Pastor Sherry’s message for March 6, 2022
Scriptures: Deut 26:1-11; Ps 91:1-16; Ro 10:8-13; Lk 4:1-13
Oscar Wilde, the Irish poet and playwright once wrote, “I can resist everything but temptation.” The story is told of a pastor who stayed in a moderately-priced Bed and Breakfast (B&B). He noticed at breakfast that the table was set with a lovely pewter salt and pepper set and with a matching pewter cream pitcher. He coveted the beautiful items before him and thought to himself how easily he could hide them away in his suitcase. He told himself the inn would hardly miss them. Then he thought some more and decided–if his theft became known–that it would…
1.) Definitely damage his Christian example to the inn-keeper,
2.) Scandalize his congregation,
3.) Form a terrible example to his children,
4.) And embarrass his wife and himself.
So he talked himself out of pilfering the items. Later, on a Sunday like today, when the Gospel centered on Jesus’ temptations, he told of his own temptation at the B&B. He wanted his congregation to know that we all–even including their pastor–could be tempted, but that the Christ-like response was to turn away from the seductions of the world, the flesh, and the devil.
A week later, a package arrived addressed to him. It contained that very set of dining accessories that he had been tempted to steal. Some kind soul in his congregation wanted him to have the pewter items he had loved at the inn, purchased them from the BNB, and sent them to him. The next Sunday he mentioned how grateful he was that someone had sent him the items from the BNB…and then went on to state that he had recently seen a new Lexus he loved (as recorded by Chuck Swindoll in The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Publishing, 1998, p.560).
Temptations are all around us, aren’t they? Are we like Oscar Wilde, unable to resist any? I hope not…and yet some temptations are very difficult to overcome.
Last year, on the First Sunday of Lent, I focused on how Jesus’ temptations were aimed by Satan at Jesus physically (turn stones into bread), psychologically (impress the crowd by jumping from a great height and being saved by angels), and spiritually (worship the devil, not God)—and that the evil one targets us in these ways also. This year, I want to focus on what Scripture tells us about how to overcome temptations:
1. Our Old Testament lesson, from Deuteronomy 26:1-11, focuses on our need to express our gratitude to God. In this passage, Moses was reminding the Israelites to offer to God always the first and finest of their harvest. This was a tangible means of expressing to the Lord their gratitude for all He had done for them:
a. He had fashioned them into a nation — Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were not Israelites (until God changed Jacob’s name to Israel). They were wandering Arameans (Syrians). 90 + Joseph, his wife and their 2 sons, or 94 of them sojourned in Egypt, where the Egyptians referred to them as He-bar-ew. 400 years later, they exited that country numbering 2 million Israelites.
b. He had led them out of slavery through Moses’ leadership at God’s direction.
c. He had tested and strengthened them during their wilderness wanderings.
d. And He had brought them, after 40 years, into (v.9)…a land flowing with milk and honey. As a kid, I took this literally and envisioned rapid rivers of milk and sluggish rivers of honey all over the Canaanite landscape. This phrase is metaphorical, however, meaning a peaceful, prosperous land. Cows don’t produce milk in chaotic conditions. Bees don’t settle in and manufacture honey when agitated. God was leading them to a new (to them), peaceful land where they could unpack their belongings and set down roots.
If they couldn’t think of anything to thank God for, Moses was suggesting they express gratitude to God for rescue and deliverance; for gracious provision (manna from heaven and water from rock); for His guidance and protection; for His love for them as individuals and as His chosen people.
Gratitude is a very fine place to hang our hats. To be grateful forces us to remember when God has met us and cared for us. Gratitude is also a good means of overcoming temptation. Temptation always focuses on what we do not have at the moment and creates an appetite for it. Gratitude reminds us to be content with what we have—you could say it helps settle cravings, whether physical, psychological, or spiritual.
2. Psalm 91 lays out for us beautifully how extensive is God’s protection of us. J. Vernon McGee talks about how many servicemen he knew in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam who would meditate upon and pray verses from this psalm daily—and then lived to tell their story.
Verse 3 asserts Surely He will save you from the fowler’s snare [this can be any kind of trap], and from the deadly pestilence [Covid 19, poisonous gases, and other biological warfare]. Verse 5 declares You will not fear the terror of night [bombing, shelling, saboteurs] nor the arrow that flies by day [bullets or missiles]. Verse 13 proclaims You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent [any fierce enemy known for its strength/lethality]. How reassuring, how comforting to quote to self or comrades the following:
Verse 4 He will cover you with His feathers and under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. This brings to mind how some bird mothers will cover their chicks as fire sweeps over them. The mother sacrifices her life to keep her babies alive.
Verse 7 promises ten thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. Why? The answer if found in verse 14 “Because He loves me,” says the Lord, ‘I will protect him, for he acknowledges My name.’ Here are 2 keys to God’s protection: Loving God, and having respect and reverence for, faith in His name. We can pray these same verses for the Ukrainians currently fighting to save their country. On a less drastic front, we can pray these same verses asking God to protect us from our many temptations.
3. In Romans 10:8-13, Paul is telling us that Jesus’ resurrection is at the very heart of the Gospel. He points out how easy it is to be saved: Verses 9-10 avow …if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. It’s not a matter of impressing God with your goodness or your ability to keep the rules. It’s not even a matter of regular church attendance or of receiving the sacraments—though both are very helpful to us. The thief on the Cross may never have attended Synagogue, nor was her probably baptized, yet Jesus told him his belief in Christ would place him in paradise that day. It’s a matter only of saying yes to Jesus: Believing He was resurrected from the dead, and inviting Him into your heart. And, if we aren’t already convinced, Paul reminds us (v.13) …for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. As I have said here before many times, God has made it easy. It is only skeptical people who want to make it more difficult than it is.
4. Jesus’ temptation by Satan is covered in 3 of the 4 Gospels– Matthew, Mark, and Luke—who were all concerned with demonstrating Jesus’ humanity. Each gospel assures us that Jesus was tempted as we are. We are only told of 3 major temptations, but we can be confident that our Lord was constantly bombarded by the evil one for 40 days–and did not succumb.
He is our model for overcoming temptation. First, He was empowered by the Holy Spirit. Remember, He was filled with the Holy Spirit at His baptism just prior to His 40 days in the desert. We too are empowered by the Spirit. We can’t often overcome temptation just by our own will-power. When I worked as a psychologist at a residential treatment center for alcohol and drug addiction, I often told the clients that if will power were sufficient to free them, they would already be free. For many people, will-power is not enough. We need the power of God to break free. The right thing to do is often the difficult thing to do…we need God’s help to do the right thing. Who did the pastor in my opening story think reminded him of the consequences of his proposed theft? That wasn’t just his own thinking. That was the Holy Spirit bringing to his mind all of the negative consequences of his proposed theft.
Second, Jesus was committed to following the Father’s will. This is a tough one for many of us. To discover God’s will for us, we need to read the Bible often to learn God’s general will for us; and then pray and listen to learn God’s will for us in a specific situation. The Rev. Mike Flynn, a famous American faith healer, says he envisions Jesus on His heavenly throne, looks to His face, asks if he should take a certain action, and looks to see if Jesus nods “yes” or shakes His head, “no.” Then he does what he believes the Lord has told him.
Third, Jesus quoted Scripture to Satan! Jesus countered every test with a verse from Scripture. Satan can cause us—like Eve in the garden when he asked, “Did God really say…?”—to mistrust God if we do not know His Word well. The Bible teaches us to know God’s character, and to recognize His Word, so that if someone tells us something is OK to do, we can extrapolate correctly what God would want us to do or to avoid. A lot of contemporary fictional works (novels, TV shows, and movies) promote sex outside of marriage as normative and right—just as they excuse abortion and encourage curses that abuse God’s name. These are sins. But we know that while God loves the sinner, He still is the final word on what constitutes sin, and He wants us to avoid these actions/behaviors/attitudes.
I remember when I first moved to assist at a church in New Orleans in 2003. The church clerical staff was reading Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code, and thought it was true. I was appalled! Brown was raised a Christian, but totally misrepresents the truth of Christ in his novel. Skillfully weaving in fact with fiction, the author claims in his novel that the Catholic Church has for centuries tried to cover up the “fact” that Jesus bore a child with Mary Magdalene. Lord have mercy! Jesus Christ was sinless! He would never had had sex with a disciple only to abandon her and the child—afterall, he made provisions for His widowed mother from the Cross. My boss and I spent time with the staff to point out to them the errors and heresy in the novel. It became clear to me then that it is difficult to discern truth from error if you don’t know Scripture.
So how might we overcome temptation? We can…
1. Express our gratitude to God for all He has done for us.
This involves being mindful of and thankful for our many blessings. Each day recently, I awake, turn on the news, and praise God that the Ukrainians have held out against a massive aggressor for another day. Pray that these brave Ukrainians might have water, heat, food, electricity, medicine, and safety—all things we take for granted.
2. Pray for the Ukrainians to be protected and pray that God would continue to protect us from the assaults of our enemies, both human and demonic.
3. Rest in the knowledge that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ Jesus.
We can also look to Jesus’ example: He was empowered by the Holy Spirit. He was obedient to God’s will. And He responded to Satan’s temptations by quoting Scripture. As we work on our spiritual inventory this Lent, let’s put into practice the strategies our God has given us to overcome temptation. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory [over temptations] through our Lord Jesus Christ!
©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams