We have a mouse in our apartment. At least, we hope we have a mouse in our apartment and not multiple mice living among us. On the bright side, it is a small mouse; however, small as it may be, it still has the power to startle my wife and family at will. It has been seen dashing under the hinges of open doors and scurrying across the floor into a gap between the dishwasher and the cabinet. This little mouse is, more or less, a nuisance, diverting our attention from the television or from conversation when it is seen out of the corner of our eyes. That said, this little mouse may be an indication of a larger ‘infestation’ and must be dealt with.
Metaphorically, I have a great deal of little mice in my house: they are the seemingly inconsequential things called temptations. They distract and derail my mind if they are not properly addressed as the damaging dangers they are. They reveal themselves during the idle times of my life since I do have instant access to those little graphic images of a prurient nature or an app on my phone that enables me to procure doughnuts at a moment’s notice. But, unlike the pesky mus musculus that might chew through an electrical wire or contaminate your cookie supply, temptation will (if unchecked) drag you off and destroy your life.
… but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. James 1:14-15
Unlike the house mouse, which infiltrates the boundaries of our abodes and then wreaks havoc, temptation is formed within the walls of our soul through the development of a desire for immediate gratification through the things of the world. That desire becomes an obsession, that obsession becomes a sinful act and that sinful act becomes a sinful pattern, which leads to spiritual death. While I can tolerate the presence of a little rodent without much concern for the repercussions, it would be foolhardy to allow temptation of any type to take up residence in my heart because the consequences are so dire.
To deal with the issue, I must ask: what is the mouse trap for temptation or the rat poison for desire? I believe the remedy to temptation has three aspects: recognize the truth about you, remember the provision of God and resist any inferior substitutes. First, recognize the truth about you – your weaknesses, your strengths and your blind spots – so that you are aware of the dangers before they surface. Then, remember the provision of God – the abundance of life, truth and love – and trust His will for you. Finally, resist the innate desire to accept anything inferior – what is quicker, easier or cheaper – to God’s very best. If we know, for example, that we are tempted to bear false witness (i.e., lie), we can resist that temptation by being aware of our inclination, remember God’s equipping us to share the truth and reject the temporary comfort through ‘gilding the lily’.
We all have things we need to deal with in order to keep our home healthy and whole … whether it be a (hu)man or a mouse.
This week I’ve been confronted with the nature of integrity. First, there was the matter of our apartment: the owner of the condo we rent has decided to sell and on Tuesday morning photographers were coming to take pictures of the unit. It was requested of us that we “tidy up” and clear the horizontal surfaces so that the images they took would be attractive for the open house the realtor is hosting this weekend. The pictures are intended to convey the warmth of the wood accents, the beauty of the built-ins and the roominess of the open floor plan. But the pictures will never tell the whole story: they won’t reveal the birds nesting in the wall under the window sill, the electrical overload that occurs if you run an air conditioner and watch TV at the same time or the scalding shower any time a toilet in our condo (or the one beneath us) is flushed. The visible does not fully represent the actual.
Tuesday evening I was able to participate in a men’s Bible study which discussed the topic of biblical integrity. The study began with the following words:
We men talk a good line; but we love to fudge a little with the truth, often projecting an image of ourselves that is something other than reality. We say we have it together…but do we really? – Kenny Luck, Standing Firm Against Temptation; p. 43
In the morning I was assisting Jeanine with the final touches of making the outward appearance of the house presentable (and complaining about it) and in the evening I was addressing the temptation of making the outward appearance of my life presentable (and chafing under it). In a perfect world, the inward core and the outward appearance are consistent, whether it is our condo or our character.
But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it – not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it – they will be blessed in what they do. James 1:25 (NIV)
Integrity comes from knowing the truth and fully expressing it, in word and in deed. Integrity comes from knowing our weaknesses and living in such a way that they are evident, whether it be a rodent problem behind the kitchen sink or a proclivity toward angry outbursts. Integrity comes from knowing our strengths and living in such a way that they, too are evident, whether it be an artistic flair in the cabinetry or a heart for the unloved. Integrity comes from knowing, and acknowledging in our lifestyle, the fullness of reality – the good, the bad and everything in between. Integrity means that we are what we represent, not more and never less.
So, in light of the events of Tuesday, we are entering into another season of uncertainty – we may be moving and we definitely will be getting a new landlord. I only pray that wherever we live, I will live with integrity – knowing the truth (about me, about God and about life) and fully expressing that truth, inside and out.
Tonight at midnight my oldest child, Jonathan, becomes a responsible adult. On August 29, 1994, we were introduced to our first bundle of joy and tomorrow he turns twenty-one. Tomorrow our baby will be able to do anything and everything a grown-up can do; specifically, Jonathan is going to be able to legally purchase and drink alcohol. This new world with the possibility of alcohol consumption ushers in a whole set of temptations with which Jonathan will be required to wrestle. He will be tempted to over-imbibe and get drunk. He will be tempted to drive while impaired and break the law. I wonder if we’ve prepared him properly for what lies ahead.
“Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.” Titus 2:6–8 (NIV)
I have known for a while that I will not, and I cannot, be with my adult son in every tempting circumstance. Yet, while I may not be present, my imperfect example and incomplete teaching travels wherever he may go. I hope he heard and saw the good and godly parts of my words and deeds as he was growing into the man he has become.
I hope he saw that a little wine (or an occasional beer) is squarely within the bounds of Scripture and that being drunk is not. I would like to think that he recognizes that self-control is a godly virtue but ‘under the influence’ is another way of saying out-of-control. My prayer is that he has the willpower to know when enough is enough and when one more would be one too many.
I hope that he saw the benefit of thinking ahead, and having ‘another’ may impede his ability to minister to those around him. Maybe he has seen that the choices he makes now will determine some of options he has later. The buzz of inebriation is not worth the regret of refusing to visit the sick or counsel the downtrodden.
I hope that he saw that alcohol does not make a good time better and that good times are good all by themselves. I have never been anywhere where I thought that it would be better if I were drunk. I wonder if his upbringing will remind him that great memories are meant to be remembered and that only a fool would say, “Last night was awesome; I have no idea what we did!”
I am glad that he doesn’t know what kind of a drunk his dad may be – a sloppy drunk, an angry drunk or a happy drunk – and I hope that those dear to him never know his intoxicated alter ego. I have come across every variety of drunk and can attest that none are worth being around for long periods of time. I pray he is able to maintain his glowing personality without alcoholic enhancement.
Tomorrow, my boy is a responsible adult. I hope he takes the beer distributors’ advice, given in the small print of their advertisements, to enjoy their product responsibly. I also hope that when his youthfulness gets the better of his judgment, he has the foresight to call Uber©.