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Blessed if you do, and blessed if you don’t – How good is that!?

March 8, 2014

Yesterday, I met with my ministry team: We were served some amazing home made biscuits – thanks Gerald – Sue was ‘good’ and refused because she is on a diet – I was bad, I waved one in front of her, tempting her.

Now this was all part of wider joking around. I wouldn’t really want to lead her away from her commitment to her diet. But the reason for mentioning this story is because this is what tends to come to mind about when we hear the word “tempt” or “temptation”. Temptation is so easily caught up with silly almost irrelevant things, a slice of cake or one more beer.

That is how the first of Jesus’ temptations in the desert could seem (Matthew 4.1-11). The temptation to to turn a stone into bread. Jesus was hungry so what could be wrong with a little bread? Cake, well cake would be an indulgence so obviously he shouldn’t turn a rock into cake, but bread is just the mundane staple – no harm there surely? The Devil was right, there was no harm with Jesus having some bread at the end of his fast. It was the temptation to misuse God’s gifts to him, it was also the temptation to look to earthly things to satisfy heavenly, spiritual needs – that was the problem.

You and I are very unlikely to be tempted to work a miracle for food (that said I wish I had a £1 for every time someone joked at a party about me to turning water into wine!). But this and the other temptations are about Jesus being offered an alternative, simpler, easier and much less painful way to make a difference.

The Devil tempted Jesus and he failed. But he hasn’t given up. After all, just because Jesus was too strong from him, that doesn’t mean that he can’t have a go at each of us. I’m not God, I’m not even that special, so I can see the Devil licking his lips at easy meat like me, … and you too. He’s right as well. I think I’m smart but I’m not really that bright. Realistically, I’m not going to spot the trap every time. At some point I’ll only see the reasonable sounding argument and wonder happily off the path Jesus has put me on. The Devil’s so much brighter and more cunning than us that he can pick us off easily, one by one. Part of us even quite likes to be led astray. It’s like Steve Turner’s poem, “Just One More Time”:

Just One More Time – Steve Turner 
Lead me into temptations
just one more time.
Lead me up close
through circumstances
beyond my control.
Lead me then leave me.
Deliver me from escape,
increase my ignorance,
limit my will.
Make me the victim of
a victim-less-crime.
Leave me ’til sin
is the only way out,
give me a taste of
what to avoid.
Leave me ’til it’s
your fault
yet guilt floods me
like a chill.
Then lead me back
into temptation,
just one more time.

Left there I’ve no chance, I’ve had it. I hear Private Frazer, the undertaker in Dad’s Army, saying, “We’re doomed… doomed!” Doomed I would be too, if that was the end of the story. But it isn’t. Unlike Jesus I’m not left to face temptation on my own. I have the Holy Spirit living within me giving me all the heavenly resources that were available to Jesus out in that desert.

I have the Spirit living in me to guide me and lead me ever more into the life I should be living. That was one of the promises God made at my baptism, to send his Holy Spirit to be part of me for ever. That is one of the wonderful gifts given to all of God’s baptised children.

Even so the temptations that come can be so subtle. They can involve keeping something that I shouldn’t or being a little bit clever with my expenses – surely, I’m worth it after all! The whispering goes on… “no one will ever know”, “everyone does it”, “you’re an idiot if you don’t help yourself to what you’re entitle to”. “It’s not like your claiming £1,000s for a duck pond or for a second home like those MPs”. The whispering goes on some more, “it’s only tax, everyone fiddles their tax, … just a little bit … it’s not stealing, … not really”.

What ever it is, everyone fails sometime, and I’m no exception. That is another difference between me and Jesus. Jesus came so that when we fail we can be forgiven. I can fail and the Spirit will heal me again. Indeed, that is the Christian way of life – I fail, I say sorry, I’m forgiven, I’m healed, I fail again… Indeed, I’ve found that each time I fail to resist temptation the Spirit uses my failure as an opportunity for I to grow and become more godlike.

There’s a saying, “Damned if you do, and damned if you don’t”. Well I’ve found that it can be the other way around, “Blessed if you do, and blessed if you don’t”. The Spirit is in me so each time I listen to him I resist temptation and am blessed with a closer walk with God. The Spirit is in me so each time I fall to temptation I can be forgiven, healed of any spiritual hurt I’ve caused, and blessed with a closer walk with God.

That is what is so special about the Christian way of life. Through Jesus God is real and present and powerful, so powerful that I am “Blessed if I do, and blessed if I don’t”.

So, when I recognise a temptation in time to stop, I smile, laugh at the Devil, and know that I’ve been blessed.

When I realise that I’ve fallen to temptation again, I smile, laugh at the Devil, say sorry to God, feel the healing power of the Spirit, and know that I’ve been blessed.

Blessed if you do, and blessed if you don’t – How good is that!?

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