Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Self and Temptation: Till Death Do We Part



I used to have this thing for hot spicy Doritos and sweet Hostess Twinkies. The crisp flavor-packed chips and the cream-filled soft fluffy cakes would call out my name every time I would pass a 7-11.  In the bigger grocery store, they were only an aisle or two away from fresh fruits and vegetables, and so convenient, often even on sale. They beckoned from the pantry at home. The popping of the tab on a Diet Dr. Pepper was the starting gun for a race to down a bag of chips and couple of Twinkies.  I would justify the chips by using them to scoop up tuna. How bad could that be? The Twinkies? Well, you have to do something to satisfy a severely challenged sweet tooth that has endured peppered tuna and a bit of picante.

Somewhere along the line I moved from sense-satisfying Doritos to sensible pretzels and then just pretty much dropped chips all-together. I discovered Goldfish, courtesy of my grandchildren. No more Twinkies either, though I did have a short-lived fling with Zingers. I still occasionally pause and even pick up a pack and read the nutrition label, but I usually opt for an energy bar now. More expensive, less enjoyable, but much more sensible. Victory in the small things perhaps. Giving up those things required absolutely no real deprivation whatsoever, and only a moderate amount of self-control, which, when exercised, actually works.

So, first God fills the world with incredibly wonderful things, then Satan comes along and sows seeds of corruption among all the good things so we have to rummage among the distracting thorns. While we intend to pursue what God wants for us, we also focus on getting what we think we want, which becomes progressively painful and requires major maneuvering skills. God us up front. He tells us that we will be tempted and Satan takes full advantage of that truth and we maneuver our way somehow through the good and the bad and partake 'till either our bodies, our minds, or our spirits are bloated to the point of implosion. Self and temptation: 'till death do we part. In a constant and consistent effort to please ourselves, we eat and drink and stimulate every pleasurable sense we possess far beyond the good sense we often don't possess.

If it were not so, I would not tell you.

In the common marriage of misfits, person and poison just seem to go together. From the baby in the high chair who just can't stop flinging the peas onto the floor to the sexually-addicted man or woman who cannot stem the flow of addictive pornography in the darkened room behind the locked door at the end of the hall. From the child who delights in spinning tall tales for attention to the local gossip who lies and destroys the lives of the ones she wishes would just love her. From the teenager who masturbates in solitude with a magazine fueling his fantasy to the man who cruises the local bars for today's take-home friend, a user-takes-all reality. From searching for fun to searching for satisfaction to searching for survival, we slowly succumb to the deeds of desire. When we finally ask ourselves how we got there, we can barely remember the first turn on to the road and the early warning signs have disappeared beneath the depths of despair to which they led.

Yes, it's dark. But . . . deprivation is so . . . depriving. Have a Twinkie. Or a trick.

Temptation is so pervasive that even those who seem above it are tempted to demonstrate their resistance and can soon find themselves falling prey to boasting and arrogance, unaware that they have become peacocks, unable to resist spreading their feathers for a look-at-me strut. Lord, please tempt a few more of them with an insatiable desire for humility. ( I know, Lord . . . you don't tempt.)

Is there no hope on this dark twisting road -- this trail of temptation -- that trumps itself at each turn with wonders anew designed to undo?

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. -- 1 Corinthians 10:13

Now that is worth a pause along the path as we tiptoe through the tulips of temptation. Of course, by this time we may have grown a little averse to verses that start with "no," but do read on.

Your temptations are just common -- That's right. Everything that beckons you is a been-there-done-that-over-and-over-again ploy. If there is nothing new under the sun, then the temptations that trail behind you to snare you as you weaken or the temptations that tarry on before you to trip you as you strengthen are just common old things that have emerged in the paths of every man and woman, Adam-and-Eve-on. You're special . . . but your temptations aren't.

God is faithful. -- Sometimes when I look at all the things we forfeit to satisfy the taunting of temptation, I want to hide from God in tears, unable to admit to Him that He gave me so much and I traded it away for . . . nothing. He loves us and we choose other things to love above Him. He joins us with another and we chose to splinter the union until it sometimes gives way beneath the weight of all our wayward wants. We leave the garden in our own free will on way too many occasions and yet . . . God is faithful and plants new gardens of Grace in which we can restore ourselves. He knows the validity of our confessions and accepts them even when others -- jaded by our failures -- turn away. He sees the reality of repentance even when others may refuse, reluctant to walk that road with us again. He cherishes the bruised reed and fans the smothered wick back to life.

God knows your limits. -- Face it, we don't. The Twinkie-hoarder doesn't see a 300-pound image in his future. The teen who grabs a Playboy from beneath his dad's bed doesn't see himself someday isolated behind a screen, staring at naked men and women on a website, muttering "I'm busy" when his own children tap on his shuttered door. The "curious" and lonely young man or woman looking for acceptance through sexual exploration doesn't see a future of sexual addiction where the search for sensual satisfaction trumps any semblance of self-worth. It's all give and take, like some perverted poker game. But God always knew what you could endure and He always knew you could have turned the other way in time . . . and that you still can, in His time, not yours. The temptations -- those common things -- that have beset you and controlled you? God says you can rise above them.

God provides a way. -- To that, you might say, 'Oh yeah? Well, I've cried out for the way and as the cries fade, exhaustion ensues, temptation endures and I fall again." Let's face it, though. We haven't ended up in the perpetual u-turn of temptation by looking in all the right places. For crying out loud . . . it takes more than just crying out. God provides the way . . . but He doesn't smother you with it. God provides the way . . . but He doesn't wall you away from the world He created. God provides the way . . . but it's not a walk for the faint-at heart. The courage of confession is the entry ramp to the road of repentance . . . and it's a long-haul process. Don't blame God for the bumps you put in your path; ask him for the endurance you need to get beyond them.

You will still be tempted. -- He says in His Word, "when you are tempted." He didn't say if or maybe. I can think of a dozen things this very moment that tempt me . . . but I'm not going to share that with you because it could cause you to be tempted too.  I don't know what your temptations are or what pulls your trigger, but God does, and He knows how to put it on safety because He knows you better than you do yourself because He doesn't resist knowing you . . . and sometimes you do. You will be tempted, by something, somewhere. Don't let it overtake you. Endure in God.

Here, in the heat of summer, with temperatures daily exceeding 100, it's really odd to to pass the signs that precede each of the bridges on my way to and from the office. "Bridge Ices Before Road." In this current season, those signs don't cause me to slow down or proceed with caution. I just whiz by, cross the bridge and head on down the road. Life is filled with seasons, though, and sometimes those bridge signs are deep with meaning.

Just heading on down the road? I'm afraid that's what we often do with the warning signs that precede the bridge that takes us down the ever-darkening road of temptation. If we would remember that the bridge ices before the road, maybe we would slow down, or turn back, take a different route and seek the truth of Christ's love, which would thaw out the bitterness in our hearts that tells us we have every right to fulfill ourselves by feasting on our temptations rather than on His guidance. After all, we've all been down that road before, and we know well the eventual slide into the ditch that comes when the force of want exceeds the grip of self-control. Instead of heeding the warning signs, we end up calling for a tow.

Your temptations may follow you all of your life, but God is greater, more ever-present, acts only in your best interest, gives His Spirit to guide you, unfolds the map, provides all the bridges, lays out all the paths and is leaving the light on to rejoice when you arrive at the place beyond all temptations. We can endure this road. I'll see you there.

In the meantime, if anyone ever tells you that they've have mastered all temptation, suggest they read the Bible and then you be willing to man the tow truck when the time comes. This is a long journey and there are no bridge-free roads.

God Bless,

Thom

To purchase Thom Hunter's books, including Surviving Sexual Brokenness: What Grace Can Do, visit the author page at Amazon.com.)

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