When temptations confront ministers, the choice is simple but not easy: stand firm or fall flat, said Robert E. Reccord.
"Two leaders, one stood firm, one fell flat; every one of you will make the choice somewhere in the journey," Reccord, president of the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board, said during a Jan. 30 chapel at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
In a message comparing how the biblical characters Joseph and David dealt with temptation, Reccord referred to James 4 in the New Testament and noted, "Here's the key. Submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil.
"Are you watching Temptation Island? Are you drawn to the porn sites on the Internet?" Reccord asked. "Are you reading novels you shouldn't be reading? Are you watching pay-per-view TV you shouldn't be seeing? Are you going to movies
that compromise the values [the Bible] holds? Therefore, submit yourself to God, and flee, and resist the devil - and he'll flee from you."
Reccord's recently released book, Forged by Fire: How God Shapes Those He Loves, examined the life of Joseph. One lesson, Reccord said, that can be drawn from Joseph's life is how God uses even negative experiences to help his people.
"While God might not cause everything that comes into your life, He uses everything that comes into your life," Reccord said. "And He's constantly using it to shape you and me as leaders He can use."
One of the things God uses but does not cause is temptation, Reccord said.
He recounted a conversation he had with a minister friend who had admitted to an eight-year affair. Reccord said he asked the man if he heard alarm bells warning of danger.
The man answered, Reccord recalled, "Oh yes, I heard the alarms, but, Bob, then I decided to disconnect the wires."
"Ladies and gentlemen, one of the greatest challenges you will have as leaders is dealing with temptations," Reccord told the audience, "and when the alarm bells go off, hearing the alarms, responding to the alarm, and determining never to disconnect the wires."
The person who fails to heed this warning inevitably will "crash and burn," he continued.
Reccord discussed how Joseph resisted the seductive advances of his master's wife, while David gave in to temptation and had an adulterous affair with Bathsheba. Reccord pointed out that both had human limitations, but Joseph recognized his weaknesses, while David overestimated his strengths.
"Do you know your weaknesses?" Reccord asked. "Have you set your boundaries? Because the time to set your boundaries in this area of your life is not when you find yourself in the temptation. It's way before you get there."
He cautioned that "falling is not a massive plunge; it is a number of successive stumbles."
Reccord also noted that temptations are inevitable and that the path to giving in can be seen in the Genesis 3 account of the serpent in the Garden of Eden: question God, deny God, and replace God.
"Do you know who [Satan] replaces God with - you," Reccord said. "He said you'll become like God. No longer will you have a moral authority. No longer will you have a sovereign Lord. You'll become your lord, and you can decide exactly what is best for you. You talk about modern secularism, folks, that's it."
The leaders most at risk of giving in to temptation are the most gifted and the busiest, Reccord contended.
"The most gifted tend to soon start relying on their own gifts," he said. "The most busy rely on their activity."
After mega-church pastor Bill Hybels almost lost his marriage and ministry in the 1980s, Reccord said, Hybels admitted, "There came a time when the work of the church around me began to kill the work of God in me."
Reccord directed the statement toward the seminarians, asking, "Did you ever get to that point where the work of the seminary around you begins to kill the work of God in you? Or the work of the church around you begins to kill the work of God in you? Or the work of the job around begins to kill the work of God in you?"
From the differences between Joseph and David, Reccord drew ways that Christians can protect themselves from falling.
First of all, Joseph focused on accountability to his master and his God, while David focused on opportunity.
"You have to invite somebody to hold you accountable," Reccord said, adding that his accountability partner questions him about lust, quiet times, health, ethics, truthfulness, and his relationship to his family.
Secondly, Joseph "put a guard in his heart," while David left his heart unguarded. The guard, Reccord said, is the Word of God.
"You've got to keep His commandments and then you'll be blessed unbelievably, but if you don't, your heart will begin to drift," Reccord said. "When the heart isn't guarded, the heart begins to drift and then you will become disobedient, because a drifting heart has only one direction to go and that's away from God."
Reccord said that some people in ministry set themselves up for a fall because of erroneous ideas such as "God wants me happy;" "I can handle this;" and "I don't intend for anybody to get hurt."
After showing a dramatic scene from the movie Hope Floats in which a husband leaves his wife, Reccord shared about a friend who became addicted to Internet pornography before leaving his wife and family for a woman he met in a chat room.
Reccord read a letter from the man's nineteen-year-old daughter to illustrate the pain that occurs when people give in to sexual temptation. Although the man has not returned to his family, Reccord said, there is still time for forgiveness.
"Come near to God and He will come near to you," he said, quoting Scripture. "But if you've messed up, just wash your hands in confession, you sinners, purify your hearts you feebleminded, grieve in your heart, mourn, and then you'll change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom, but in the process you'll humble yourself to the Lord and He will lift you up.
"The choice is yours, the choice is mine, stand firm or fall flat," Reccord said.