“The Five Fouls of Temptation”
March 24, 2019
By Ed Young
What’s a foul? Someone will say, “Oh, he fouled someone,” or “She fouled someone.” It’s a basketball term. It simply means illegal contact from one player towards another player, from one team to another. Individually if it’s contact against the rules, that’s a foul. If you understand that, lift your hand, if you understand that. Well, that’s what they ask you to do if you commit a foul in basketball. You lift your hand. I thought that was kind of interesting. I used to play basketball against a team in high school and when you would foul, 2,000 in the whole student body would stand and do this chant: The foul’s on YOU! The foul’s on YOU! The foul’s on YOU, YOU, YOU, YOU, YOU! So, here I am playing, and I would foul someone… The foul’s on YOU! The foul’s on YOU! The foul’s on YOU, YOU, YOU, YOU, YOU!
You might be thinking, well, that’s no big deal. Well, yes, it is. That will start to mess with you. I’m still getting therapy for it today. Calling you out, because of illegal contact, a foul. In basketball a foul is interesting because when you foul someone, sometimes the results would be the ball changes hands. It moves from your team to the other team and that’s not a good thing. That’s the price you pay for committing a foul. Other times, if someone fouls, the person gets some free throws. A free throw is a shot that’s unencumbered. The guys line up, or the girls, on either side and you shoot a free throw.
I want to shoot a free throw. I want to see if I can shoot one. I have only shot one time today so let’s see if I can make one. Would you encourage me? This is pressure right here. A little bit of pressure. Let’s see if he can do it. There is no telling how many free throws I’ve practiced during my life. I don’t even want to tell you. Now, why do I practice free throws? Why did I practice a free throw? Just to shoot well? No, I practiced free throws so in a game, when it was under the lights, when everything was intense, I could make the shot. And still even today, I don’t play anymore, before thousands of people, hit it. Just practice. But I practice so when I have an opportunity, I can hit the shot.
So, going back to fouling, when you foul there are consequences. But the worst consequence is, and this is kind of strange about basketball, you can foul out of the game. If you commit five fouls – <buzzer sound effect> It looks like she’s fouled out. <buzzer> That’s his fifth personal foul. Oh man. Have you ever fouled out before? Fouled out of life? Fouled out of a marriage? Fouled out of a relationship? Fouled out in school? Fouled out in a character test? I have. We just have this tendency to foul. I was thinking about the progression of fouls.
There are five fouls in basketball, and I thought about that. And I thought about that as it relates to temptation. Because temptation and fouling are a lot alike. The same process I would argue that I go through when I’m tempted would be the same process that I go through or that I watch someone go through when they foul out of a game. We are playing a game. We found out last time that we have this amazing game. God has given us a ball. He’s given us the court. He’s given us the position, and he wants us to play coast-to-coast basketball. Coast-to-coast meaning from one baseline to the other. The game never stops. He wants us to live a championship life. Isn’t that awesome? Think about it. But, in the game of basketball, like in the game of life, we’re going to have some foul trouble. So, I thought about talking about temptation. Surely you don’t deal with it. Temptation, temptation, fouling out of life.
Now, if you’re a guy, most guys are gonna be tempted. Guys look at me for a second. Most guys are gonna be tempted the way guys are tempted. It’s nothing unique, it’s nothing like, wow! Really? Ed, you mean you deal with that temptation? I’ve never dealt with that. Heck to the no. Guys deal with guy-temptations. Ladies deal with lady temptations. It’s just the way we are. Our opposition is the enemy and the devil has a strategy to take you out and me out. I’m just gonna say it right now. He has a strategy. He’s not that smart, he’s not omniscient. He has offenses and defenses to take you out and me out, if you’re a follower of Christ. Because he hates redemption, he hates forgiveness, he hates life change, he hates the cause of Christ, he hates it when we push the ball up the court, so he wants to take you and me out. It’s kind of scary, isn’t it? It is on one hand, but on the other, if you know Christ personally, we’re playing on his team. You’ve been scouted. You’ve been signed. You have a full ride; a court position and you’re playing on a winning team. But the Bible says that we’re to be sober and we’re to be alert because the enemy prowls around like a roaring lion. Prowls around like a great basketball player trying to take you out.
Let’s talk about fouls a little bit. The Bible says in Proverbs chapter 4, just to set the dye for this, verse 23, let’s read it together… 1-2-3, “Above all else…” OK, let me stop. Can you think of anything that’s above all else? I can’t. I mean, we’re talking about championship living. We are talking about above all else living. That is the goal. That is what God has for your life. Isn’t that great? Turn to your neighbor and go, “Man, that’s great.” OK. Above all else. Here’s a basketball term, are you believing it? Guard. Guard your what? Heart. Are you using your outlines? Hopefully you are. We made them for you, designed them for you. Guard your heart. What’s your heart? It’s the essence of who you are. What’s your heart? It’s the seat of yourself. Because out of the heart flows life. A trial usually is from the outside. A temptation is normally from the inside. A trial can turn into a temptation and that’s very important that we understand that.
I’ll give you an example. OK, you remember Abraham? I’m going to the Old Testament. Abraham cruised down to Canaan and Abraham had with him all of his stuff. He was a multi-billionaire, a heavy-hitter, and he looked around Canaan and he was like, man! We need some water and food. So, instead of realizing it was a test and a trial sent by God, it became internal, it turned into a temptation. He went to Egypt and he really, really messed up. He fouled out. That means as a believer I have to understand testings and trials and temptations. That means as a believer I’ve got to be tenacious. That means above all else I’ve got to guard my heart.
Well, how, then, do you deal with temptation? Well, it’s good to know what temptation is so I thought today we would just sort of call the devil out and I thought we should just show everybody what he’s into. When I played in college, I only started like 2 games in my career. That was it. The other time I spent on the bench and I would spend hours and hours a day practicing. Many times I would have to play the offenses and defenses of the teams we were going to play. Like, the University of Minnesota, like Louisville, like Virginia Tech, so I would become, for practice purposes, one of those players. And I did that, and my other teammates did that, to prepare the starting team for what they were going to face. So, they knew it. They knew that Louisville might do this on an out-of-bounds play. They knew that Minnesota was going to toss the ball into Kevin McHale, who I played against, like that. So, that’s what we did. That’s how we rolled. So, I’m just gonna tell you, here is what the enemy wants to do in your life and mine, but at the end it’s gonna be awesome. But this first portion is gonna be tough.
I heard this past week from a brilliant psychologist who said this. He was talking about temptation. He said, “If you don’t listen, you’ll have to feel.” That’s my prayer. I’ve been pastoring now at Fellowship for what, 29 years, something like that. And I can give you a laundry list of people who have listened to the word of God, and who have obeyed the word of God. I can also give you a laundry list of people who have, like, oh yeah, man! I hear ya! But they go out and follow the foul and man, they have felt it in the consequences of fouling out are absolutely hellacious. Because sin does something. It will take you farther than you want to go. It will keep you longer than you want to stay. It will always cost you more than you want to pay. So, the pain of discipline is far easier than the pain of compromise.
Let’s talk about some fouls. The first portion of fouling out is desire. Say desire with me. Desire. Desire. What is a desire? A desire is an urge, a thought, a word, a concept. That’s not a sin. I have desire, so do you. I have the desire to eat and drink. If I didn’t, I’d die. I have the desire to have sex. Sex in marriage is where God says it should be played out, within the boundaries, within the baselines of his word, of his directives. If we didn’t have the desire for sex we wouldn’t be here. So, God is pro-desire. Are you feeling me? Look to your neighbor and say, “God is pro-desire.” He is, he is. So, sin starts with desire. Our mind can comprehend, scientists and behaviorists tell us 3-5,000 words per minute, our minds. Now, I can speak at my best maybe 600-800 words a minute, maybe I can have gusts up to 900 words a minute. That’s about it. So, you and I have these thoughts, these concepts, these urges even before we realize cognitively that we’re having them. Desire, this impure thought, this like, wow, where did that come from? Or man, this thing to rage on someone, that’s not the sin. It’s what we do with it. The first stage of fouling out is desire. James, the half-brother of Jesus said in verse 14, he said people are tempted by their own evil desire. The arena is a 4 ½” arena between your ears and mine. That’s where it’s played out. Desire. Sin comes into play when we take a God-given desire and use it in a God-forbidden way. It’s doing a good thing in a bad way. Maybe you have a test tomorrow. Maybe you’re in school, an exam. Oh, it’s good to want to pass the test. That’s good! But it’s bad to cheat. But there’s always a temptation to cheat. Desire. What do you do with a desire?
The second foul, distraction. James 1:14, “…leads them away.” So, people are tempted when by their own evil desire, our fallen nature, and then it leads them, it leads me away. A distraction, a distraction. So, you have that urge, that thought, that concept. You have an opportunity either to delete it or you go, you know what? I’m gonna think about that. What would it be like? I mean, I’m just thinking, to hold her? What would it be like to be with him? What would it be like if I just stretched the truth and lied and made that extra money? What? I’m just thinking, I’m just thinking. What would it be like to take that money under the table? What would it? And the enemy is saying, “It’s OK! You’re just thinking about it.” The Holy Spirit is our coach. He’s going, “NO! Change the channel! Don’t stare! Look at something else! Come on, now, don’t! No, no, no, no, no, no! NO! Watch that distraction! No!” We hear the Holy Spirit of God saying that.
Basketball is a game of deception. There’s something called the trap. You’re playing and it looks like the court is open and you’re like, wow! The court is open! I can dribble here! And you start dribbling and all of a sudden two opponents come out of nowhere and they trap you. You’re like, wow, I’m in trouble. Watch March Madness. Coaches are screaming, “Watch the trap! Watch it! Watch out! Come on! Pass now!” the coach is doing that. So, during the desire phase it segues into the distraction phase, and then the deception phase. Well, here is where we should call a time out and talk to the coach. Here’s where we should listen to the Holy Spirit. But you’ll notice this next foul is the deception phase.
The Bible says, James 1:14 “… and traps them. There you have it. Isn’t it interesting that what we chase in our freedom ends up enslaving us? Oh, I just want to be free, man. No holds barred! I just want to do what I want to do. I can just experiment a little bit. It doesn’t control me. It doesn’t affect me. And then, after ra while, what do we call people? Addicted. That’s just psychobabbleish. What does it really mean? The book of Romans: God gives them over to their own lusts. That’s what it is. What are you chasing away from God? What are you trying to do away from God? Oh, it’s fun for a while but it can and will enslave you. Is something about to trap you? The Holy Spirit is saying, “Watch out for the trap! Watch that trap!”
Our twins played basketball and they played JV and Varsity. One time I was driving them home from practice and one of the twins said,
“Dad, you’re coaching us so much. I mean, we have a coach but you’re trying to help us play better basketball. I just feel like you’re trying to live your career, your basketball, through us.” I stopped the car, I said,
“No, I’m not. I was about 5 times better than you were when you were that age. Sorry, but no cigar.” Like, a couple of games later, I’ll never forget this. I’ve seen thousands and thousands of basketball games. Twins were playing, heat of the battle, they throw the ball into Landra. So, the coach is going,
“Landra, watch the trap! Watch the trap! It’s coming. Pass the ball, pass the ball!” Landra is just like this. And I’m yelling, too, from the stands,
“Landra, watch the trap! Don’t pick your dribble up!” Because in basketball you want to keep your dribble alive, because once you pick it up, they’re all over you. Sure enough, she picked it up, they were all over her. She was pivoting.
“Landra, hit the open man!” the coach said. “Landra!” And all of a sudden Landra just… I’ve never seen that ever. Just threw the ball up for grabs. I’m done. I’m finished. I’ve never seen that. Don’t do that.
Well, a desire, that’s one foul. A distraction, that’s another foul. A deception, that’s another foul. Then disobedience happens. Check out verse 15, “This (say it with me -wait a minute) this desire leads to sin.” Now, notice in the early stages the Holy Spirit, read your Bible, is very active, very vocal. Watch out! Call a time out! Hey, it’s just a thought. Don’t worry about it. Don’t get distracted. Watch the trap. Watch it! Once, though, we step over the line and sin, here’s what the Holy Spirit says. <long pause> Nothing. Watch these coaches during March Madness. No, no! Watch! Throw the ball! He’s walking! Pass! Watch out! Get the guy in the middle! But once they make the turnover, once they commit the foul, watch their expressions. Disobedience. Sin. We’ve all been there.
And then, the fifth foul, death. Wow. We’re out. Fouled out. “And then sin grows and brings forth death.” Death, death, death. Death over-promises, under-delivers. When we’re in that phase of disobedience and death, do you know what the devil tells you and me? The foul’s on YOU! The foul’s on YOU! The foul’s on YOU, YOU, YOU, YOU, YOU! God can never use you again! You’re a no-count! His grace and mercy, they’re not big enough. You’re done. That’s why the Bible calls him the accuser of the brethren. Those are lies. That’s his native language. Obviously, God doesn’t want us to foul out, but we all have in certain areas. I know that. Here’s the good news, though. God has, I’ll say it again, he’s scouted us. He’s recruited us. I mean, he has this full ride for us, full scholarship. Puts it down on the table, hands you and me my favorite pen, a Mont Blanc. Sign on the dotted line, my friend, God says. Because the moment you sign all of our fouls and turnovers will be transferred to Jesus. And his righteousness and forgiveness and holiness will be transferred to you.
Have you made that decision? Have you been born again? Because God rejects our birthday. Did you know that? God rejects our first birth. Throughout the Bible God rejected the firstborn, Cain, and received the second-born, Abel. God rejected the firstborn, Ishmael, and received the second-born, Isaac. God rejected the firstborn, Esau, and accepted the second-born, Jacob. God rejects your birthday and mine because we’re in foul trouble! We have a sin problem we can’t deal with on our own. We’re in trouble. So, Jesus took our sin, our fouls, our shortcomings upon his life on that cross, died for your sins, rose again and offers us eternal life. Here’s the pen. You either sign up, you either sign on the dotted line, or not.
I literally signed, years ago, my full scholarship at Florida State. Everything was taken care of. They even gave me spending money after games. I hope that was legal. Everything. I didn’t pay for anything. Stayed in the best dorms, had my own dorm room, maid service, training tables. I had it all. Nike sponsored us. You want some more shoes, Ed? Some more socks? I was an art major. I could buy anything I wanted to in the book store. No charge! Would I have been an idiot to refuse that deal? You’re gonna tell me? Well, I’m just thinking about being born again. You’ve already made a dumb decision. You gonna be an idiot? And I say that in a nice way. Really? You’ve tried all this other stuff and you’re not gonna make that decision? It starts there, at that second birth, receiving Jesus Christ into your life. Signing up, that cosmic transaction takes place. My guilt for his grace, my mess-ups for his mercy, my fouls for his faith. That’s where it starts. Make that decision today. I’ll give you a chance to do that in a couple of moments.
But, if you’re a follower of Christ, real quick let’s fill these last three blanks in. I could tell. You’re like, Ed, let’s fill those blanks in? You’re probably going, what the blank? Let’s fill the blanks in. It’s a little joke. Remember your coach. How do you live a championship life? How do you live above all else? Remember your coach. The Bible says, you can read the whole verse in James 1:16, “Don’t be deceived. Every good and perfect gift is from above.” Remember the greatness of God. God is great. He’s awesome. Remember what he has done. Remember your life. Remember how much he loves you.
#2 – Remember your team. Remember it. Remember your team. God has again recruited you, drafted you. You’re a part of his championship team. We win, we’re winners, not losers. We have the power to take any offense and any defense that the enemy throws at us. Any, any stuff. Also, remember the season. Remember the season. Temptation is just for a season. You come through the season, you’ll have victory, you’ll emerge with greater endurance and perseverance to face the battle again. It’s that muscle memory. I mean, I can palm a basketball still. It’s easy to do. Why is that? Because I’ve handled a basketball so much in my life. You handle this, you involve yourself on Christ’s team, the church, you read, you pray, you begin to reveal your feelings. Because silence is one the greatest weapons the enemy has. I’m telling you, you’re going to understand what above all else living is about.
I mean, the devil has a strategy to take me out, no doubt about it. Take you out, too. But for me, if he took me out, he would embarrass the name of Jesus, maybe blow up my marriage, probably, that could happen if I fouled out. Kids, I mean all the books and things I’ve written, it’s like, oh really? He fouled out, man. All the people that taught me. Seminary, Sunday School, all of the people that I’ve preached to, the thousands that I’ve baptized, the hundreds and hundreds of weddings I performed, the funerals. The stakes are sky-high, man. It isn’t just me. You have a similar situation. I’m just telling you about me. But see, because I understand, and I have to do this daily, who my coach is because I get what team I’m on. Again, daily, this daily discipline, being a part of the church, because I know it’s just for a season for the most part (I still commit fouls), I live a championship life. And so do many of you.
A while back I was going through a difficult time just emotionally, I felt. Not to naval-gaze too much but I was involved in a lot of different things here and they were very, very stressful. Trying to be the point person to raise tens of millions of dollars, speaking every week, trying to develop leaders and this and that. Sometimes it just becomes a little bit overwhelming. I mean, I wasn’t having a black-tie invitational pity party, but I was feeling like, wow! Maybe I’ll just cash in and chill. Retire for the rest of my life. Maybe I’ll just quit. You know, we’ve had an amazing run and, maybe so. And it’s OK to say you want to quit if you know you’re not going to quit. But I really believe there was – and I know – spiritual warfare involved at this time. Lisa and I were sitting outside this little restaurant and talking about it, just the attacks of the enemy. And they’re real. And it’s like,
“Man, Lisa, sometimes I just don’t know about the effectiveness. You know? I just don’t know about, man, am I really? Should I really be doing this still?” Kind of one of those conversations. I had just said that when a couple walked up with some kids and they said,
“Hi, Ed and Lisa! We go to Fellowship. Thank you so much for leading Fellowship,” etc. Wow. We don’t want to interrupt your meal, then they walked inside the restaurant. We were sitting outside. About 10 minutes later the woman approached our table and she said, with tears streaming down her face,
“Ed and Lisa, I want to tell you something. Fellowship Church has changed our lives. We wouldn’t be married today if it weren’t for Fellowship. In fact, Ed, that book you wrote (and she named a book) really revolutionized our thinking about relationships.” And she goes, “I’m sure you guys hear this all the time.” I said, “No, no, no we don’t.” and then she walked off. And Lisa and I go, is that God or what? Here is a small thing, you know? Here we’re going through this time where it feels like you’re being pressed on all sides, it feels like you’re being trapped. Yet, we stayed the course. We just grinded it out and in the perfect timing of God he brings a situation to go, I’m using you. Amazing things are happening. That’s just my life. And I know many of you can give me similar stories. I just want you to listen before you feel. Don’t foul out. Live a championship life and it will be amazing what he will do. Let’s pray together.
[Ed leads in closing prayer.]