“Temptation Produces ‘Live’ Spelled Backward" (Lent 1B, February 21, 2021)
Do you know that old gospel song: “Yield Not to Temptation”? That’s our subject- temptation. While I was preparing for today’s sermon, I came upon a list of truths about life that we can learn from small children (James W. Moore):
1) No matter how hard you try you cannot baptize a cat.
2) When your mom is mad at your dad, don’t let her brush your hair.
3) Never ask your 3-year-old brother to hold a tomato… or an egg.
4) You can’t trust dogs to watch your food for you.
5) Don’t sneeze when somebody is cutting your hair.
Actually, we’re not focusing on cute truths about life, we’re thinking about truths concerning temptation, because Lent is the season in which we practice- in the words of the old hymn- “Yield Not to Temptation.” You’ll notice, I’m re-using two stories, because they explain the truths of temptation better than I can any other way.
1) WE ARE DRAWN TOWARD ANYTHING WE’RE TOLD WE CAN’T DO. We’re like moths drawn toward a flame. If we can’t do it/ have it- we want it.
2) THE DEVIL CANNOT FORCE US. ALL HE CAN DO IS SIMPLY TRY TO CONVINCE US. When we’re under huge assault, it’s so easy to forget that Jesus has overcome, so the power to overcome is in our hands. The devil cannot force us. All he can do is simply try to convince us. The trouble is- we get convinced all too easily.
3) OVERCOMING TEMPTATION IS NOT A MATTER OF EDUCATION. INSTEAD, IT’S A MATTER OF WILL.
4) BELIEVING THAT “I CAN GET AWAY WITH IT. NO ONE WILL CATCH ME. I CAN OUTSMART GOD AND EVERYBODY ELSE!”…not true!
Lent is for serious Christians like spring training is for serious baseball players. It’s our chance to learn to play the game- the game of life to the best of our ability. Let’s look at each of the truths about temptation.
FIRST- WE ARE DRAWN TOWARD ANYTHING WE’RE TOLD WE CAN’T DO. We’re like moths drawn toward a flame. All that’s necessary is for us to know there is something we should do, and we don’t want to do it (or something we shouldn’t do, and we want to do it). Sounds like Adam and Eve all over again. What did you give up for Lent? If it’s doughnuts, I know your car just happens to drive by the doughnut shop. If it’s smoking, I know you look at those cigarettes when you pay for your gas. It’s no accident that Jesus taught us to pray: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” better translated: “Save us from the time of trial, and deliver us from evil.” Jesus came to give us life, allow us to live our lives to the fullest. (“I am the way, the truth, and the LIFE.”) What is “live’ spelled backward? Sure, “E-V-I-L”- what the devil wants to trick us into choosing.
SECOND- THE DEVIL CANNOT FORCE US. ALL HE CAN DO IS SIMPLY TRY TO CONVINCE US. The trouble is- we get convinced all too easily. Remember the story I told you last year of the lady who just loved to shop? The problem was- both of their credit cards were maxed out, and she had promised her husband that she would not buy anything that was not absolutely necessary. Well, Lent came soon after she made the promise, and her Lenten commitment was that she would exercise every day. Since it was pouring rain, she couldn’t walk outside; so she decided to go to the mall to walk and get her exercise. “Don’t worry, dear,” she told her husband before leaving. “I won’t buy anything- I promise you.” Her walk in the mall started out just fine, but then, as she strode past one of her favorite stores, she saw this beautiful dress in the window. You know what she did- stopped walking to look at it. She noticed that it was in her favorite color and would match the shoes she purchased the week before. “It won’t hurt if I just go in the store to look. They probably won’t have my size anyway.” When she checked out the rack, there was that gorgeous dress; and it was in her perfect color and correct size. “Wow!” she thought. “It won’t hurt to just try it on. Trying it on is not the same thing as buying it.” You know what she did- took it into the dressing room to try it on. After it was on, she looked at her image in the mirror, and she really did look good. All of a sudden, she came to her senses and remembered her promise to her husband. “Get thee behind me, Satan!” she ordered. “I’m not buying this dress!” From behind her came a soft voice that said- “Gee, that’s a shame. It looks really good back here too!”
THIRD- OVERCOMING TEMPTATION IS NOT SIMPLY A MATTER OF EDUCATION. ALTHOUGH WE DO NEED OUR FACTS, THE REAL PROBLEM IS ONE OF THE WILL- CHOOSING LONG-TERM WELL-BEING OVER SHORT-TERM HAPPINESS. Do you recall the Old Testament story of the temptation and sin of Adam and Eve? It’s a good example of this fact about temptation. Their problem was not education. They knew the facts- don’t eat the fruit. If they did, they would die. They understood what God wanted them to do. Their problem was not education- it was choice. They WANTED to eat the fruit. It looked good, so they did what they wanted and went against God’s teaching.
FOURTH- BELIEVING THAT “I CAN GET AWAY WITH IT. NO ONE WILL CATCH ME. I CAN OUTSMART GOD AND EVERYBODY ELSE!” …not true! The Bible (Numbers 32:23) reminds us: “Be sure your sin will find you out.” Do you remember the old story of the two lovers? It was Valentine’s Day, and the young couple was in love. The problem was- they were college students, and they had an important test scheduled for that morning. They decided to forget about the class just this once, make a good excuse, and hope the instructor would let them make up the test; so they took a long drive. When they went to class the next day, they told the instructor that they had a flat tire, so they couldn’t get to class. She replied with sympathy and said they could take the test right then. As soon as they were ready to write, she said, “Now the first question: which tire was flat?” (i.e. short term happiness over long term well-being.) The Rev. Dr. Anthony Evans reminds us: “Used improperly, credit cards operate a lot like sin: enjoy now, pay later.”
So- truths about temptation:
1) From a moth drawn to a flame: WE ARE DRAWN TOWARD ANYTHING WE’RE TOLD WE CAN’T DO.
2) From the wife trying to overcome the temptation to buy the dress: THE DEVIL CAN’T FORCE US. ALL HE CAN DO IS TRY TO CONVINCE US.”
3) From Adam and Eve and the first sin: THE OVERCOMING TEMPTATION IS NOT SIMPLY A MATTER OF EDUCATION. ALTHOUGH WE DO NEED OUR FACTS, THE REAL PROBLEM IS ONE OF THE WILL- CHOOSING LONG-TERM WELL-BEING OVER SHORT-TERM HAPPINESS.
4) From the lovers trying to out-smart their teacher: BE SURE YOUR SIN WILL FIND YOU OUT.
May God bless us as we keep a holy Lent full of life-giving spiritual growth.