March 10, 2013
Rev. John Watts
JOURNEY TO HOPE: TEMPTATION
“It’s a great life if you don’t weaken.”
I had never heard of this saying until two weeks ago.
When Lovina Housman died at age 95, her sons told me this was something they remembered hearing her say a lot. They put it on her funeral bulletin. Then Esther Caldwell died at age 104. When I met with her children, they told me that their mother had a favorite saying. “It’s a great life if you don’t weaken”. It got me to thinking. I figured that saying must have been well known around the early part of the 1900’s. And I figured someone had probably said it before Lovina and Esther. So I did a little research.
Turns out there was a cartoon by that name. It was drawn by the famous cartoonist, Gene Byrnes. It was syndicated by the New York Evening Telegram from 1915 to 1919. And that phrase, “It’s a great life if you don’t weaken”, became a rallying cry for our soldiers in the first world war.
The trouble is, we do weaken. If we were always at our best, if we were always full of energy and full of enthusiasm, there would be no stopping us. Kind of like my old marathoning days. Early in the race, it’s so easy! Late in the race, it’s so hard! What’s the difference? You get tired. You run out of gas. You weaken.
Our marathon to hope continues today. We’re at mile marker 4. Maybe we’re starting to get a little tired. Maybe we’re ready for one of these energy bars. Or maybe some water. We’re talking today about weak moments. We all have them. How do we deal with them? How do we re-fuel when we’re out of gas? How do we keep from going astray on this journey to hope? How do we keep from crashing and burning?
Today’s scripture introduces us to this subject from a couple of perspectives. First, it’s about Jesus. He’s having a weak moment. In this passage, Jesus looks about as human as we ever see him. We’re told, “He plunged into a sinkhole of dreadful agony.” He’s not on the cross yet, but he can see it. He can feel it. He knows it looms large on the horizon. And he goes to theGardenofGethsemaneto pray. Basically, to spill his guts. He begins, “Please, Father, get me out of this.” He ends, “Nevertheless, not what I want, but what you want.”
So we have Jesus at this extraordinarily difficult moment. He is facing the temptation of running away from this hardest part of God’s roadmap for his life. But we also have the disciples. At least three of them. Peter, James, and John. This passage is also about them. They too are having a weak moment. It’s not as if they are sharing in the agony Jesus is experiencing. Not by a long shot. They are sound asleep. They’re not feeling a thing. Jesus had asked them to stay awake with him. He wasn’t asking much. He would be the one to die on the cross. All they had to do was postpone their bedtime. Just this once. But they couldn’t do it. They let Jesus down. As it says in the last verse, “They simply couldn’t keep their eyes open, and they didn’t have a plausible excuse.”
So here is Jesus at this crisis point of his life. His moment of truth. Will he face the cross or will he turn tail and run? He passed the test. He was tempted, but he didn’t give in.
And here are the disciples at a time when they were needed by a friend. As it turned out, it was kind of a moment of truth for them, too. Jesus made this simple request. He needed their support and their companionship. They failed the test. They failed the test because they were just too tired to stay awake.
In our weak moments it becomes so hard to keep going straight and true on our journey. The temptation to stray can become overwhelming. Many of us fight inner battles with temptation every day and no one else even knows. It’s a lonely battle. Sometimes we win. Sometimes we lose. And when we give in to temptation, there is always a price to pay.
That’s the way God’s world works. There’s always a price. You can do it God’s way. You pay the price first, with hard work and planning and patience and determination. You stay on the path and do not stray. Eventually you get to enjoy what you were after. No guilt. No regrets. Or you can give in to the temptation to take a short cut. You grab some momentary pleasure. You can have it now. It’s there. There’s no price to pay. Except there is. It’s a huge price. But it comes later. It’s the price of long-term pain.
I was at the Kingdome, that huge indoor sports facility inSeattlethat they eventually decided was a mistake and tore down. I was there for a Promise Keepers rally in 1997. The theme for the weekend was, “The Making of a Godly Man.” We were told that the top two temptations that get men into trouble are credit cards and pornography. We’re talking about credit cards in our Dave Ramsey class. Maybe we should have a pornography class, too. It’s no laughing matter. In both cases, there is something that looks attractive. You want it now. But you pay for it later. You pay big time.
At the conclusion of that rally, those of us who were pastors were asked to go down on the field. Then the other men were invited to go to one of the pastors for prayer. I would estimate there were 1,000 pastors all around the infield. And each of us had a long line of men waiting for a moment of prayer. Virtually every one of the men who came through my line, with tears rolling down their cheeks, told me they were struggling with pornography or some other form of sexual addiction. They asked if I would pray that God would set them free. I’d never seen those men before in my life. But I will never forget them as long as I live.
It’s a huge problem, and it’s much bigger now than it was in 1997. The pornography industry brings in 14 billion dollars each year. To put that in perspective, that’s more than the top eight technology companies combined: Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo!, Apple, Netflix, and EarthLink.
And of course there are other temptations. Other ways we kill our pain and take a shortcut to feeling good. There’s alcohol, gambling, cheating on a spouse, cheating on your taxes, excessive work, excessive eating, excessive shopping, drugs, theft. Maybe your temptation isn’t on that list. But I’m pretty sure there is something you struggle with. We all do. The Bible says, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man” (I Cor 10:13). There is always something that we know isn’t right, but it’s attractive and in a weak moment we might let it pull us off God’s path.
That same verse goes on to say that, “with the temptation [God] will provide the way of escape”. Jesus escaped. When he was tempted in theGardenofGethsemanehe was able to resist. But when the disciples were tempted, they gave in. Now, here’s the question: What was the difference? If we believe that verse, God provided the way of escape in both cases. So why was Jesus able to avail himself of God’s help and his disciples were not?
Last Sunday I had a long day. After our two worship services here, I hurried off toBoisefor eight hours of boundary training. It’s mandatory for all clergy in our Oregon-Idaho Conference. We’ve had some instances of clergy crossing boundaries they never should have crossed. It happened here a few years ago. Our conference is currently being sued for millions of dollars because of the actions of another clergyperson who crossed a boundary that never should have been crossed. The boundary crossed in both of these cases was a sexual boundary, but there are many other boundaries. Many other lines that when crossed cause huge harm.
One of the things we’ve learned over the years is that people who cross these boundaries tend to be people with needs that aren’t being met in healthy ways. There is an inner brokenness in them that makes them easy prey when temptation comes. That doesn’t mean these people are powerless over temptation. We all have the ability to say “no” to something we know is wrong. And that doesn’t mean these people are any less responsible for their actions. When we mess up, it’s our fault. There is no one to blame but ourselves. But what I am saying here is that one way to minimize your risk of crossing some line that you know you shouldn’t cross is to make sure your inner needs are being met in healthy, honorable, Godly ways.
I’ll give you an example. When marriages are healthy, affairs are rare. When each partner feels loved and valued and desired, a temptation to stray is not nearly as tempting. It’s when needs are not being met in a marriage that all too often the boundary of the marital vows is crossed. That’s no excuse. There is never a good excuse for an affair. But the lesson here is that it’s better to prevent an affair than to pick up the pieces after it has happened. It’s better to “affair-proof” your marriage by working together to make it as strong and happy and loving as possible. Because if your marriage is strong it’s less likely that you will succumb in a weak moment.
My healthy boundaries workshop gave us a list of ways we can take care of ourselves that will meet our basic needs in healthy ways, not destructive ways. You’ve heard these before. Exercise. A good diet. Plenty of rest. Plenty of quality time spent with family. Don’t work too hard. Do work. We all need to work, as we saw last week. Hobbies. Music. Sing, play a musical instrument, or at least listen to music. Vacations. Time spent doing something you really enjoy. Time spent outdoors in the beauty of God’s creation. Worship. It’s not enough just to worship God outdoors. Friends. Prayer. We’ll have more to say about these last two. Do these things and temptations to stray will not be nearly as tempting. Don’t do them, don’t take care of yourself and, as it said it our scripture, you might be “entering the danger zone without even knowing it.”
On a journey of any length, you’d better carry a backpack. You’d better have some way to re-fuel when you get hungry or thirsty. It would be a foolish backpacker who would carry an empty backpack. And it would be almost as foolish to keep marching onward and never take time to stop and re-fuel. You’re suffering needlessly. You are getting dehydrated. Your muscles are starving from glycogen depletion. You’re setting yourself up for a real disaster. Take care of yourself. That’s the best way to stay on the right path and to safely reach your destination.
So how is it in your journey through life? How do you re-fuel when you are running on empty? Today’s scripture suggests two very important ways.
One is something we talked about earlier in this series. Friends. Jesus needed his friends like he had never needed them before. Did you hear how he was pleading with them to stay awake with him? They let him down. I’m sure Jesus suffered more than he needed to suffer because he suffered alone.
That’s another thing we’ve discovered when it comes to clergy crossing boundaries. They tend to be lone rangers. They tend to have no one they can talk to on a deep, honest level. We need each other to accompany us on our journey. Remember, “A journey is best measured in friends, not in miles.”
There’s another way Jesus models how we are to re-fuel on our life journey. Jesus turns to God in prayer. There’s a hymn about this.
Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged; take it to the Lord in prayer.
O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.
You don’t need to have friends praying with you. Jesus went ahead and prayed even while his friends slept. And we see time and time again in the life of Jesus that he would take the time to go off by himself to pray. Prayer is to your spiritual walk what an energy bar is to your physical walk! It is a great way to re-fuel. Each week on the “next steps” section of this Connection Card we invite you to pray every day. That means every day take some deliberate time to be alone with God. You might have things to say to God. Get it out. Be honest. God knows if you aren’t, so you’d may as well be honest. And also listen. Just be still and silent. God has things to say to you. And if you are listening, it just might make all the difference in your life.
So pray by yourself. But notice please, that even though Jesus often prayed alone, in this most difficult moment of his life, he desired to pray with friends. It didn’t work out that way. They went to sleep. But that was his desire. That was his intent.
We’re going to close today by praying with and for our friends. And we’re going to do it in an unusual way. You are used to being asked in a place like this to please turn off your cell phones. Well, I’m going to say something you’ve probably never heard before in church. Please turn your cell phones back on! God has the best calling plan ever. Unlimited minutes. And it’s all free.
I’m serious. If you have a cell phone, I’d like you to turn it on and send a text message to some friends. Tell them you’re praying for them right now. Invite them to take a moment, whatever they’re doing, to pray with us. You might even suggest they send a text to some of their friends to keep this prayer chain going! And of course, if you don’t have a cell phone or if you don’t want to send a text, just pray in the old fashioned way. Old fashioned is good when it comes to prayer. We’re just going to take about five minutes right now to re-fuel with some prayer. Then I will close.
Thank you, Lord Jesus, for your example of prayer. We confess to you that we starve ourselves routinely by depriving ourselves of prayer. We set ourselves up for failure by not availing ourselves of your guidance and your strength. Lord Jesus, it is a great life, but sometimes we do weaken. So strengthen us. And help us to strengthen those who travel with us. Lead us not into temptation. Deliver us from evil. Bring us together down the path that leads to the hope you alone offer. Amen.