 6, a number of temptations are listed, concluding with the directive in verse 11, “...flee these things, and follow after righteousness...” In 2 Timothy 2:22 we are told to “Flee youthful lusts, but follow righteousness...” When encountering any of these temptations, God didn’t say sit and think about them. He didn’t say hang around. He didn’t say leisurely stroll away from them. He said, “FLEE!” I interpret that to mean, “Turn your back on the temptation and get away from it as fast as you can run.” It means, “Recognize the temptation as spiritually deadly and run for your life!” God knows that those temptations are especially alluring, and He wants you to get away from their attraction as fast and as far as possible.
As you teach this lesson, the time restraints may prevent you from using the illustrations in Joshua, and that’s okay. But if you have time, they vividly demonstrate the opposite results of obeying and disobeying the Lord. Hopefully you’ll know the participants in your group well enough to know which point(s) in this lesson will have the most affect on them, and therefore, which ones to emphasize.
One final point you can make with the timeline is to ask the group’s participants to now remove all the temptations and any other challenges that could be eliminated if they just obeyed God’s Word and His directives of to how He wants them to live. The number of items they remove can drastically alter the chart, making a dramatic visual to demonstrate the value of heeding God’s Word, and how so many of life’s challenges can be eliminated if they choose to please the Lord. If they are conservative in the items they remove, next you can ask them to detach any additional challenges over which they can have victory if they choose to go boldly to God’s throne grace in a time of need. These two questions will not eliminate everything they will encounter in their lives, because trials such as the death of a family member, job loss, sickness, or purchasing a home are not usually based on a lack of obedience. But they are trials and challenges for which God’s mercy and grace, or Godly decision-making, can certainly help them endure them, and give God glory through them. As Christ told Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for thee; for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”
While the Lord never promised that a believer’s life would be a bed of roses, His Word, His directives and His grace are sufficient to see us through anything and everything we will ever encounter in this lifetime. The choice of how we respond to what we have learned is summed up best in Joshua 24:15:
“...Choose you this day whom ye will serve...”