Jericho Ridge Community Church (Archived)

Knock, Knock...

 “Knock, Knock…” // James 1:12-18

Sunday, Sept 28, 2014 @ Jericho Ridge Community Church

New Series: Mirror, Mirror: Reflections in the Book of James


MEDIA note: At end of countdown, show 45 sec VeggieTales clip


All talking apples aside, how many of you have had trouble this year with fruit flies? Show of hands.  Mike Olynyk told me that he had read on Facebook that here in Vancouver, we have been experiencing an epidemic of fruit flies.  Which I knew immediately knew to be true because everything you read of Facebook is true, isn’t it?  (Don’t get me started).  In the Sumner household, we too have battled the infestation. We have tried everything…  from removing all traces of fruit from exposed areas, which you think would cause the little critters to move on but no to fruitier pastures, but no - they find other things they like to eat in your sink drains or hovering around your garbage.  Finally, we did some reading and research and found out that one of the most effective ways to deal with fruit flies – other than releasing spiders into our kitchen and pantry which we were not prepared to do – is to trap them.  You have to set up some bait which will entice them to fall into your trap.  And then they will die.  So we preceded to set up little stations like this one – around our kitchen counter.  You put some apple cider vinegar into a small bowl, cover it with cling wrap and poke small holes in the top so the fruit flies can get in.  What happens is that they go in to the bowl seeking food, and then they fall into the liquid and they drown.  So in the interest of full confession and disclosure, I Brad Sumner, your lead pastor, do hereby confess that I am a serial fruit fly murderer.  Or at least I am an accomplice because I helped to set out the bait that trapped them and they gave into the temptation and fell to their death.


This is, in fact, our topic for this morning: not fruit flies, but asking “what does it look like for you and I to be baited into or to fall into temptation?  Where does temptation come from, what does that look like and more importantly, how can you and I avoid falling into it with the help of God the Holy Spirit. 


We are continuing this morning in our study in the book of James which we have titled “Mirror, Mirror” and today we are in James 1:12.  James is a bit of a fiend for repetition so you’ll see and hear him picking up themes again and developing them in new directions.  And this morning’s topic of temptation is no exception.  James has been here before in 1:2-3 [read] and now he goes on to say this [READ James 1:12-15 – Two slides]       


James moves very quickly from something that seems relatively innocent – temptation which we all wrestle with – to talking about spiritual death!  But there are some important questions to ask ourselves about this cycle of temptation.  The first question is where temptation comes from. What is the source of trials and temptations in my life?  In our culture, we have developed language that helps us excuse ourselves of personal responsibility when it comes to falling into temptation.  We say things like “the devil made me do it” or “I just couldn’t resist”.  James pushes us to consider “what part are you and I responsible for and what part is circumstantial or external?”  It’s a good question and one that I think we don’t wrestle with often enough.  James is not denying that the devil can and does tempt us to evil – we see this, for example, in the book of Job and also in Matthew 4:1 where Jesus is tempted by Satan.  And so it’s here that we learn that it is not a sin to be tempted.  Because if Jesus was tempted, the Bible teaches us that He went through His whole earthly life without sin so just to be tempted cannot then be a sin. The Son of God was tempted; you and I will be tempted to do evil.       


But the other part of this question that James asks is “does God tempt us”? And while it can be easy to be dismissive and say “Oh, of course not” we do have to wrestle with what James has told us already and that is that God can (and does) allow us to be placed into circumstances where we will be tested.  For example, in the text in Matthew 4 regarding Jesus’ wilderness experience it specifically says “Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil”.  God didn’t do the tempting but He did lead him there.  In the Old Testament in Exodus 20:20 we are told that God led the people of Israel into the wilderness so he could test them.  God specifically left some non-Israelite nations all around them to test them and their faithfulness to Him.  Not tempt them, but see what was in their hearts.  The same is true in the story of Abraham and Isaac.  When God asked Abraham to give up Isaac, God was testing Abraham’s faith in the promise that had been made to him.  God often allows us into circumstances that will cause us to either depend on Him OR to give in to the temptation. 


But just because God allows these circumstances into your life and mine does NOT mean that He is tempting us.  As we talked about two weeks ago in our series, what is in our hearts comes out in a time of trials and testing.  In the Old Testament book of Proverbs chapter 19:6 it says “A persons’ folly ruins their own life, but their heart rails against the Lord.”  James is saying much the same thing – we want to blame anyone or anything else but ultimately, we have to own our choices.  Like my little fruit fly friends, I may put out the vinegar but they choose to be lured in.

Yes, there are external spiritual forces at work in this world seeking to keep us from God and His will, BUT these forces, James says are not just external.  The battle goes on inside of us.  Our internal desires entice us.  .  Powerful urges passions and feelings that sweep over us… The destructive desires that reside in each of our hearts.  This is part of being human.  Intriguingly, the language of hunting or fishing is being hinted at here.  Our desires lure us, like a fish who sees something shiny floating by in the water.  Our internal desires lure.  Like a trapper setting their trap with really, really attractive and tasty bait that they know the animal will be drawn in with.  This is how temptation works – by appealing to our desires.    


In Homer’s epic poem the Odyssey, Zeus complains “It is incredible how easily human beings blame the gods and believe us to be the source of their troubles, when it is their own wickedness and stupidity that brings upon them sorrows more severe than any which Destiny would assign”


When it comes to temptation, we are constantly on the lookout for explanations that mitigate individual responsibility.  When we fall into habits or hang-ups that lead us to sin, we often seek to blame others, the devil or even God, but ultimately we are morally responsible (NIV, 73).

I like what author and pastor Bill Hybels says about this topic:. When thinking about temptation, he says “The question is not ‘WILL we face destructive desires?’ but ‘HOW will we face them?’” (Hybels)


You are I are responsible for being baited and being lured. Because what starts out as desire doesn’t stay that way.  Let’s look at what cycleactuallylooks like that James paints for us in these verses.   


James 1:14 reminds us that the cycle of temptation begins not “out there” somewhere… It begins in here (my head & my heart).  It begins with our own desires.  It begins with my unhealthy pre-occupation with winning.  My desire to be smart and used big words and been seen as a thoughtfully articulate and well-educated person.  In this first step in the cycle of temptation, those desires which live deep in our hearts and spirits are dancing with opportunity, sometimes in healthy ways and sometimes in unhealthy ways.  Some of the desires of my heart are good and wholesome and right and should be nurtured.  Some of them are dark and twisted and maligned and they need to be managed, controlled and rejected and not acted upon. 


When something or someone is trying to awaken or stoke the furnace of desire in my life, I need to beware because the cycle is about to begin.  Marketers know this.  I can’t sin in the area of greed if my desire for more isn’t awakened.  The first step is that I need to desire more toys, more money, more sexual experiences.  We’ll talk more about breaking this cycle in a few minutes because arresting it right here is critical – alerting myself and others to the shadow sides of my desires.  James 1:14: “temptations come from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away”.  This is why small groups or spiritual friendships are so important.  People who know you well and who can speak into your life and to whom you can confide your struggles.  Ask yourself “does anyone know what my core struggles are?”  I know I have three core temptations that I am susceptible to so I meet every other week so I can get asked about them.  Do you know the areas of your life where you need support? Who walks with you close enough to know how you are doing in these areas?


We’re now into the second phase of the cycle…  Deception.  In stage 1, I’m moving from something simply coming to my attention and as I hit that arrow, I’m moving into pre-occupation (I’m nurturing my thinking about it), and enticement.  Only my mind is involved at this point but if I think on it long enough I begin to work on ways to justify it and I begin to plan how I might act it out.  I’m moving from opportunity to conception.  Deception.  I’m allowing myself to actively be lured into the cider vinegar.  I’m saying things like “well, it’s not that bad. Just one little taste or look or hit…” 


You see there are two types of addictions: Substance addictions (alcohol, drugs, abuse of medication).  These we seem to understand: that it requires more and more of the substance in order to maintain a buzz.  But there is also a second kind of addition: a process addition. With a process addition, you are looking for the rush of endorphins and dopamine that is released into your body.  But the challenge is that just like substance addictions, process addictions also progress and we end up risking more and more in order to get the same rush.  The gambler needs to risk more in order to get the same rush.  The angry person’s outbursts become more public and more personal. The debt-ridden chronic over-spender needs to come home with a few more shopping bags this time than the last in order to feel the same.  When we tell ourselves “just a little bit more…”  We have been deceived, and enticed and are beginning to be dragged away further into the cycle of temptation. 


We’re now into stage 3 from James 1:15 – From Desire, to deception to disobedience.  We’re doing the deed.  We’re acting out.  Desires give birth to sinful actions.  And then when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death.  And here James isn’t talking necessarily or primarily about physical death.  He’s describing the isolation and alienation that sinful actions bring into our lives.  The shame that accompanies our choices.  The self-loathing and frustration of finding ourselves here in this place again.  After we promised God and each other that it would never happen again.  After we prayed and prayed for strength and then we fell.  After we told ourselves that we would be strong and resist temptation.  But now we find ourselves yet again wracked with guilt and shame.  Guilt means I feel bad about what I have done.  But shame is much deeper.  It means I feel bad about who I am and the challenge is that the longer shame persists, the deeper the cycle progresses.  When sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death. This is one path that James lays out as a possibility for you and I… But the good news is that there is another path that he describes.  This path is laid out for us in James 1:16-18


In these three verses, James flips the perspective and asks us to consider “Since God doesn’t send us temptation, what does He send us?”  He sends us good gifts!  Remember back in Verse 12, James said that there would be a reward for those who persist and endure temptation.  He employs yet again the language of athletics.  Just like a person who ensures physical stress to achieve physical endurance and strength, James says when we endure temptation and trials, we gain spiritual endurance and strength.  And we also gain the crown of eternal life.  Relationship with God that begins now and continues on forever. 


What’s interesting is that James uses life-cycle metaphors to describe both temptation but also to describe the vision of a healthy temptation-resistant life that God desires to grow in each one of us.  Just like desires have the potential to give birth to sinful actions, God desires to birth His true word in our hearts so that we can resist and overcome temptation.  It is as if James is inviting us at every morally significant choice we make today to picture ourselves standing at a fork in the road [picture].  Each path leads somewhere.  The path of following our destructive desires looks appealing but taking steps down that path leads us further and further into deception, disobedience and ultimately at the end of that path, there is spiritual death.  And I know my own heart well enough to know that that path looks and seems appealing.  I know that for me, I am one choice away from the first bad choice in a series of choices that could lead to my downfall.  So I don’t fool around and I don’t kid myself that somehow if I start walking down that path, just a few steps, I’ll be willing and able to turn around. Every night with my kids, we pray the words from the Lord’s Prayer together and I am more and more aware every day of my need to pray out that that line “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil”.  I know that when I stand at that fork in the road, at the moment of decision or temptation, I need to ask “What am I giving airtime to in my inner dialogue?  What am I exposing myself to – media, Facebook (stoking jealousy)… what paths am I walking down?  Do those paths and decisions lead to life or to death? 


One of the things that strikes me about this text is not the negative side of the cycle, but the promise of blessing for those who endure and who are able, in the strength that God provides, to resist temptation.  This says to me that no matter how deeply entrenched you are in your hurt, habit or hang-up, it is possible for you to move toward freedom this morning. 

I love how I Cor. 10:13 puts this “The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure”   This isincredibly good news!  That Jesus came to bring hope to the hopeless, freedom and liberty to those held captive to their own desires.  God is faithful, friends.  He is here this morning and wants to meet you and show you that way out so that you can endure and experience freedom.  In a few minutes, we’ll be responding in worship in song and there will be opportunity for you to pray with our prayer teams at the sides.  And as those people go for prayer ministry, I want those of you in your seats to resist the temptation to think “wow – they must be really messed up to need that kind of support!”  I want you to say to yourself “you know what, my temptations are no different than theirs.  My life is no different than their life.” And this might be the time for you when you open up for the first time and begin to receive the help and healing that Jesus offers to you.  Perhaps for you, you have never taken that step of submitting to God.  Your ultimate destiny hangs in the balance friend, I admonish you to take that step.  Don’t let pride keep you from making the best decision you’ll ever make.  Go to the prayer team and they’ll walk with you as you open your heart up to God. 


When I think of standing at a fork in the road, my favorite poet Robert Frost comes to mind.  He has a brilliant line about the impact of the choices that we make.  In his work The Road Not Taken, he says “Two roads diverged in a wood… and I… I took the one less travelled by… And that has made all the difference.”  This week, today, you and I will stand at multiple forks in the road. Multiple moments of temptation. Giving in is often easy and quick – but choosing to endure and resist is to choose the road less travelled.  Choose the path that leads to life. Let’s pray together.

Benediction: Father, when we confront temptation, we pray that you would give us strength to resist evil.  We recognize the very real struggles that rage inside of us and we proclaim the truth of Romans 7:25
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christi our Lord who gives us the victory. For the law of Christ Jesus has set you free from the Law of sin and death!”  

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