Small Leaks Sink Ships

Small Leaks that Sink Ships
James 1:13-16
by Father Ed Jansen

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 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. Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers.

(James 1:13-16 NIV)

In 1912 a tragic event occurred which shocked the world. The unsinkable Titanic sank. 1513 of the 2200 people aboard ship died. All of the prideful statements once expressed by the naval architects, builders, and owners were silenced that terrible night. But ever since they found the unsinkable ship 1200 feet beneath the sea, an historic pride has risen. As we’ve studied the wreckage with the latest underwater technology, we’ve discovered some surprising information about what happened to the grandest ocean liner in the history of humankind. Did you know that the Titanic was the equivalent of four city blocks long? Many people might think it plowed into this huge iceberg and opened up a gaping hole in its bottom. But now the truth is known. The Titanic merely sideswiped that iceberg. In fact it’s speculated that most of the passengers aboard didn’t even know anything had happened at the time it sideswiped the iceberg. And it wasn’t some gaping hole that sank the unsinkable ship. It was what one newspaper called, “small wounds that doomed the Titanic.” There were six relatively small punctures in the hull – “pin pricks” according to a TV special on the subject. Here’s a ship that was 46,000 gross tons in size and it was sunken by little leaks that, all put together, would have been about twelve square feet. Twelve square feet! A ship FOUR BLOCKS LONG sank because of holes in its hull about the size of a large dog.

Well, today’s message is titled Small Leaks that Sink Ships. You see, that’s all it took to sink the Titanic. And that’s all it takes to sink a person. Song of Solomon 2:15 says “Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom.” Big vineyards ruined by little foxes. Big ships sunk by small leaks. It’s no wonder that God’s wisdom tells us to catch the little foxes. Or stop the small leaks.

So many people who were making a difference in the world have tragically sunk. They became human Titanics because of small moral, ethical or spiritual leaks. These “leaks” were so small they didn’t think they could do any damage. So small they didn’t think they needed to be dealt with. They were dead wrong. People have sunk from those small leaks not because the small leaks were so horrific in themselves, but they opened access for more trouble to come in. We’re going to call these“insignificant”indiscretions, peccadilloes.

It may not be a major crash that brings us down. It might just be a seemingly minor scrape. But if we underestimate the power of a peccadillo, even if it seems very small and insignificant, we will discover too late the deadly damage it can do. James shows us there is a four-stage progression which causes the ship to sink:

  1. Temptation originates in our own minds: “When tempted… each one is tempted…. by his own evil desire”
  2. Blaming others and rationalizing the peccadillo “no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.'”
  3. The temptation becomes sin: “Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin”
  4. The sin leads to death: sin, “when it is full-grown, gives birth to death”

Now let’s look at each one of these stages and see how it might apply to our everyday lives.

Stage 1 Temptation originates in our own minds

Temptation is first planted in the mind and if nurtured, after a season, comes to fruition and is acted out. If we refused to nurture the temptation in our mind, it would NEVER become sin. If I gave no other explanation than this, it would be complete. So if we really want to avoid sinking the ship, we need to choose, at THIS POINT, not to nurture the temptation in our mind. As Christians this may be accomplished in partnership with God. God is our source of strength in overcoming temptation, and we must cooperate in the process.

God’s part: 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. (1 Cor 10:13 NKJ)

Our part: Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy– meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you. (Phil 4:8-9 NKJ)

We trust in God’s strength to find a way out of the temptation and we refuse to think and nurture the temptation. This is accomplished by changing our thoughts from thinking about the temptation to thinking about things which are praiseworthy. If we are obedient to this, God will do the rest. Promise.

Stage 2 Blaming others and rationalizing the peccadillo

I am absolutely amazed at how ingenious the human mind can be when it wants to rationalize away wrongful behavior. We love to minimize everything which we do that is wrong. We often justify sins we’re about to commit or have done. Or we at least think it’s certainly not anything which has any negative consequences. Let me give you some examples:

  • The cashier gives us too much change back and we walk away thinking, “I need that money more than this store does. Maybe I’ll give it to the poor or give it to the church.”
  • We cheat on a test because we didn’t have enough time to study because we were working to help support our family.
  • A married man takes a lover on the side because his wife isn’t meeting his sexual needs.

Need I go on? I think if James were here today he might say, “Start taking responsibility for your actions. Stop blaming God. Stop blaming others for your own sin. If you don’t take responsibility for your sin now, you’re really going to get into big trouble later!” As I work with guys who are struggling with substance abuse, I understand that one of the first signs of their recovery is when they start seeing that their life is in the toilet because of their OWN actions, and not those of others. As we refuse to blame others and rationalize our peccadilloes, we begin to protect the hull of our ship from further leaks. In fact, when we confess our peccadilloes, the hull of the ship is repaired to its original state. The program of recovery says, “We’re only as sick as the secrets we keep.” St. John put it this way: If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (I John 1:9 NKJ)

Stage 3. The temptation becomes sin

Jesus was tempted (tested) in the desert, but did not sin. The temptation which we nurture in our minds and rationalize away, is allowed by OUR own actions to become sinful. Yet we have a way out. God will provide it. No temptation need become sin. When we refuse the thought, own the sin, and bring it into the light, we need not fall into deeper sin. But when we massage the temptation, play with it in our mind and minimize what we’re about to do, thinking it’s only a peccadillo, it will become, sooner or later a deadly sin. I believe that one of the major problems we face in our culture today is we have gotten to the point where we’re afraid to call aberrant behavior “sin.” It’s become socially/politically incorrect to identify wrongful behavior. Today’s culture has replaced truth with pragmatism and relativism.

Our kids today are being taught that there are no truths in life. They’re being taught, “What might be true for you, may not be true for me.”  Tolerance, even for aberrant behavior, is held as the highest virtue we can possess.  And then we wonder why Johnny goes to school one day and shoots his teacher and four of his classmates. The irony is he shoots the very teacher who espoused this philosophy of pragmatism and relativism. Now his teacher lies on the floor, dead. The victim of “What’s true for you, may not be true for me.” For Johnny, what might be wrong for others, was ok for him. I’m sorry to use such extremes, but it’s a graphic illustration of the failure of today’s culture to inculcate virtue and morality into a godless society. We take the Ten Commandments out of our schools and courtrooms and we’re suddenly perplexed as to why our society is lawless. Peccadilloes nurture deadly sins. Kids are taught there are no truths in life (certainly not the little things) and that beloved is why Johnny sprays his classroom with an assault rifle.

Stage 4. The sin leads to death

St. Paul said, “the wages of sin is death.” I often pondered that passage in Romans until I had a vision of what it means: A casual approach to our peccadilloes is like going to a barrel filled with different kinds of hand guns. Some are single shot. Some are six-shooters. Some are double barreled. A complete variety (representing all different kinds of sin). We pick up a gun and play Russian Roulette. We hold the gun to our head and pull the trigger. We hear “click,” and our peccadillo has given us some excitement. We walk away from it thinking, “Hey that was exciting. It felt good!” We get up the next day, go to the barrel and play the same game. “Click.” We walk away expecting the same thing the next day. After all we’re told, “If it feels good, do it!” But the truth is (something the “wisdom” of the world will never tell you) that if we continue to play the game, we are assured that one day we’ll hear “bang” instead of “click” just before we drop dead.

Small leaks do indeed sink ships. But we have a way to protect our hulls when faced with the temptation of peccadilloes. Here are the four R’s of good ship sailing:

  • Reject the pleasure to mentally dwell on temptation. Instead think about things which are praiseworthy
  • Resume responsibility for our wrongful behavior and call the peccadillo what it is: SIN
  • Repent when we commit sin and receive forgiveness (we’re only as sick as the secrets we keep).
  • Refuse to play the game which leads to death.

Little sins in our lives always seem so insignificant until we’re stranded in the icy cold water watching our ship go down. God doesn’t want us to suffer, he wants us to prosper. We now have the wisdom and the tools to stay afloat or go down with the ship. The choice is ours.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jer 29:11 NIV)

In Christ’s love and service,

Father Ed+

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