Turn Around Time (A sermon on Overcoming Temptation) - Wellington First Assembly

Wellington First Assembly

326 W Botkin Lane, Wellington Kansas ........Family Faith Lessons - 9:30 AM........ Sunday Worship - 10:30 AM


Sunday, July 23, 2017

Turn Around Time (A sermon on Overcoming Temptation)

There are some events, particular occasions that are burned into your mind.  Experts suggest that heightened adrenaline which accompanies traumatic situations vividly lock your memory down.  While I may forget many things in my lifetime, I can pretty much tell you about every detail of some events.
I was a young 17-year-old, driving to the hospital with one of my football buddies to go see a fellow teammate who had been injured in a recent game.  The particular hospital he was in was downtown.  I didn’t drive downtown much.  Most of the area was block after block of 5 story red brick warehouses pushing 100 years old with.  The streets were lined with crumbling red brick and railroad spurs up to the loading sidings.
As I turned a corner and headed down the street I remarked out loud that it was interesting that a truck in the oncoming traffic was passing in my lane with no obvious way to make it back in time to his side of the road.  That’s when my passenger relayed to me an important piece of information that I had missed.  We were on a one-way street.  I’m not sure how I gunned that old 77’ Ford LTD station wagon into a narrow alleyway to the onslaught of a few air horn blasts, but we made it!  Turnaround Time!

If each of us took a moment to reflect on our driving history, I’m sure we could probably find one instance where you and I can relate.  And if we take a deeper look into a spiritual journey – I’m going to guess that we will also find a time where we were headed down the wrong path and had to turn it around.
In my case, I had missed the warning signs – the White arrow on the black rectangular sign proclaiming ONE WAY.  Thankfully, I discovered my arrow before any permanent damage was done to my father’s car.
In our spiritual journey, God also places many warning signs – which we too can miss.  Temptations may pull us down a wrong path.  Thankfully, there are those in the community of faith who can often reach over and gently suggest we turn it around before any permanent damage is down.
The apostle James is well aware of what temptation can do to people, families, even countries.  As the brother of Jesus, and not one of the original 12 disciples, it took him a while to reconcile that his sibling was also the creator of the Universe.  In his position as the leader of the Jerusalem church, he was quickly nicknamed James the Just for his unwavering support of the Jewish law – especially the practice of taking care of the poor and destitute.  James realized the greatest detriment to the young church were new Christians who fell into the temptations of favoritism, wealth, and upward mobile politics.  It is to these people, and ultimately us, that he addressed his letter containing his words of wisdom.
Please stand with me as you are able in an act of worship as we read from God’s Holy Word – James 4:7-10
7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
James gave these teachings as a sign, as a warning, as a word of correction to his church.  He recognized how easy it was for people to enter into the softer side of sin.  We aren’t talking the sins of Saul or David here.  There are no murders, no adulterous relationships, nothing that can get you locked up in the slammer overnight.  These temptations to sin appeal to the pleasant – they are the sins of pride and elitism.  The small sins that we are tempted towards every day of our life.  The sins that are like a drip, drip, drip... eating away at the humanity of our friends and neighbors while we blithely move on.
The wisdom that James shares is applicable to any temptation that presents it into our life.
One point we can draw out from this text is this.  Overcoming temptation requires Turning towards God more than turning from the Enemy. (7)
As we read verse 7, we see twin pillars of Submission and Resistance.  Both need to be in place to support righteousness, otherwise the whole roof caves in.  If one only resists the devil, pretty soon that’s all that is talked about.
Maybe you’ve seen someone in this situation.  They might be a good Christian friend – but their attitude is draining on your spirit.  It’s always, man – the devil’s after me.  Boy, I can barely make it.  Wow, the devil’ got his licks on me today.  What I common about all those phrases?  They spend more time praising the enemy than focusing on God.
Yes, it’s great that we recognize the enemy of our soul is coming to kill, steal and destroy, but if it always sounds like we are in a siege mentality somethings wrong!  Because Jesus made it clear that His church should not be under siege, but moving forward in the advance of the Kingdom, Confident in His Good work!
The first half of that verse is more important.  Submission.  Placing oneself under whole authority.  Becoming fully devoted to Christ.
It’s been 25 years since I was married. So about 28 years ago, my then girlfriend could about ask me for anything and I would do it.  If you’ve ever been head over heels in love – you know what I’m talking about.  When you are courting someone, trying to impress them – You’ll walk barefoot through a thistle patch to get their favorite toy. That changes a few years into marriage – It shouldn’t!  you should be just as devoted in the committed relationship as you were in the courtship relationship!
“Familiarity breeds contempt” – so goes the old phrase.  We get too comfortable in the routines of our life.  We don’t see through eyes of passion anymore.  Our eyes and hearts become numb.
The key, James writes, is that we would be focusing more on the one we love than the negative things of this life.  People who spend time in the word of God, time in prayer, time in fellowship with other believers, time in advancing the word of God through personal evangelism, an honest lifestyle, and righteous actions are too busy enjoying the heart of God—they don’t have time to get sucked into the negativity.
They key is turning towards what you know is good – the God of love and letting everything else fall into place.  If your whole time is spent focusing on trying to fix yourself – then guess what – You’ll end up saying I keep doing things I don’t want to. I don’t make wise decisions, I always feel guilty.
In behaviorist theory, we know that there is not a real way to break a habit unless you replace that habit.  Got a nagging thought?  Got an itch for making a wrong choice?  Replace it with the Word of God.  Quote a scripture, read a chapter, do something you know is right. What did Jesus do when he was tempted?  Matthew 4 reveals to us that Jesus quoted scripture. The meditation and memorization of scripture imprints his thoughts and ways on our lives. 
Is this easy?  Not necessarily, and not at first.  It requires action.  James reminds us of his second tip.  Overcoming temptation requires an intentional active pursuit of Jesus. (8)
Draw near to God – and he will draw near to you.
As a kid, I loved playing with magnets.  Something about that force of magical attraction was fascinating.  I could place a strong magnet underneath a wooden table and drag iron fillings back and forth.  I could set two magnets on opposite sides of a table and watch them come snapping together in the middle.  The newest high-speed trains all operate on an electromagnetic principle.  And that’s just a small force that God created. So, when he says “Draw near to me”  – Think of a Star Wars tractor beam.  Get close to God and he will reel you in.
There are two reactions when you reel something in.  Ever gone fishing?  I don’t much.  But I have in the past.  There are times when the fish you catch comings in willingly.  And there are times you must put up a struggle and work hard to get it to come in.  Jesus is the ultimate fisher of men – and he will not stop until you are caught and safely in His arms. 
People have two different reactions to when the gospel message hooks us.  We either feel conviction and seek out repentance – or we feel shame and go into hiding.  Both groups have been hooked.  We see early on that Adam and Eve felt ashamed of what they had done – and they hid out in the Garden of Eden, attempting to become invisible to the all-knowing, all present God.  Guess what – it doesn’t work.  All it does is bring on more shame and more misery compounding problems.
Conviction which leads to repentance, however, brings restoration.  It is a cleansing flood which washes our sins away. It brings freedom into our lives and a spring into our step.
The reality is this – If you think that you can hide your sins and successfully beat them all by yourself – you will never be an overcomer.  Overcoming Temptation only happens when we allow the grace of God to transform our life, work in our hearts, and enable us in an active pursuit of his wisdom. 
James suggests we pursue God together.  We do it as a church family.  We hold each other accountable.  We don’t share spiritual elitism – but we humble ourselves as fellow sinners, saved by grace.
The third tip James offers us in overcoming temptation is that it requires a single-minded allegiance.
Matthew reminds us that we cannot serve two masters.  We cannot have things both ways.  Occasionally binary choices are required.  James reminds his readers that you cannot be an elitist and ignore the poor in your pursuit of economic freedom – if you truly want to live the Christian lifestyle.  People that say one thing and do another, drive James crazy.  I cannot live one way in church and another way in work.  If I act like that, temptation ha breeding grounds all around.  When temptation look too good to resist, too good to be true – It’s because we are living a double life.
It wasn’t long after James wrote this letter that the leader of the Jerusalem synagogue illustrated this point.  In 62 AD, Ananus the II, the high priest of the Sanhedrin, took advantage of a four-month leadership vacuum in the Roman power structure.  Any popular leader who did not have the same religious and political leanings as he did, he ordered secret trials and executions.  Ananus the II had dual allegiances – two opposing viewpoints.  He chose the political realm, trying to curry favor with the incoming Roman rules instead of the spiritual realm – tempted by the power that could come.  In a trumped-up charge, James was found guilty and thrown to his martyrdom.  Ancient historians, in their interpretations of these events suggest it was Ananus II putting his selfish gains over the needs of the people and the message of the gospel that began the chain of events that led to the Roman destruction of Jerusalem several years later.  You cannot have multiple allegiances, or you will be split in two and destroyed.  James speaks with wisdom when we warn us to repent and become purified.  Follow Christ, and Christ alone – and then you shall be saved.
Finally, overcoming temptation requires us to recognize sin as anything that gets into the way of our relationships with Jesus Christ.
This is gut check time.  It’s time to view sin for what it really is.  We trivialize sin in our lives way too much.  Oh, it’s not that big of a deal.  Oh, they’ll get over it.  Oh, I can walk past that guy and not help him out.  Oh, I can talk back to my parents, Oh, I can rebel against the authorities in my life.
I’m not talking about items on old holiness codes – I’m talking about things that we do and say every single day in our life.  If we want to overcome those temptations, we must take them seriously.  I’m talking about looking deep into our lives and searching out who we are.  If you’ve ever been in a 12 Step program for anything – this is step 4 – Making a searching and moral inventory of ourselves.  When we look honestly at who we are and are truly ready to turn over a new life – this leads into Step 5 – Admitting to God, ourselves, and others the true nature of our temptations and sins.
We see this in the story of the prodigal son found in Luke 15.  The young man sins against his family.  His first sin is to set himself apart and to demand what is coming in the future.  That’s elitism.  And that led him down the path towards being a destitute poor servant, eating pig slop.
Temptation doesn’t have to be big.  Sin doesn’t always look like what this kid did.  Sin is really anything – even good things, that we place as idolatry into our lives.  Things we spend more time on and more focus on that gets us out the balanced equilibrium God has for us.
But if we allow God to show us those sins that gets in our way of our relationship, Guess what?  He is not the one hiding – he is the one running.  He comes to us, places a robe on our shoulder, shoes on our feet, a ring of fellowship and restoration to the family.
So, REMEMBER THIS -- Even when we are not devoted to God, he will always show his devotion to us.
That is a promise we can take to the bank.  1 John 3:1 says that our Father will lavish love upon us.  James 4:10 reminds us that when we humble ourselves, then we will be exalted.  Jesus spoke to the disciples –it is you who are the least of these – you who spend time serving the ones that need me – those will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
In our family movie night last Thursday, we watched the movie Unconditional.  In that film, we saw what the power of God looks like when we allow forgiveness to reign in our hearts. – It encourages acts of service to those around us.  It allows us to live out the gospel while helping those in need.
As we are about to enter the new school year, over the next few weeks I will be challenging us to do some things that will require us to stretch.  It might require us to commit our hands and efforts into areas we feel a little bit uncomfortable.  Don’t worry – this is just a way we can show devotion to God and we will always have our back.
As an avid reader of history, I have read several books about the D-Day landings in France during the closing stages of the 2nd World War.  In the horror of those events, it becomes obvious that victory was only ensured by those who ran forward into battle.  Those who were frozen in fear, immobilized by the task ahead of them quickly fell.  Fight, Flight, or Freeze – the 3 different ways we react in crisis situations.
The same is true in our spiritual lives.  When confronted with the realities of temptations in our life, we have three responses – We can fight to overcome them through the power of Christ, we can take flight and hide, hoping that the consequences will never reach us, or we can freeze not knowing what to do.
As we close, I want us to think about this question.
At the intersections of life, do you become
immobilized by sin or do you run towards your Savior?
It’s time to turn it around.  Run towards your savior—Because he is running towards you.

Shall we pray.