Prepare for temptation, Ezell says on marriage
"Temptation is inevitable. You are going to be tempted," Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board, said as he preached earlier this year at Long Hollow Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tenn., where he has been serving as interim pastor.
God does not tempt anyone, but everyone encounters temptation, Ezell said, referring to James 1:13-15 in one sermon.
"You're buying Satan's lie if you think you're invincible. When you think it will never happen to you, you're exactly where he wants you because you're the most vulnerable," Ezell said.
Temptation is an individual matter, Ezell said, because no set of circumstances and no allurement is strong enough to force a person to sin. It happens when a person takes the bait.
"God wants your very best, and Satan wants your very worst," Ezell said. "He wants you to think temporary, not long-term. If he can get you to think temporary, then you're so focused on the temporary pleasure of something that you're not thinking about the long-term pain."
Ezell offered some practical ways to overcome temptation. It's important, he said, to counteract temptation and not just tolerate it.
"We must have the right type of resistance. The Bible makes it very clear what to do. We are to hide His Word in our heart that we might not sin against Him," Ezell said, adding that the battle is not for the faint of heart.
Believers must remember that the final pain of giving in to temptation will erase any temporary pleasure, he said.
A key to fighting temptation, Ezell said, is for believers to control their thoughts. "Satan knows in a day and age of all the opportunities, mechanisms that we have, ways to penetrate your thought process. And if he can get you to think on things that are wrong ... it's all a part of the process of baiting you," he warned.
Overcoming temptation is a daily battle, Ezell said, noting that he has most often seen people fall when they were not expecting it.
"Sometimes when you think about temptation, you're thinking of the big ones," he said. "And it may be the banana peel of your daily life that trips you up and causes your fall. It's so important that you take this seriously."
There's a reason why pastors constantly encourage people to spend time in God's Word every day, Ezell said.
"When you least expect it, expect it," he said of temptation.
"... It's not a fair game when it comes to what Satan is trying to do to cause you pain. He wants to devastate your family. He wants to wipe you out," Ezell said. "But God desires the best and will always provide a way out, and that's that you simply have to control your thought life and be prepared for a daily battle."
No one retires from the battle with temptation, Ezell said.
"From the youngest to the oldest, we're in a lifelong battle with temptation. Be on guard. Be proactive. I really believe that at least half the problems in your life come from saying yes too quickly and not saying no soon enough," he said.
Steps for guarding marriage
In another sermon at Long Hollow, Ezell shared some steps couples can take to safeguard their marriages. He advocated what he called a 3-D marriage: dialogue daily, date regularly and depart quarterly.
Dialoguing daily, he said, means to talk deeply every day -- not just about kids or work or what was for lunch. Sit down and talk about something important to the spouse, he said, acknowledging that it would be especially challenging for couples with young children.
"You can spend weeks with someone in the same house and never really sit down and talk if you don't intentionally do that," Ezell said.
Dating regularly means setting aside a time on the calendar when the couple will go on a legitimate date with each other -- preferably at least once a month and preferably not to the McDonald's drive-thru, he said.
Departing quarterly means getting away for one night or more every few months to be alone and have fun as a couple, Ezell said. One way couples with children can do this, he said, is to trade with another couple, offering to keep their kids while they have a similar getaway.
Ezell also shared a list of guidelines he and his staff lived by when he served as pastor of Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., before becoming NAMB's president.
The guidelines, though designed for a church staff, can be easily adapted to any situation, he said.
Among the guidelines:
-- Don't visit the opposite sex alone at home. "The purpose of that is to never be alone with the opposite sex," Ezell said. "We did an intensive study and found out that if you are never alone with the opposite sex, there's a high probability you will not have an affair."
-- Don't counsel the opposite sex alone at the office. Always make sure a third person, preferably a spouse, is present.
-- Don't counsel the opposite sex more than once without the person's mate. Most pastors are not trained in counseling; they're more equipped for triage, he said. "The best help is given when both spouses are a part of it."
-- Don't go to lunch with the opposite sex. Ezell acknowledged that some business situations require this, but a lot of times a third person can go along.
-- Don't show any affection that could be questioned.
-- Be careful when answering cards, letters and emails from the opposite sex. "Anytime I responded as a pastor to a female by email, I always copied my wife," Ezell said. "It wasn't that she didn't trust me, but it sure sent a message that the other woman could never misinterpret what I was trying to say."
-- Don't be in an automobile alone with the opposite sex. "To me, that's a no-brainer," he said. "The appearance of evil would come into play there, and you're just setting yourself up for evil."
Because temptation is inevitable, Ezell said, believers must think about each of these situations and have a plan in place before they happen rather than getting so close to the line that they fall over the cliff.