Are You Bull-Headed?

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. (James 1:13-15)

Are You Bull-Headed?”

            I grew up on a cattle farm in Southwest Pennsylvania.  Along with an assortment of other farm animals we normally had around 150-175 head of beef cattle. My job as a kid was to go out daily to count and feed the cattle and make sure none of them had wondered off.  Consequently I spent a lot of time in the fields looking for strays and runaways.  I really didn’t mind the task that much because of the love I have for the outdoors.  Looking for lost cows gave me an excuse to go exploring along all the creeks and valleys that made up a good portion of the farm.  (Often I’d go looking for runaways even when they weren’t lost!) 

            Now you might wonder how a cow gets lost.  From my experience there were two primary ways.  One way involved the hungry careless cow.  This cow starts nibbling on a tuft of green grass, and when it finishes, it looks ahead to the next tuft of green grass and starts nibbling on that one, and then it nibbles on a tuft of grass right next to a hole in the fence. It then sees another tuft of green grass on the other side of the fence, so it nibbles on that one and then goes on to the next tuft. The next thing you know, the cow has nibbled itself into being lost. There was no real intentionality to it. Those cows were just thoughtless, focusing only on the desire to satisfy their hunger. The lesson I learned from those animals was, “Pay very close attention to that which you are nibbling upon!” 

            The other lesson on “lostness” involved a particular bull we had.  Every couple of years or so we would purchase a new bull to keep the blood line of the herd fresh. One such purchase was a huge brute of an animal.  His size often intimidated me but he was actually a gentle animal, but often very determined to visit potential girlfriends on neighboring farms. There were many times I would have to take a rope and escort him back from one of his visits after getting a phone call from an upset farmer.  Now how would he get out?  He would simply walk from post to post and just lean into it.  If the post held firm he would move on to the next one.  He would keep this up until he found a post that had a little give to it.  At that point he would press his weight into it, knocking the post over and off he would go. His “getting lost” involved a great deal of intentionality.  In this case “nibbling” wasn’t the issue. It was a determination to violate the boundary line that resulted in him being in a place where he didn’t belong.

            In the passage above James is teaching about how human beings often end up in a place where they don’t belong.  The first thing he teaches is we’ve got to be honest about the issue of temptation in our lives.  “When tempted no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’  For God cannot be tempted by evil nor does he tempt anyone”   How are you at accepting responsibility for your actions? When you do something wrong do you admit it, or do you blame someone else?  I don’t know how many times I’ve heard someone rationalizing sin by saying something like, “Well I guess this is just the way God made me, so it must be OK.”  Where does that line of thinking come from?  It comes from living in a no-fault society.  If I get a bad grade on my report card, it’s not my fault. It’s the teacher’s fault because she taught poorly or graded improperly.  If I lose my temper it’s because you made me lose my temper.  If I have a character flaw, it’s not my fault. It’s my parents fault for raising me like they did. Everyone is playing the Blame Game. There is an epidemic in our society of people failing to take responsibility for their actions, and inactions.  No matter how many people say, “It’s not my fault that I am acting this way.” it just doesn’t square with the truth of the Bible. It never has.  It never will. If you’re going to step across the fence line, please don’t be so bull-headed as to blame it on God or anyone else.  At least be honest enough to admit that you are the only one responsible for your wonderings.
            James teaches that temptation is really an internal issue – not an external one. “But each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.”   It’s important to James that we understand that giving in to temptation is not a result of our culture or the environment in which we live or the people around us. Temptation is something that comes from within us.  He says that the source of temptation is our own evil desire.  He places the responsibility for temptation squarely on the individual. The cattle on our farm couldn’t blame their “lostness” on anyone.  They got lost either because they carelessly nibbled themselves into being lost or they stubbornly pushed past the boundary.  But they were lost because of their own desires. 

            James also wants us to understand that temptation always follows a predictable pattern.  It starts off with desire: “Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desiresIt moves on to deception: “He is dragged away and enticed   It grows into disobedience; “Then after desire has conceived it gives birth to sin.”  It results in death; “Sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”  His point is, “Don’t be deceived. The grass is never greener on the other side of the fence and the price tag will always be higher than you expected to pay.”  Temptation does not deliver what it promises.  Once you step across the line you will find yourself facing another desire and then another one.  You’ll get further and further away from the God who created you and the people who love you and one day find yourself longing to find the way back home. Don’t be bull-headed.  When you’re standing at the fence line facing temptation, be content with the boundaries God has set and don’t step across that line.    

            Now if you’re wondering whatever happened to that persistent bull that refused to honor the fence line? Well we finally got tired of chasing him all over God’s green earth. So one fine fall day we invited him home to dinner.  And to tell you the truth, I think I enjoyed the dinners we had with him as much as the time I spent looking for him after he broke through all those fence lines.  Don’t be so bull-headed that you fail to realize that there is always a penalty attached when you refuse to honor a boundary.   Be honest with God and with yourself.  Recognize the danger hidden within every temptation. Ask God to give you strength to turn away from your wondering astray – and receive the refreshing forgiveness that comes from the Throne of Grace.
Prone to wonder, Lord I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love. Here’s my heart Lord, take and seal it. Seal it for thy courts above.