Resisting Temptation

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

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Armored Up!

Pastor Sherry’s message for August 22/2021, 

Scriptures: Ephesians 6:10-20; John 6:56-69

In his 2013 book titled Did the Devil Make me Do It?, Mike McKinley asks us to consider what would happen if the Devil told us the truth when he tempted us. He says it might sound something like this:

    Satan:  You should cheat on your spouse with that good looking gal/guy at the office/coffee shop/church, etc..

    Us:  I don’t think so.  It’s wrong and it would hurt my spouse.

    Satan:  Fair enough, you make a good point.  But look, I’ve run a cost-benefits analysis for you.  Here’s what I’ve come up with:

        Benefits:  

            1.) A few moments of physical pleasure;

            2.) A temporary boost to self-esteem.

        Costs:  

            1.) Disobedience to God;

            2.) Sin, so separation from God;

            3.) Ruin or possibly even end your marriage;

            4.) Humiliate your spouse;

            5.) Mess up your kids’ lives;

            6.) Public embarrassment and exposure;

            7.) Could cost you your job (especially in a church);

            8.) Might mess up the life of your partner in sin;

            9.) You might get a sexually transmitted disease;

            10.) There could be an unwanted pregnancy;

            11.) Wreck your Christian witness to others…

    Us:  Wow, hmmm, a ratio of 2:11…No thanks!

But the problem for us, unfortunately, is that Satan is never honest with us. Jesus tells us in John 8:44 [The devil]…was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. Later, in John 10:10, Jesus contrasts Himself, the Good Shepherd, with the devil, “the thief”, saying The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come that they [the sheep; us] may have life, and have it to the full.

    Both Jesus and Paul were very concerned that we believers would not be done in by the evil one.  In Ephesians 6:10-20, Paul reminds us that we who love Christ are always, daily, sometimes moment to moment, in a spiritual battle!  The devil doesn’t have to work hard with those who belong to him anyway.  Instead he works tirelessly to pull the Lord’s faithful away from Him.  Thus, when we are frustrated in life, we need to consider not just what we see with our eyes or understand with our minds.  We also need to remember we live in a spiritual realm, in which both angels and demons operate.

C.S. Lewis wrote, in The Screwtape Letters: There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors ….. So, one mistake is to deny the existence of Satan and his demons. We may think he is a myth, a superstition, a made up entity—like the “Boogey Man”– intended to scare us into doing right. This is a grave and a naive blunder! A second error is to see demons, the Devil’s minions, behind every bush, and to deny our own personal responsibility for our actions. When Satan fell from heaven he took 1/3 of the angels with him. These became the demons he now commands. We need to remember, then, that God is both more powerful than he is—after all, God cast him out of heaven– and that the legions of angels outnumber demons by at least two to one. Regardless, we can’t just excuse ourselves by saying, “the Devil made me do it.” We have to remember that the Devil tempts us to sin, but we only sin when come into agreement with him and succumb to the temptation.

    To me the best proof for the existence of the Devil is that fact that Jesus, Peter, Paul, James and the Church—up until the Age of the Enlightenment, about 250 years ago–all believed that Satan and his demons were real:

    1.) I have already quoted to you from the Gospel of John what Jesus had to say about Satan.

    2.) After having been reconciled to Christ, Peter wrote (1 Pet 5:8) Be self-controlled and alert.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, standing firm in the faith….

        3.) Paul Ephesians 4:27-27: In your anger, do not sin.  Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.

        4.) James, the brother of Christ Submit yourselves, then, to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Come near to God and He will come near to you.           

    So let’s look, verse by verse at what Paul is telling us in our New Testament passage today (Ephesians 6:10-20):

    Verse 10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.  Our strength, in any conflict, in any attack from the evil one, comes from God.  We do not have the power to fight Satan on our own.  But God does!  Jesus does!  We know that Jesus does because He continuously cast out demons during His earthly ministry, and because as Paul reminds us in  Philippians 2:10 the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow, in heaven and on the earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  Satan and all of his demons must submit to Christ’s authority.  This is why we daily tell Satan to cease and desist from any temptation by calling upon the name of Jesus.

    Verse 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  God has given us spiritual armor because we are in a spiritual battle.  He has not left us defenseless.  He has provided protection for us.  We are to appropriate the armor and STAND We don’t have to beat a retreat.  We don’t have to engage in combat in our own strength.  We just have to take on a stance of strength and wait upon the Lord.  So often in the Old Testament, we see how God won the battle.  Numerous accounts of Israeli forces during the 1967 “Six Days War” tell of how they were outnumbered, but became invisible to their Arab foes; how they caused superior numbers of Arab soldiers to surrender, even though the Israelis were out of ammunition; how large angels dressed as soldiers protected them, etc.  The battle belonged to the Lord.

    Now why are we to stand?  Verse 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of wickedness.  Our battle is not against flesh and blood people!  Or even events!   It’s against the demonic.  As in any army, there are organized ranks in the demonic realm:

    1.) Rulers (principalities; king/princes) They have oversight of nations.

2.) Authorities (generals, lieutenants) demons who operate through seduced individuals and plague humankind;

3.) Powers of this dark world Satan; the power behind darkness;

    4.) Spiritual forces of wickedness these are pagan gods; witchcraft; wiccan; and voo-doo.

    Despite this army of evil, God expects us to stand verse 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when [not if] the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground and after you have done everything, to stand.  We are meant to utilize the armor He gives us (I put it on daily, in the name of Jesus).  We are told to stand 4 times in this passage.   

    Next Paul names the components of our protective armor:

    Verses14-15 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  The Belt of truth is The Word of God (the Bible).  To be armored up, we need to be reading our Bibles.  The Breastplate of Righteousness guards our heart.  Jesus Christ is our righteousness.  In baptism and in confirmation, we have put on Christ, we have been clothed in His righteousness.  As Peter says in today’s Gospel reading, (John 6:68-69)…Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We believe and know that You are the Holy One of God.  It’s only in and through Jesus that our hearts are protected.  Our feet are shod with the readiness or preparation that comes from the Gospel of peace.  In other words, our feet are anchored when we stand upon the firm foundation, the Solid Rock, Jesus Christ, as revealed to us in Scripture.

    Verses 16-17 in addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  The Shield of Faith probably refers to the shields carried by Roman soldiers of the time.  They were about the size of a door and made of leather that was soaked, before battle, in water so as to douse any flaming arrows that flew at them.  Similarly our faith keeps all of us fully protected against the “fiery darts” which are all of Satan’s schemes to defeat us.  The Helmet of Salvation is meant to protect our mortal minds.  When we are under spiritual attack, we want to focus on our faith in Christ, not on what Satan whispers or mutters in our ears.   The Sword of the Spirit, again, refers to the Word of God written.  Scripture and prayer are our only offensive weapons!  In His temptations, Jesus modeled for us defeating Satan’s attacks by quoting God’s word.  We can do this too.

    Verse 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.  With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.  Again, prayer is our second offensive weapon in our spiritual battles.  It is truly the Christian’s nuclear option.  We are to pray for our families, our friends, our church, our state, our nation,

We do this each Sunday when we offer up our “Joys and Concerns” at the beginning of our worship service.  But we can also pray while driving our cars, taking a walk, cooking, washing dishes, weeding the garden, taking a shower.  This week, please be sure to pray for our soldiers and citizens stranded in Afghanistan, as well as those Afghani civilians who partnered with us over the past 20 years.  Pray for their safety and their rapid rescue.  Also, I urge you to pray for the protection of Afghani women and children under the control of the militant and often abusive Taliban.

    This side of heaven, we are in a spiritual battle.  This week, let’s take a look at our personal struggles.  Think about whether they are due to our own poor choices, or to some attack from the evil one.  Then, put on the full armor of God and stand firm, using your spiritual weapons, Scripture and prayer.  Amen!

©️2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams