13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
16 Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.James 1:13-18 (NIV)
Growing up there was a comedy show on television which brought laughter into our home. It was on the air in the early 1970s and starred comedian Flip Wilson, so was called “The Flip Wilson Show.” The show was a full hour in length and consisted of a series of short skits. Popular actors, comedians, musicians and public features would be a part of each week’s show. Many phrases were made popular within American society after they were said on this show, often by headline comedian Flip Wilson himself. One such catchphrase was, “The devil made me do it.”
Today’s passage from the letter of James places before us the question, “What is the source of temptation and sin?” Here we are told that the source is definitely not God. God cannot be tempted and God does not tempt. Instead, the source is our own evil desire. This desire leads to sin and the full outcome of sin is death. The writer then tells us that God is the source of good gifts for us. One of the greatest of these gifts is making us the first fruits of creation. God is the source of good and perfect gifts, not temptation and sin.
We are a people who want to blame someone or something else for our bad behavior and choices. Flip Wilson taught us to blame the devil. The contemporaries of James blamed God. The truth is that we, ourselves, are the source of evil desires which lead to sin. Only the love and goodness of God’s grace can overcome those desires and defeat sin and death. Instead of blaming God for the temptations, we should be thanking God for defeating the effect of those temptations.
23 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? 26 Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.Luke 9:23-26
There is a scene in the movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, when Indiana Jones tries to save Elsa from falling to her death in a large crevice. In order to save her, she must quit her attempt at recovering the Holy Grail from a ledge in the crevice and give her other hand to Indiana. She chooses to continue her attempt and falls. Then Indiana is faced with the same dilemma and his dad, who is trying to save him, tells him to let the grail go and give his dad the other hand. Indiana listens to his dad and is pulled to safety but the Holy Grail is lost. A tough decision faced both characters. Do they do whatever it takes to retrieve the grail and the fame and riches which will accompany it, or save their life by letting the grail go?
Jesus places a choice before the people of his time and us. Jesus says that to be his disciple one must deny self, take up the cross, and follow. Only by being willing to lose one’s life can one be saved. The life which Jesus offers requires sacrificing self interest for the interest of others as Jesus does. A disciple follows in the footsteps of the one they follow and proudly proclaims that in their lives.
Jesus’s choices are a bit reversed from the scene in the movie but the underlying condition is the same. We are faced with a choice. Do we cling to the lives we have constructed or are we willing to sacrifice those lives for the one Jesus offers? Our lives often are based on achieving goals which benefits us. These benefits may include financial excess, notoriety, or status. The focus in this situation is ourselves and our desires. Jesus indicates we must be willing to give these up if necessary, acknowledge Jesus as Lord of our lives, and follow his example of making choices which are not self-centered but focused on the benefit of others. Will we be willing to place our self desires on the cross to follow him?
I have observed over the years that most people want to appear to be good people. They desire others to see them in a positive light. Many will painstakingly do whatever it takes to present an admirable image to the world. I think this is strongly linked to our desire to be accepted, to belong, and to even be praised. This often leads to having a bit of a false self which is the one which we parade in front of others. When we are home, and or, alone, we act, speak, and think differently. Now having a public filter is often very wise because none of us have pure thoughts all the time, but when our false image becomes predominant, we have a problem.
As I have said before, I enjoy observing people. Since this has been a pastime for me for many years, I have become attuned to people’s nonverbal behaviors. I find that the nonverbals tell you about a person much more than their words. Because of this, an individual’s nonverbals can easily betray the true thoughts and responses. These betrayals give great insight into the true self, a glimpse into the person’s heart.
Some people have become very skilled at concealing their hearts. They have discovered how their nonverbal behaviors and their own words can give insight into their hearts. So they have learned skills which cover a large portion of their true self. However, there is one who can see beyond the skills and attempts to present a different image than that which is true. The one who sees directly into each person’s heart and knows every truth is the Lord.
The writer of Psalm 139 begins with this reminder: “You have searched me, Lord, and you know me.” This author was very aware of the Lord’s ability to see into the heart. The Lord knows us completely. Not only is the Lord aware of those words we use and the actions taken which is visible to everyone, the Lord knows our thoughts and motivations. The Lord knows our attitudes and desires. Our good and our bad are laid bare before the Lord. There are no false pretenses or false images before our God.
While I am an astute observer, I must admit that some of my perceptions of others are limited. In some situations I speculate and use previous experiences to form opinions. This is not necessary with the Lord. The Spirit of the Lord is able to connect with our spirits in fullness. Our hearts cannot be fortified against the infiltrating eye of the Lord.
Even with all of this insight into the true person who I am, the Lord still loves me. The Lord knows my heart fully yet accepts and claims me as a child of God. The love overcomes any of the negative found in me. The Lord declares me good.