Common Sense for Extrodinary Times: Tempted


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October 15, 2018

James 1:12-18 & Mark 1:9-13

We have all experienced being tempted because it is part of life and happens to us every day. We can be attracted to people, things, behaviors that may not be right for us, that can harm us. When tempted, it is easier to follow our usual response and not question the results. We usually don’t stop to think about the consequences but choose what gives us comfort at the moment.

The book of James recognizes that we struggle with being tempted. In the 4th chapter, there is the description that we have cravings that battle within us. We long for what we don’t have, and it disrupts our lives.

In our Scripture today from James 1:12-18, there is the important clarification that God does not tempt anyone. God does not set traps to trick us and see if we will mess up. Instead, temptation comes from our own desires, our own wants, our own “gotta have it or else.” Our days are filled with decisions, and we can feel caught between what we know we should do and what we would really rather do. To be who God wants us to be and to live an abundant life is

shaped by the choices that we make….all the yes’s and no’s.

Our sermon series has emphasized the practical wisdom of the book of James. I hope that today’s message will be practical and helpful for all of us in dealing with our temptations. We want to teach our children ways to set boundaries, to make good choices, to be aware of their needs. We earnestly desire that self-control will be a fruit of the Spirit in our lives.

First guideline: Ask God to give you an awareness of yourself, an understanding of your behavior and what may be drawing you away from God’s will. Hopefully, those who love us will help us see ourselves as we are.

A young woman had the habit of checking her phone constantly at work, at meals, when she was with her boyfriend, at late hours when she needed to be resting. This was affecting her work, her health, and her relationships with others. She said that to be on her phone was necessary to keep up with life and she would be too stressed if she didn’t. However, when she seriously evaluated her use of the phone, her phone time did not give her peace, but actually stressed her out more. Her desire to be on the phone was overwhelming. The lighted screen was always available and enticing. She was beginning to see that the amount of time on her phone was not the best for her, and she wanted to change.

An important self-evaluation: What are my true needs that God will help meet? What gives life to me and what doesn’t?

There are a variety of things that we can choose to help us cope with life: electronics, overworking, shopping, drugs, money, food, alcohol, the Internet, gambling, relationships, etc.

With all these options, we pray that God will help us see what will lead us to peace and what doesn’t.

Another guideline: be aware of your limits. There are times when we seem to have a strong will power and other times when we give in so easily to whatever attracts us. Our willpower can be affected by the stresses in our lives. Our brains can become fatigued. When you have had a full day of making decisions, of being under many demands, and maybe skipping lunch, when you get home, you are more likely to be impatient/angry, to snack too much, to watch too much tv, to get too little sleep, in general, to make unwise choices.

A classic case of this is the Biblical story of Esau and his brother Jacob. Esau had been out hunting all day and came in tired and famished for food. Jacob had been preparing a delicious lentil stew. When Esau asked for some, Jacob was willing to ease his hunger. But there was a price: Esau had to forfeit his inheritance to his brother. In this situation, Esau had little self-control. To get the stew, he would agree to most anything.

There is a common sense warning from 12 Step groups: When you are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired, be aware of how vulnerable you may be to things that are tempting. Don’t be overconfident of what you think that you can handle. There may be situations and people that you should avoid. Likewise, there are places and people that you should turn to for support and guidance.

There was a woman who prayed “Lord, if you really want me to get a dozen donuts, then there will be a parking space for me in front of the store.” And she said: “Sure enough, the Lord provided, after going around the block 8 times, a parking space opened up.”

We are surrounded by ads, commercials in the media that speak right to our weaknesses and get our eyes off of our intended goals.

The Lord can give us strength by helping us to be prepared. Before we are faced with a temptation, we need a strategy for responding. If you are anxious, bored, feeling down, what will you do? What is your plan B if Plan A doesn’t work so well?

When you are in the midst of saying “maybe” “yes” or “no”, ask yourself:

“If this action is not leading to what I hope for in my life, then why say yes?”

In the 1960s, Dr. Mischel at Stanford University did a test with pre-schoolers to see their reactions to being tempted. A favorite treat was put in front of them. The teacher was to leave the room, and the child was told that she could choose to eat the one marshmallow in front of her whenever she wished. However, if she waited for 15 minutes until the teacher came back into the room, she would get two marshmallows.

Some children ate the one marshmallow as soon as they were alone. Others used all kinds of self-control actions. They closed their eyes, they pushed the treat away, they encouraged themselves by talking or singing. They waited for the bigger reward. That is a perspective of strength also in our Christian walk-to have the patience for all that God will provide. For those little children who were successful, their focus was on what would be if they waited.

Responses to temptation varied among the children, as it does among us. I admire folks who seem to be so disciplined and have no problem in saying no. I would guess that all of us have areas in our lives where we struggle and make choices that are harmful for us and the people around us. What tempts me may not be a problem for you, and yet we can empathize with one another and encourage one another in our battles.

When Dr. Mischal was working with the children and testing their endurance, he discovered that a big factor in being able to wait was that the child had to have confidence and trust in the teacher. They trusted that the teacher was telling the truth and would really give them the promised marshmallows.

Trust is important for us also: that God is the giver of good gifts and will provide what we need. Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth and said: “God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength, but he will provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it.”

We look to God to help us, to guide us out of harmful situations, to give us a vision of a better future. He rescues by providing family and friends to support us, by understanding our prayers, by showing us new ways to know his joy and peace.

Self-control is a partnership between us and God. We grow in strength as we choose wisely. We grow in humility when we fail. Through it all, God continues to be faithful.

I have found comfort in this description of Jesus in the book of Hebrews which says: “Jesus understands every weakness of ours, because he was tempted in every way that we are”. Jesus knows what it is like to be to be presented with options that seem on the surface to be right, but are wrong. In His choices, Jesus remained faithful to his mission, always trusting in God’s love above any other way.

Jesus stands with us; we are not alone in facing our formidable desires.

Good news is that change can happen, that new habits can replace the old tired ones. I believe that there can be victories! When you thought that you couldn’t say “no” one more time, but you did. When you felt pressured to go along with the crowd, but you made a better choice. When you were ready to give up, through God’s grace you were able to keep going. Small victories every day that gives our lives more joy. Small victories today that lead to victories tomorrow.

The poet in the book of Lamentations wrote these words which I feel as if they could come from our hearts:

“I remember my wanderings away,

I remember them well, and my soul is downcast.

Yet I also know this and I have hope.

Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not destroyed.

God’s compassion never fails.”

Take heart, the Lord’s strength will bring us through.