CORPORATE MAKEOVER SERMON SERIES
(Navigating the Trap of Temptation)
AUGUST 30, 1998
Why are there holes in the bottom of the bran cereal box, I asked. Then it hit me. We had a rodent problem. So I went down to Tom Thumb and purchased three mousetraps. I put those little rodents favorite food on the mousetraps, American cheese. I went to bed, got up the next morning, opened the pantry, checked the three traps and found they were empty. No mice, no cheese. This drill went on for three consecutive days until finally I talked to a rodent removal expert who shared some insider information with me. He told me to use peanut butter instead of cheese. He said that would do it.
So I spread some peanut butter on the three traps. And since this is the state of Texas, the Tex-Mex capital of the world, I put a little bit of tortilla in them along with the peanut butter. I called this the tortilla of death-death-death. I went to bed. Lisa and I had been to bed about ten minutes when suddenly we heard bang, bang, bang. I jumped up, turned the light on, ran down the hall, turned the corner, threw open the door of the pantry and there they were. Three dead mice with their large buck teeth over and around the tortilla of death. It was an ugly but beautiful sight.
Some of you may be saying that mice are so stupid. They have little pea-sized brains. They fall for the same bait, the same way, over and over again. Mice are just dumb. Some of you, though, who have been around here for a time, believe that you see it, that I am going to parallel mice with people, that I will use a word picture to talk about temptation in people’s lives. But you say not to even go there, that you are complex and cannot be compared to a little rodent.
Oh, really? I watch record numbers of human beings fall for the same bait, in the same trap, in the same way, over and over and over again. That is why I think that we need today’s message. I am in a series called “CORPORATE MAKEOVER: Changing The Way You Look At Work”. In this session we are going to talk about avoiding the trap of temptation or “Occupational Hazards”.
Think about any career, any line of work and it will have occupational hazards. If you are a doctor, at any point in time, you can contract a deadly virus. If you are a postal worker, you can get attacked by a pack of pit bulls. If you are an athlete, you can blow the knee out and ruin the career. If you are a pastor, you can have half the church fall asleep during the first five minutes of your message. There are occupational hazards out there. Most companies and organizations, corporations and churches have employee manuals, guidelines, perimeters, for everybody to read so people can stay away from those occupational hazards. We can learn about them, we can stay away from them, but they will always be there.
There is a hazard that most manuals and handbooks do not discuss. It is the hazard of the trap of temptation. And now I want to open up God’s manual, His employee book called the Bible. The Bible tells you and me, pulling no punches, the hard, cold, loving truth regarding how to avoid the trap of temptation. Temptation hits us from all sides. It is the sales person who is suddenly tempted to stretch the truth so she can win the incentive trip. It is the executive who is lured to have the long, lingering conversation alone with the attractive co-worker. It is the employee who is drawn into not reporting his or her income. It is the parent who neglects another soccer tournament just to make another buck. The traps of temptation are everywhere.
Who is behind these traps? Who is pulling the strings of all of these temptations? Who is setting the bait? Who is doing all this? I believe there is a powerful, sinister force out there whose sole agenda is to take you and me down to the depth of sin. His name is Satan. Now some of you can sit there in your skepticism and brush him off and laugh him off and pretend that he does not exist. But the truth of the matter is, he is real. And to discover how real he is all you have to do is live for awhile. He is powerful. He is potent. His temptations are going to be out there. The Bible says in James 1:13, “when you are tempted”. Not if or maybe but when. Temptation, ladies and gentlemen, is not the sin. It is getting enmeshed and tangled up in the trap of temptation that is sin.
So in the few moments that remain, I want to give to you Satan’s strategy of temptation. First, he sets the trap. Satan strategically sets the trap. To understand this we have to go back to the book of Genesis, chapter three and look at the first time the Evil One set a trap. He talked to a lady known as Eve. I will paraphrase a little bit. “Did God tell you that you couldn’t eat any of the fruit?” And Eve responded, “We can eat fruit, but not the fruit off that tree.” Hey, Eve, can’t you look at the fruit in the garden and especially that luscious, sun-kissed fruit on the tree that God told you not to eat? Can’t you just look at it? Come on Eve. Did God tell you that you can’t look at it? Surely you won’t rebel but you can just look at it. Just think about it. Contemplate it. Use your imagination a little bit.”
Satan always starts the trap of temptation in our minds. It always starts in our minds. He comes to you and he comes to me and he might say, “I know that you would not consider stepping over the line, just fantasize a little bit. Just picture it. It is just you. It is just in your brain. No one else will know. Come on. Come on.” He is always taking God’s truth and suddenly twisting it. He sets the trap of temptation. It is a scary thought, isn’t it? The Evil One right now is thinking of ways to take you down and to take me down. He is thinking of traps that he will set strategically for you and me, in the home, around the neighborhood, at the health club, at the office.
When I set those mouse traps of mine, I didn’t just say, “OK I will put one here, Lisa, one there, Lisa, and another way over there.” I set the traps strategically, where the mice had been around my favorite food, bran cereal. And I got them.
Have you heard about the panther that is on the prowl? It is here in the metroplex, a panther, weighing over 100 pounds. The most hilarious thing to me about this deal is the advice that has been given out. Number one. If you see the panther, don’t make eye contact. Number two. If you see the panther, move away slowly. Professionals are trying to catch this thing. No. I saw the other day where they are setting traps. They are setting traps strategically, at certain places where they have seen evidence of the panther. That is what they are doing and eventually they will catch it. Satan is always setting traps. It begins in the mind.
Let’s go to the second part of his strategy. After he sets the trap, he then sweetens the bait. Remember it starts in the mind and then Satan, the father of lies, as he is call in John 8:44, begins to spew a steady stream of garbage and junk your way and my way. Go back to Genesis 3. “Eve, God is holding out on you, sister. You see, if you eat the forbidden fruit, it will make you like Him. You can elevate yourself to His level or above.” Now I think this is fascinating because that is a sin Lucifer, himself, dealt with that got him cast out of heaven. “Hey, Eve, come on, God is just kind of testing you. By the way, God is a forgiving God. Come on.”
He might say to one of us, “Just try it. Just sample it. You only go around once. Your spouse will never know. They will never discover it at the corporation because they make so much money. No one will every pick you out. A little lie never hurt anyone. You have got to do that to make the cash. Hey, you can make a lot of money now and then you will have a lot of time to spend with your family later. Come on.”
Taste the fruit. He begins to give us that steady stream of garbage. He gets us to think about it, to fantasize over it, to imagine it. Then he begins to lie to us. He gives us reasons and rationales and all that stuff.
During my life and in conversations with people from many different backgrounds, I have discovered that there are two major times when Satan really sweetens the bait, when he puts that peanut butter tortilla on the trap. The first time is when we are on a roll. It is when we feel invincible. A lot of men and women in this economy are feeling like that. You are feeling bulletproof, on a roll, able to determine your own destiny. Watch out. Watch out. Watch out because when we feel like we are on a roll, on a high, on a mountaintop, that is when he often sets the trap, sweetens the bait, messes with out minds. And on the heels of that, he begins to deceive us and to lie to us.
How about Solomon, the wealthiest man who ever lived. Solomon makes Bill Gates look like he is poverty stricken. Solomon, a gifted leader, a brilliant man, the turnaround kid, yet he had a trap regarding the opposite sex. The evil one sweetened the bait and Solomon never was what he could have been before God. On a roll.
Another time that we are vulnerable is when we are down, when we are singing the blues. Maybe when the market has dropped by 500 points. I think about Jesus. After He had fasted 40 days and 40 nights, after all that, in the desert, the Evil One comes on the scene and begins to test Him and to tempt Him. Be careful when you are high and also when you are low.
There is one more thing he does. It is very simple. The thing that is amazing is that we keep falling for this stuff time and time again. The third thing that he does is snare his prey. We are his prey. This is going to be really cruel because we begin to flirt with the bait, mess around with the bait, test the bait, mouth the bait and then suddenly out of nowhere we feel that cold snare break our backs. Fur is flying, bones are crushing, we are gasping for breath.
Satan said to Eve, “Eve I know that God said you would die if you eat the fruit, but you are not going to die. You are Eve.” She began to take the bait, eat the bait and the result was death. Wherever there is sin, there are consequences of that sin. And you would think that the Evil One would stop here. “OK, that’s enough. I will go somewhere else. I am going to set some more traps for other people.” You would think that, but that is not true. He comes to steal, kill and destroy, John 10 tells us. When the cold snare breaks our back, when the fur is flying and the bones are breaking and we are gasping for breath and screaming out to God for forgiveness and mercy, you would think that he would quit. But no, he picks up the trap, looks at us and laughs. He accuses us, tempts us, deceives us. He asks, “Who do you think you are? You think that God will forgive you? You think that you can be used again? You think that there is a place for you in the church? Come on. Who are you trying to fool? Don’t even jump on that train.” How ugly. How horrible. How devastating. And a lot of us have felt that before and it hurts. It is bad. It doesn’t feel good. We feel worthless.
Does God give up? Does He say, “Too bad, you messed up.” No, He doesn’t. God will restore us. God will forgive us. But then God wants us to do what He says in His employee handbook. He wants us to get serious about avoiding those occupational hazards, oftentimes those subtle traps of temptation.
Now, before I tell you how to do that, I want to stop and ask you a very important question. Do not miss what I am going to ask you. The stakes are sky high. What temptation right now is Satan making look very, very alluring for you? What trap, what methodology, what scheme, what strategy is looking so good that you are thinking about doing it? What is it?
Against the backdrop of that question and your answer, I want to give you some ways to avoid the trap of temptation, not temptation, the trap of temptation.
First, recognize the power and strategy of Satan. Satan’s power is second only to God’s. He is not present everywhere. He is not all-knowing. His power is limited, but it is second behind the Lord’s power. I John 4:4. “Greater is He who is in you than he who is of the world.” If you are a Christ-follower, recognize that He is in you. Recognize the power and the strategy. Know that he has a strategy to take you down every single day of your life. He is patient. He just waits. He attacks when you are high, when you are low, in your strength and in your weakness.
Now some people become paranoid. They see the devil behind everything. You have got to chill if that is you. Greater is He who is in you than who is in the world. We are going to do a series next that is called THE END. I will be talking about the end of time. I have got some good news for you. If you are worried about Revelation or Daniel, guess what. If you are a Christian, we win. How is that for you. We win!
Have you ever heard of this company Chic-fil-A? I love Chic-fil-A because you can order very healthy there. I remember when Chic-fil-A started when I was a little kid. It was a bunch of little stores selling chicken sandwiches. It was doing pretty well. Now it is doing real, real well. It is about a $700 million company. I think that is pretty good. It is privately owned by the Cathy family. The Cathys are great Christian people. In fact, when they began this company they decided to make it a Biblically-driven corporation. They made the choice to be closed on Sunday. They applied what the Bible said, to stop working and start worshipping on Sunday. Now I am sure they were and are and will be tempted to be open on Sunday. There are millions of reasons for them to do so. But they will not do it. And I will say this. I do not believe that God would have blessed their company the way He has if they had sold out and taken the bait of this temptation.
A lot of people here, because we are a very young church, will have situations and opportunities to compromise in our various fields of labor. A little gray area, a little conversation that might press the envelope now and then, a little trap is set, the bait is sweetened, financially speaking and it is going to look so good. What are you going to do? Recognize the power and the strategy of Satan. Go God’s way and He is going to bless your life.
Second, resolve to play out the pain and the horror of getting hit. Play it out. James 1:15. “Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.” Why do we play out the pain and the horror of getting hit? We have got to look past the trap of temptation, past the sweetened bait. Think about the people who have taken the bait, the same way, who are reaping the same results. Think about that and play it out. Question how taking the bait will affect your relationship with God, with your spouse, with your children, with your co-workers, with your friends and so on. Play it out.
Twenty-four months ago I had an intense conversation with a young man who was considering taking a swan dive into the cesspool of sin. He was going to take a big old bite out of the bait that Satan had sweetened strategically. I tried to help in this process. I took the Bible and read him scripture. I prayed with him. I wanted him to question what his action would do to his relationship with God, spouse, children, etc. I wish I could tell you that the guy backed off, that he got out of there. But he didn’t. About three months later he took the bait. And right now he is just beginning to feel that cold, hard hit from the snare. It is not worth it. Play it out. The pain and the horror of getting hit. Resolve to do so.
Three. Run. Just run. The Bible says in James 4:7, “resist the devil and he will flee from you.” Resist him and he will flee. There are certain conversations with certain people in certain places that you cannot have. It is too much. You had better turn and run. If you are involved with certain people who will cause you to compromise your values and your Biblical standards from a vocational standpoint, sometimes you have got to turn and run.
Do you remember what happened to Joseph when he was tempted by Miss Egypt. What did he do? He turned and ran. We need to just get out of there. If you know you are going to mess up in New York, don’t go to the ticket counter and buy the ticket for a plane ride there. Don’t even go near the ticket counter. A lot of people say, “Well, I was in this topless club…. Well, I was dealing with this guy who I knew was kind of shady…. Well, I was over at that party while they were doing this and that….” And I wonder, what were they thinking. God gave us a brain. He gave us common sense. You have got to turn sometimes and run. There is something Biblical about just taking off and sprinting. Some of you have got to run right now. You are playing with it, thinking about it, circling the trap. Run.
Fourth. Get Bible ready. One of my favorite verses was Psalm 119:105. “Your word (this employee manual) is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” In other words, as I am negotiating the maze of life, I have a lamp, a manual, that will keep me from the hazards. We have got to know the Bible. That is why we have so many activities, so many programs, so many small groups that teach you how to know and study God’s word. As leaders we cannot take you and force you to read it and to know it. It is up to you. But we want to help you and put tools in your hands to do so. That is why in about four weeks we are opening up a bookstore in our church. We want to give you tools and books and Bibles and videos and coloring books and bookmarkers and gifts and knick-knacks and whatever to help you know and study and meditate and hide God’s word in your heart.
In Matthew 4, Jesus had a showdown with the Evil One. What happened? The Evil One tried to tempt Him when He was at a low, how did Christ respond? You know what He said to the Evil One? “It is written…” He knew the scriptures. There is something powerful, supernatural about the best selling book of all times. The lamp, the light that will illumine your life and mine. It will show us the traps.
I will promise you something. If you obey this stuff, it is not going to keep you sin free, nor snare free. We are not perfect. We stumble and fall all the time. But I promise you, it will keep you and keep me from those big time traps, those big time temptations, those occupational hazards.