Series: Christianity Uncensored
Message #1: Temptation Uncensored
By: Jud Wilhite
Do you ever get tired of the spin? Do you ever feel like everywhere you go and everywhere you look somebody is trying to sell you something? They are trying to spin something one way. You are never getting the full story. Whether it’s media or politics, to them trying to sell you Thompson’s Individual Stringettes, to a brand new vacuum cleaner for $19.99 and you’ll never have to get carpet again in your life. You just feel like there is spin everywhere.
It even starts to get down to the language that we use. John Ortberg has noted how our language has changed a little bit over the last several years. For instance, when a company fires people now they no longer say, “You’re fired.” That would sound way too harsh. They no longer “down size” because that seems negative. Companies are now calling it “right sizing.” We are “right sizing” the whole thing. Guys are no longer “bald,” they are “follicly challenged” or “comb free” as one guy said. It’s no longer “road kill” – it’s “maladaptive compressed life forms,” or in some states in America that will remain unnamed, “road kill” is dinner. It’s no longer “used cars”– now it’s “pre-owned certified vehicles.” Somebody pre-owned it for you. They broke it in for you. It’s not really used. It affects our language.
I was reading last week about Ron Zeigler. He’s the White House Press Secretary during the Vietnam era. In the midst of this whole Vietnam press secretary thing he goes up and interacts with the reporters. He tells a statement that’s proved completely false that night. He comes back up the next day and they ask him about the statement he said, that was obviously a lie. He said, “That statement from yesterday is no longer operative.” I thought that was cool. That’s all you have to say anymore, “That’s no longer operative.” This is the statement for today. Can you imagine rolling that statement out to your spouse? You come home. You said you’d be home at 6:30 and now it’s 7:45. You didn’t call. What happened? Well, honey, those statements yesterday are no longer operative. When your kid says he’s doing great in school and he’s getting great grades and his teachers love him – then report cards come and he’s failing everything. You say, “What are you doing?” “Well mom, dad- those statements were no longer operative today.” We put this little spin on everything.
We see it on film and television as well. Reality TV – the big craze. Yet reality TV isn’t really reality TV. It’s still shot, edited, and spliced up to make a point and to get the basic themes of a story across. You can do an amazing amount with editing. We live in a culture where everything is edited, airbrushed, and cleaned up. You can do a lot with it. We took our video team and they took the feel good movie of the 1990s, Forrest Gump, and they went in to see what they could do if they created a trailer about Forrest Gump without changing any of the actual video footage. We just spliced it together in a different way. Here is what they came up with.
Okay, that’s spooky, isn’t it? That’s what a little background music, editing, and a new voice over can do for you. It’s amazing the kind of things that editing can actually do.
Do you ever just get tired of the spin? Do you ever get worn out or exhausted by it? Do you ever just wish someone would tell you like it is? Just lay it out there straight. You can handle it. You can deal with it. Don’t sugar coat it. Don’t airbrush it. Don’t clean it up. Don’t edit it. Just lay it out there and let me work with it from there. That’s exactly what James does in the Bible. He’s a no bull, no nonsense kind of guy. He’s going to lay it out there. What we are going to do over the next eight weeks is peel away the facade of Christianity. We are going to look at Christianity uncensored. What does it really mean to be a follower of Christ? We are going to learn from the book of James how to do that.
Now James 1 begins with these words: “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Now James was an actual physical brother of Jesus Christ. He wasn’t just a follower or a disciple. He was a brother. He wasn’t a part of the original twelve disciples because early on Jesus’ brothers weren’t followers of Jesus as the Messiah. Later at some point in Jesus’ ministry or after He was resurrected, James turned and became a true follower of Jesus Christ. In fact, first Corinthians fifteen tells us that after Jesus was resurrected He appeared to James in person. James becomes this follower, this leader of the early church, in Jerusalem. He’s going to lay it out for us in a real way. He starts his book talking about trials and temptations. That’s unique because most of the New Testament books start out talking with this whole thanksgiving section. I thank God for who you are. I’m so grateful for our friendship. James bypasses all that and says, “Look, life is hard. You are going to face temptations. You are going to face trials. You are going to face hard stuff. Let’s talk about how to deal with it.” He just jumps right in the midst of it.
That word trial is fascinating in the Greek language that the New Testament was written in. The word trial could be translated as trial, or in different context forms of the word are translated as temptation. It’s the same term. It depends on how it plays out in your life. Sometimes a trial will happen in your life and God wants to use that trial. It could be any trial. It could be you’re having difficulties with your children. You could be having challenges at work. It could be a health trial. It could be a trial related to your financial situation. Any kind of trial, God is going to want to use that to bring something good and mature into your life. A trial can be used that way. Or in the midst of that trial we can begin to give into different temptations in our lives. Maybe you’re suddenly under the pressure of it, tempted to go drink again. Maybe you are tempted to be in an extramarital affair. Maybe you are tempted to cut some corners at the office and do some things that wouldn’t be considered ethical. All of these things come into our lives and in that sense the word becomes a temptation. It all depends on how we respond to it.
Let’s look at how we can face trials and temptations uncensored. First thing James tells us is to choose to rejoice. When you face trials and difficulties in life, choose to rejoice. He puts it this way in James 1:2,“Consider it pure joy my brothers whenever you face trials of many kinds.” Now think about that. James, are you psychotic? What are you saying? “Because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” Then he says in verse four, “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete and not lacking in anything.” James says, “Consider it pure joy in the midst of trials, in the midst of struggles, and the midst of temptations because you know God is going to do something out of that.” It’s not pure joy at the trial, but it’s pure joy in the midst of the trial because you are rejoicing in who God is.
That is a lot easier to say than to do. It can be a real challenge to do in our lives. What kind of trials is James talking about here? What is he really talking about? The word for face or “encounter many trials” is the same word that’s used when Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke twelve. There is this guy going about his day, just walking down the road and he faces these bandits. He falls into the hands of these bandits who basically rob him and beat him almost to death and leave him by the side of the road. James is saying whether you are mugged in the parking lot, or you woke up and got a flat tire and had a headache. Whatever trials you face, all across the spectrum, in the midst of it choose to rejoice because God will bring a great thing out of that trial and difficulty.
I looked through my files yesterday. I was looking for something else, but pulled this out. It’s the first book that I ever wrote. When the book came in I was so excited. I went and opened up a box of these books. This is the cover jacket from the book that I wrote. But on the inside, on the second page it says this, My Big Fat Head by Jodi Blase. They took my book and put the wrong book on the inside of it, printed it, and shipped it. Of course, I wondered if God was trying to send me a message – “My Big Fat Head?” You know I looked at that and I thought, “Why me?!” I forgot about it. When I was looking through my files and came across it, I was like, “Yeah, that’s right! I remember that whole thing.” Don’t we go through those kinds of trials in our lives? Some of them you don’t understand why. It could be little things, simple things, or dumb things, but they happen.
Tim Hansel was very into athletics and sports. He was a strong rugby player. He won a lot of awards for playing rugby. He was a mountain climber as well. In fact, he earned the nickname, Thrasher, because of the way he aggressively climbed the mountain. At one point he was on the Sierra range climbing a glacier. They were fourteen thousand feet up. They had stayed the night on the mountain. As they were going up he was going around one of the climbers, which I guess in climbing is a very dangerous part of the climb. He suddenly was passing this person and lost his footing. Which normally wouldn’t be a problem. He could do a self-arrest with the axe into the ice and he would be okay. But gravity put his axe an inch out from his reach. This guy began to fall at thirty-two feet per second. When he hit the ground all of his friends thought he was dead. They climbed down and found him in a ravine. He was coming to, being conscious, and basically they were amazed. He was able to function and talk. He didn’t have any bones broken he was just shaken up. He said he felt a little shorter. He hiked out of the mountains and went all the way home. He never told his wife what happened. He didn’t want her to know. For three whole days he functioned. Everything seemed normal. He woke up in the middle of the night on the third day in this cold sweat. What had happened, that he found out later, was his body was in complete shock for three full days. When he woke up every joint in his body hurt. They took him to the emergency room. Basically from that day to this day he lives with chronic pain in virtually every joint of his body. There are stretches for over ten weeks at a time when he can’t sleep through one night because of the pain he faces in his life. He says there are days that go by that he can’t reach down and put his hands below his knees because of the pain. He talks about going out to play tennis at one point. He lightly threw the ball up and hit it to a friend and broke all his ribs. His body is absolutely falling apart. If anybody has the right to be miserable it would be Tim. Yet he wrote this powerful book called, You Gotta Keep Dancin’ , that made such an impact in my life. We don’t have it at the bookstore, but we’ll have it next week. Here’s what he says in that book, “I’ve prayed hundreds if not thousands of times for the Lord to heal me and He finally healed me of the need to be healed. I discovered a peace inside the pain. I’ve survived because I’ve discovered a new and different kind of joy that I never knew existed. A joy that can co-exist with uncertainty and doubt and with pain, confusion, and ambiguity.”
He says I discovered a joy that could co-exist with pain, confusion, and struggle. That’s what James is calling us to. He’s saying rejoice even in difficult times because God will do something great in the midst of it. Paul says it this way in Romans 5:3, “Not only so but we also rejoice in our sufferings. Because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character, and character hope; and hope does not disappoint us because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom He has given us.” There is this progression that Paul lays out here. First of all he says we rejoice in our sufferings. That word for sufferings is an intense word. It means real pain. Real difficult pain may come into our lives. We persevere through it. Suffering produces perseverance. If it wasn’t hard you wouldn’t have to persevere to get through it. Perseverance produces character. Character is really only proven in the midst of difficult times. That’s where character is molded. You could even make the argument that unproven character isn’t character yet at all. Proven character is what character ultimately is. Then there’s hope that comes out of that character that is formed into our lives. Through this hope we realize that we are never disappointed. God’s love on the other side of it will pull us through. That is ultimately what James is saying as well. We don’t rejoice at the trial. We rejoice in the trial because through this hardship and difficulty God is doing a work in our lives to form us and mature us so we become the kind of people that He desires for us to be. That’s the work that God is involved in.
I don’t know about you but it’s a lot easier to say than to actually do in my life. I have a very low tolerance for pain. I don’t deal with it very well. Sometimes when I’m hurting or struggling or things aren’t going right I don’t understand it. The pieces don’t always fit together. When we are in that place James senses that’s where we often go. There is something we can do in the midst of trial when it doesn’t make sense. He says it’s this: Ask for wisdom. Ask for God to move and show you what is happening. How many of you remember Where’s Waldo? I have a copy of the book right here. Waldo is this guy that is on every page of the book. You have to find Waldo on the page. Over forty million Waldo books have been sold in twenty-eight countries all over the world. Don’t you wish the Waldo idea were yours? Here is Waldo so you know what he looks like. He has the goofy glasses and the striped shirt. Let’s see if you can find Waldo in this picture.
Let’s show them where Waldo is. How many of you saw him? Nice, good job. Do you ever feel like when you are going through a trial or a difficulty in life that you are playing “Where’s Waldo?” with God? Do you ever find yourself in that moment when things are going right and you are wrestling with difficult times and you say, “God, where are You?” You don’t see Him. You pray and you wonder if your prayers are going above the ceiling. You come into church and you leave and still feel empty. You read your Bible but it doesn’t seem to be connecting. Do you ever feel like you are playing “Where’s Waldo?” with God? Where are You in the midst of my struggle?
The Waldo guy says that Waldo is on every page of the Waldo book. As you read the Bible, it’s interesting; the Bible declares that God is on every page of our lives. He’s there even when we can’t see Him. When we can’t feel Him or not sure that He’s there, He is. Sometimes when it doesn’t make sense, James says, we can ask for wisdom. Look at how he puts it in James 1:5, “If any of you lacks wisdom who gives generously to all with out finding fault. It will be given to him.” If you lack wisdom, ask and God will provide. The way this is worded in the original language is actually a command to ask God. He will give wisdom. It says He will give wisdom without finding fault. I just think that is awesome. It’s not like God is going to look down and say, “I don’t know, man. You did that one thing yesterday so you are out.” Without finding fault He will give wisdom. It goes on, James says, there is a catch. You have to believe and not doubt that God really will intervene in your situation. That means when we are facing a struggle or a trial or maybe when that trial is pressing in on us and we begin giving into temptation, maybe when you are right at that moment where you are about to take a drink after years of being sober or you are about to enter into a relationship that you know you are not supposed to enter into; right in that moment when you know you are about to give into a temptation, you can ask for wisdom and God will give it to you. It means when life doesn’t make sense and everything is falling down around you it is a promise from God that He will provide wisdom for you in that situation.
Here is the catch for us, sometimes we don’t want God’s wisdom. We need to reconcile this before we go there. Sometimes what we want is for God to just fix the problem. Unfortunately the problem is sometimes us. God is going to say, “I’d love to fix the problem but first you need some wisdom for your own life.” We need to do a little spiritual heart surgery. You need to get a bigger perspective on why this is happening and why it’s going on. God wants to pour wisdom out on us in our lives if we’ll just ask Him. James says in the midst of trial ask for wisdom.
Then he says when you find yourself in temptation and everything presses in and now you are really about to give into something, don’t blame God. Take responsibility. I want to engage with you on a little exercise of self-control. All of us wrestle with temptation. It could be the temptation to lie, to steal, to cheat, to do something we know we shouldn’t do. It’s like the little boy who was looking at the candy bar at the grocery store. The owner came by and said, “Are you thinking about stealing that candy bar?” The little boy looks at him and says, “No sir, I’m trying not to.” I’m looking at it. I’m eyeing it but I’m trying not to. I thought we’d engage in a little fun experiment in self-control. We have a box here that is going to come down the aisle. This box has two buttons. It has one button on it that’s a green button. It has another button that’s a red button. All I’m asking you to do is very simple. Push the green button and pass it on. Don’t push the red button. That’s all – it’s simple. Just don’t push the red button. We are going to start down here and pass it around. This will build your self-control issues. Here we go, the first guy pushed the red button, “WARNING! The red button has been pushed!”
We did this last night and the first guy pushed the red button too. What is the deal with guys and the red button? It’s interesting. Why did you push the red button? Why do we push the red button in life? Who makes us do it? Sometimes when we are tempted we begin to think that God is the one who set us up. Do you ever feel that way? “God, why did You put the donut in front of me? God, why did You let this happen?” We tend to blame God. That’s what Adam and Eve did in the garden. You may be familiar with that. After Eve eats from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, Adam comes up. God comes up to him and Adam replies, “God, it was the woman that YOU gave me.” He indirectly blames God. You did this! You set me up. What could I do but fall into the trap? I’m a victim.” We live in a culture that is all about being a victim.
James comes right in our face and says don’t blame God for your temptation. Here is what he says in James 1:13, “When tempted no one should say that God is tempting me. For God cannot be tempted by evil nor does He tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when by his own evil desires he’s dragged away and enticed.” Those are hunting and fishing terms. “Dragged away” is a hunting term. A bait would be set and an animal would be lured by this internal desire for the bait and would go in and be caught in the trap. Entice is a fishing term. When you put the bait on the hook and drop it in the water the fish is enticed internally towards that. James is saying when you are tempted and give into temptation, listen, it’s not God’s fault. It’s not that God did it. Another thing we say is, “Well, the devil made me do it.” James says, “No, the devil didn’t make you do it. You did it of your own will and volition.” You made a decision and you were drawn and enticed internally. Your internal desire was pulled and you gave into it. That was the result.
He goes on and gives the full result of the whole thing. Verse fifteen, “After desire is conceived it gives birth to sin. When sin is full grown it gives birth to death.” Sin ultimately will result in death. A lot of things about sin are fun. Some pastors and others say that sin is horrible. It is horrible but it’s not fun. I’m just telling you that I did a lot of sin in my life and it was a lot of fun for a while. But it’s like grabbing the tail of a lion, isn’t it? It will eventually turn on you and destroy you. James is saying that you can give into the desires but when you give in and it gets full grown it will lead to death. Don’t blame God. Don’t blame God, take responsibility. When we are tempted the first step in life is to acknowledge that it’s our responsibility. It’s my fault. Start there. I acknowledge it and take responsibility for it.
Then James tells us in the midst of that temptation that we can trust God’s character to provide for us. We can call out to Him and He will move in response to our need. It says this in chapter 1:16, “Don’t be deceived my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above coming down from the Father of heavenly lights who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth that we may be the kind of first fruits of all He created.” First of all, don’t be deceived. Every good and perfect gift is from God.
My daughter is four-and-a-half and she’s at this phase when she sees commercials on TV she buys into the marketing completely. She gives it back to me verbatim. She came to me yesterday while she was watching Saturday morning cartoons. They advertised this remote control car. She pulls me aside and says, “Dad, this car is amazing. You can drive this car. You can be in another room. You can push buttons and you can drive this car. This car will run in the grass outside. This car will run on the carpet.” She’s giving me this entire blow by blow of the commercial. Mattel did it right. That’s all I can say. My four-year-old says, “Can I please have this car?” This is my pat answer for this kind of thing; “Christmas is coming right around the corner so we’ll see.” She says, “My birthday is after Christmas; maybe I want that for my birthday and something else for Christmas.” I’m thinking, “Oh, the problems of a four-year-old.” It’s a beautiful thing.
We want to give good gifts to our children. Yet the Bible says that in our lives when we are tempted, facing difficulty or trials, we need to realize that God wants to give gifts to us. Every good and perfect gift ultimately traces back to the good and perfect God above. He provides that for us in our lives. He’s not trying to set you up. He’s not trying to have you fall. He allows temptation and trial to come into our lives. What He desires for us is to experience through that trial perseverance and character and hope and maturity. That’s what He yearns and longs for in our lives.
James says something else, not only is He this God that gives good and perfect gifts, he says, “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth that we might be a kind of first fruits of all He created.” In other words, He gave us a spiritual new birth through the word of truth, which is ultimately the word of God through the Bible and the message of the Bible that Jesus came and lived and died for us. He provides forgiveness for our sins. That’s how we experience this new life in Christ.
That means there is hope today. It means there is hope for all of us. That means there is hope for the business person who feels like he’s backed into a corner because he’s made a lot of shady business dealings and he doesn’t have any idea where to go from there or how to get out of the mess that he’s gotten himself into. It means there is hope for the person who has been clean for many months or maybe many years but has now fallen back into drug addiction and into that whole world. It means there is hope for the prostitute who would love to find another way to support her two-year-old son. She cries herself to sleep at night longing for the way to do that. It means there is hope. There is hope for the person who was sexually abused as a child and walks around with a tremendous boulder of guilt as if it was their fault, as if they brought it on themselves. There is hope for all of us. It’s a spiritual new birth that God can bring into our lives. What James is telling us is no matter how hard things get, no matter how tough the temptation is, God is faithful. He will pick you up when you fall.
In fact, I had a friend who sent me an e-mail that had these words about the faithfulness of God. I’d like to read it to you. It says, “He is the first and the last. He’s the beginning and the end. He’s the keeper of creation and the creator of all. He’s the architect of the universe and the manager of all times. He always was. He always is and He always will be. He is unmoved, unchanged, undefeated, and never undone. He is light, love, and longevity and Lord. He is goodness, kindness, gentleness, and God. He is holy, righteous, mighty, pure, and powerful. His ways are right. His word is eternal. His will is unchanging. His mind is on me. He’s my redeemer. He’s my savior. He’s my guide. He’s my peace. He’s my joy. He’s my comfort. He’s my Lord. He rules my life. I serve Him because His bond is love. Because His burden is light. Because His goal for me is abundant life. I follow Him because He is the wisdom of the wise and the power of the powerful. He’s the ancient of days. He is the ruler of rulers. He’s the leader of leaders. He’s the overseer of over-comers. He’s the sovereign Lord of all that was, is, and is to come. He will never leave me. He will never forsake me. He will never mislead me. He will never forget or overlook me. When I fall He lifts me up. When I fail He forgives. When I’m weak He’s strong. When I’m lost He’s my way. When I’m afraid He’s my courage. When I stumble He steadies me. When I’m hurt He heals me. When I’m broken He mends me. When I’m blind He leads me. When I’m hungry He feeds me. When I face trials He is with me. When I face persecution He shields me. When I face problems He comforts me. When I face loss He provides for me. When I face death He carries me home. He is everything to me. He’s everything to everybody, everywhere, anytime, in every way. He is God and He is faithful.”
James says to peel it all away. That’s what you have to know. In trials and temptation God is good and faithful. He will be there to pick you up when you fall, to forgive you when you mess up, and to sustain you when you are hurting and are broken in the midst of that difficulty. Reach out to Him.