Today the airwaves were replete with fresh political gossip as South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford held a press conference to confess that his mysterious 5-day disappearance wasn't due to a trek along the Appalachian Trail to clear his head as had been reported, but rather the result of a desperate adulterous rendezvous with a secret lover in Argentina whom he has known for 8 years. His confession was predictable - complete with tears, words of remorse, an apology directed towards his wife and four sons and a verbal resolve to carry out his gubernatorial duties in spite of the incredible drama and chaos he has injected into his administration.
The political talk shows are awash with pundits analyzing the effects on Sanford's office and his family. Psychologists are also being called upon to try to discern what could cause an otherwise fine and upstanding man to commit such an act of disloyalty and stupidity. One psychologist attributes the moral slide to a mid-life crisis. Another blames narcissism. Ben Stein, political analyst, commentator and pitch man was simply stumped. On tonight's Larry King show, Stein just couldn't make sense of it. He said, "His wife is a knockout. I can't imagine what this woman in Argentina looks like!" A part of me understands the psychologists conclusions and Ben Stein's logic, but what I know of Scripture points to something more profound and disturbing. Jeremiah 17:9 puts it this way,
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?
That sounds harsh. But after 25 years of ministry and interacting with diversity of people from a variety of backgrounds, not to mention knowing myself and my motives and inner struggles, the words ring absolutely true! People who seem to have it all together, sometimes commit the most heinous acts imaginable, and I can even find myself in an unguarded moment entertaining a thought that is simply outrageous. The danger in committing the stupid acts comes from convincing yourself that you are impervious to them.
We see this kind of bravado in all aspects of life, all the time. Mike Tyson's self- proclaimed "Baddest Man on the Planet" title sounds silly now, but prior to Buster Douglas seemed plausible. As a man after God's own heart, King David's character seemed incorruptible, but after his catastrophic affair with Bathsheba, his weaknesses seems all too obvious. For that reason, when it comes to sin and committing acts of disobedience, a very wise mentor of mine put my own vulnerabilities - and his - into these terms: "EVERY bullet has your name on it! Every opponent can knock you out! The second you think you're above falling into temptation is the second you've already lost the battle. You'll never be above falling for some stupid trap. Don't you dare think that there isn't a situation or person you might encounter that couldn't lead you to dishonor yourself, devastate your family and render your minstry impotent. If you remember that and remember that God can provide the escpe from your own sinful desires, you have a chance to make it."
The Bible offers several lines of defense to help us when we are highly pressured to give in to temptation. The first is to keep a reign on your affections. Proverbs 4:23 admonishes us to this course of action:
Guard your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.
I can remember back in High School cultivating crushes I knew were not particularly beneficial because there was just something so sweet about being in love, regardless of whether or not it made any sense - especially if the person flirted with liking you back. When we play with those kinds of emotions later in life, the results can be disastrous. What begins as "innocent but deep sharing" can subtly evolve into a dependent relationship that given the right circumstances can evolve into an affair that neither party had anticipated, but that neither party wishes to give up because it just feels so good. A monster 70's hit explained, "It can't be wrong, when it feels so right!" Unfortunately it can be wrong and our hearts are more than able to trick us into thinking otherwise.
The second line of defense is to run. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says,
No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.
When you see the onset of the possibility of temptation, leave! Take the long way home. Shop at another store. Choose a different time to go to the gym or better yet, go to a different gym. Whatever it takes to avoid the tempting situation, do it! The costs will be much less than the cost of trying to repair a broken marriage, torn up family or stained reputation.
Thirdly, remember the battle is not just physical but a spiritual one. Ephesians 6:10-13 gives this command in preparing us to fight against all sorts or evil:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
Will power will not equip you to stand against the barrage of bullets and arrows the enemy is prepared to rain on you. Humble dependence upon the Lord and a relentless determination to draw close and cling to Him will protect you when all else seems to have failed. God is able to preserve you when the temptations and tests come raging in like a mighty sea. Isaiah 59:19 comforts us with this reminder:
When the enemy comes in like a flood, The Spirit of the LORD will lift up a standard against him.God can protect us when all hope seems lost.
As you hear more news on the unfortunate developments in Mr. Sanford's life and the inevitable other moral failures that will be exposed as the world turns, don't gloat and don't pontificate, but rather consider the situation with sober judgement, pray for all those involved, help guide and direct for healing and restoration when you're close enough to be directly involved and truly remember that but for God's mercy and grace you too might stumble in a similar way. As for me, I will not forget, "Every bullet has my name on it!" Thank God for His complete and effective armor! Until next time...