Devil Hot - Jeff Mathis

Many of you know that I spent my first year out of seminary living in the desert southwest.
Tucson, Arizona was a dramatic change from New Jersey and Manhattan, where I had been studying and serving in preparation for a lifetime of vocational ministry. Yes, the desert was rugged and prickly. But the towering mountains, stunning sunsets and pyrotechnically-inspired lightning storms captured my heart.
Did I mention that it was hot?
When I complained to the locals about the 110 F temperatures (And no, it doesn’t matter that it’s a dry heat. Trust me, you still bake like an overly-toasted potato chip), they informed me that the other 8 months of the year were delightful. Still, it was hot. As in energy-sucking, what-is-wrong-with-this-place?, Satan-is-my-next-door-neighbor-hot.
The heat is dangerous, to boot.
As you may be aware, the southwest is currently being torched by a terrible heat wave. With low temperatures not dipping below 95 F in some places, the conditions are ghastly (and so are the electric bills).
I remember talking to a doctor who worked at an area hospital when I lived in Arizona. He told me that one summer he treated a man who had suffered a heart attack on a sidewalk at midday. Although he was only on the concrete for a few minutes before help arrived, his second degree burns to his face were more significant than the damage to his heart.
Tragically, otherwise healthy individuals have died during the current heat wave. Hikers have ventured out into the desert in temperatures approaching 118 F. These folk suffered dizziness, nausea, throbbing headaches and eventually the inability to draw a breath. Then, they died.
As one local authority framed it, “Every one of these deaths was 100% avoidable.”
This past Sunday we were reminded of Jesus’s teachings from his Sermon on the Mount. He told his followers that those who did not put his words into actions would suffer a terrible fate. In his model prayer, Jesus instructs us to pray that we will not be led into temptation and that we will be delivered from evil.
Jesus knows that sin is 100% avoidable but that we are universally powerless to its charms. So he tells us to be aware of sin’s insidious reality in the world and to summon God’s power and strength to defeat it.
Is it enough to pray Jesus’s prayer? Will these words buffer us from evil and protect us from ourselves?
I believe that this element in the Lord’s Prayer heightens our sensitivity to the lure of sin. With this prayer, God gives us the power to resist temptation and to choose God’s will and not our own. God equips us to defeat evil, but we are weak to summon God’s power, aren’t we?
Just as the national weather service provides us with warnings for threatening and inclement weather, Jesus teaches us to know what is good and what is right and to avoid circumstances where we are powerless to sin. God’s truth convicts us, and positions us to repent and to turn away from that which poisons our souls and wrecks our world. Practically speaking, we’ve got to be aware of that which we are tempted and to avoid it with the same seriousness of a dire forecast. Surrounding ourselves with others, and practicing confession and hearing God’s assurance, is an excellent step in locating ourselves in the cool breeze of the air conditioning rather than the charcoal-grill-heat of the wild.
In full disclosure, I hear two things as your pastor when I speak about sin. First, I hear appreciation for saying that which is hard to say and hard to hear. And second, I hear resistance, and an unwillingness to address ethical, moral and systemic failings.
And yet, I must confess to you that I am a sinner. Being aware of my own sin enables me to recognize my absolute need for Jesus Christ. Jesus is more than just a wise guru or peddler of prophetic wisdom. Because of my corruption and continued dance with temptation, I need Jesus to be my savior—to save me from my sins.
Like Jesus, I believe that the presence of evil and the temptation to sin is as real as the desert heat; and equally as deadly.