Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Broken Cisterns, 3

We looked last time at one sin the LORD accuses His covenant people of committing. They worshipped false gods. This sin the LORD likens to digging cisterns for themselves.

The second sin multiplies the sad state of affairs and the wrongness of the sin. They "have forsaken [the LORD,] the spring of living water..." (Jeremiah 2.13 NIV.) Idolatry always leads to emptiness because it worships what is false, not real. But these people have acted more unrighteous than this. Pagans worship in ignorance out of the human need to worship. The covenant people have FORSAKEN the real and adopted the false.

This implies willful choosing with knowledge. They knew better. The Truth had revealed Himself to them and they chose to close their eyes, hearts and worship to Him. They have FORSAKEN Him.

They have forsaken the spring of living water. He is the source. There was no need to dig rock retainers when they had a source of all that is life-giving. The LORD provided, in His gracious favor, everything needed for life and godliness. Like a spring, He continually brought forth fresh supply. His supply did not depend on rain or other circumstance. In Himself, He was enough.

Living water implies it gives life. The needs for hydration of the body and crops are met with fresh water. The means to clean untensils, clothing and the body come from fresh water. Water brings life. The LORD brings life.

Living water implies movement of replenishing, freshening. The water in a cisterm can become stagnant, poluted, unusable unless artificially stirred. Living water purifies itself, maintains it level and freshness.

What a pitiable exchange. The real for the fake. The replenishing for the diminishing. The purifying for the putrifying. The refreshing for the stagnanting. How pitiful to live with less than you know is possible.

Where am I tempted to trade the real for the imaginary? Where have I traded the fresh move of the Spirit for the stagnant pools of ritual? Where am I vulnerable to make the pitiable exchange?

Monday, May 14, 2012

Broken Cistern, 2

Through the prophet Jeremiah, God files grevance against His special, covenant people. He delivers His breach-of-contract complaint in two-lines. "They have forsaken me, the spring of living water and they have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water" (Jeremiah 2.13 NIV.)

I said previously that since God Himself calls this two sins, He leads us to break this parallelism unit down, though the two are related. We will look today at the second sin. His covenant people "have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water."

This image provides a metaphor for the sin of idolatry. Many peoples worship gods other than the LORD. Idols strickly speaking involves an image set up for worship. It has been broadly applied to the worship of any thing, person or power other than the LORD. The prophets often call the covenant people to see these stone, wood and metal objects as deaf, mute and impotent. They are literally made in our image for our purpose by our hands and cannot be greater than ourselves.

The stone imagery echoes in the hollow hole hewn from the subterrainean rock that comprises a cistern. These man-made water reservoirs catch and contain run-off rainwater. They only have an inlet without an outlet. People construct cistern when there is no water source around.

People possess a propensity to praise. The human soul seeks something to worship. Anthropologists find fetishes, images, objects and ritual in every community inhabited by homo sapiens no matter where in time/space they exsisted. To be human is to worship. Only in rather recent times has atheism stood alone. And I would even argue that atheism worships human reason and is therefore a form of idolatry.

This sin makes up at least two of the Decalogue -- the 10 Commandments -- given by the LORD to His people. "No other gods before me" and "no graven image" specifically tell us this type of worship is wrong. This second stanza of the couplet deals with false worship and false gods.

What have I "dug" with my abilities? What is my source for life, love and meaning? How might I be committing this sin for which the LORD calls us to account?

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Broken Cisterns

Recently I had a book with this title, Broken Cisterns, pass through my hands. Just the title reverberated in my spirit. Then I looked up the verses listed on the slip-cover, Jeremiah 2.13 (NIV.) Wow, what a depth of meaning and application! Here begins my reflections on Broken Cisterns and Jeremiah 2.13.

The LORD says,
  "My people have committed two sins:
       They have forsaken me,
             the spring of living water,
        they have their own cisterns,
             broken cisterns that cannot hold water."

First note the LORD says this.This all-caps word is the spoken title that honors the inutterable Tetragrammaton, the four-letter name of God disclosed to Moses on the Mountain of Revelation. His people Israel will not even speak it aloud out of reverencial fear. They change pens when they write it during creation of a new hand-written copy of the Scriptures. God uses this form of "I AM" when speaking of His covenant with His covenant people. God's personal, relational name reminds Jeremiah's hearers of His special, promise-based relationship to the ones He speaks to and speaks of.

My People
In continuation of this idea of intimate, covenant relationship, the LORD addresses His people. People who connected to Him through a series of mutually-binding promises. For sure, like the suzerainty treaties of the area/time, the LORD make the first and largest promises. But these people, His people, willingly have bound themselves to Him by oath as well. They have a special closeness, favor and commitment distinguishing them from the other peoples of the earth.

Two Sins
The poetry of the Bible is parallelism. This rhyming of thought, as C.S. Lewis calls it, consists of two related lines or a couplet. These two lines work in tandem to emphasis a singel thought or point. This emphasis comes from repeating the idea in different words or using a direct opposite. It translates to any language because it depends on the thought, not particular words in rhyming relationship. Proper understanding requires treating the two as a single thought rather than separating the halves of the couplet.

Note that though there is a easy-to-see unity in the two branches of the couplet, the LORD specifically breaks this pairing by saying His people have committed two sins. He wants us to dissect this parallelism. This adds emphasis to the nature of the sins committed by a people covenanted to the LORD they sin against. This behavior must be extra bad, extra heart-breaking.

They Have...
The people of the LORD have forsaken Him. They have abandoned their promises. They have cooled in their commitment, like a dissatisfied spouse. They have distanced themselves from Him.

The people of the LORD have dug their own cisterns. They have looked for life and love elsewhere.  They have not just cooled in committment to their vows, they have actively persued others, like an adulterer.

How have I cooled toward my God?

Where, besides Him, have I sought love and life?

More to come...

Friday, April 20, 2012

70 Times 7 Times

Recently, to justify my unforgiving spirit, I reasoned the following:

"What was done to me was hurtful."

"It has happened repeatedly. It's becoming a cycle."

"I won't forgive you any more just because you say a simple, 'I'm sorry.'"

"I need more than that."

I even thought of the "preacher story" of the lying post. Everytime the child told a lie, the dad drove a nail into a fencepost out back of the house. When he asked forgiveness Dad pulled a nail. But the wound, the hole remained. Forgiveness doesn't fix everything.

Then my hardness of heart is exposed by the Holy Spirit whispering the words of the Lord to Peter, "70 times 7 times..." He leads me to the truth of my part in this frustrating cycle. Matthew records Peter asking Jesus how many times he must forgive someone who wrongs him. Jesus replies 70 times 7 times. Luke records Jesus saying if a person sins against us 7 times in one day and turns to us asking forgiveness, we are to forgive them each time.

I don't get to keep a tally sheet. I don't get to assess sincerity. I don't get to set a timer or deadline. I don't get to ask for more than that.

The sameness of the offence, the mutliple times, frequency of repeated hurt does not alter my requirement to forgive. To with hold forgiveness is not an option. The simple, "sorry..." is enough.

I do need more, however. More grace, more mercy, more of God's life in me. The One who calls me to be this forgiving, to live without lists, to function free of grudges is the One who has forgiven so much more in me, zeroes out my account and allows me to live free. So I ask Him to forgive my unforgiveness and as He does, grace and forgiveness flow through me and it washes away that small thing I was trying to hold over someone else. He extracted no price, He paid it for me.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Raised With Christ

He is risen! He is risen, indeed!

So begins the season of resurrection. Jesus died. Jesus is alive again.

Paul says Jesus died for our sins and was raised for our justification. Sin, the deadly infection permiating and poisoning every aspect of our being and behavior was destroyed on the cross. Sin itself, not sinners -- individually or collectively -- was condemned in Jesus body. The power of sin was broken. We are free to live.

The resurrection justifies us. It is "just-as-if-I'd" never sinned. The record is cleared.I can now walk in newness of life. I can be fresh.

Paul further says that at our baptism we are united with Jesus in His death and resurrection. This Resurrection Sunday, I was privileged to preach then practice this truth. Four young people from Faith Community Church entered a watery grave with Jesus and rose to new life in Him.

Hallelujah! He lives and we live in Him!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Lord, Throughout These Forty Days...39

Last day of Lent. The journey ends. Jesus exits the wilderness.

Luke 4 records that Jesus then returned to His hometown of Nazareth and delares, "...no prophet is accepted in his hometown." He then looks at some examples from the life of Elijah, the oft connected one. Many Israeli widows lived in destitution during Elijah's ministry, but Elijah was sent [by God] to the Sidonite widow at Zarephath. There were many unhealed lepers in Israel during this same time, but only Naaman a Syrian was cleansed.

His hometown people become so furious they try to throw Him off a cliff.

As I leave the wilderness and Lent behind, I must realize this spiritually intense time, like all time, must come to an end. What God has affirmed during these days will be directly attacked by the enemy most likely through those close to me. Father-God declared Him accepted, but the hometown crowd rejected Him. Father-God declared Him well-pleasing, those in  hometown crowd are unpleased to the point of anger. Father-God declares Him beloved, the hometown crowd questions His paternity.

God leads us into these places in order to buttress us for the coming challenge. God leads us out of these places in order to do His work in His world. Without the preparation, we implode. Unless we act, the preparation implodes.We must be people of withdrawal and advance, people of contemplation and activity.

Why only one widow ministered to? God's leading. Why only one leper cleansed? God's plan. Outsiders become insiders by the sheer mercy of God. We cannot claim it, only receive it. And the wilderness teaches us to wait.

Finally, this moment in the synagogue of Nazareth teaches that Jesus in the power of the Spirit carries out the Word of the Father and the outsiders can come in.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Lord, Throughout These Forty Days...38

Jesus fasted forty days. Those of us who call ourselves Christ-followers fast, too. Bearing His name implies imitating His behaviors as well as trusting to His mercy and grace.

Jesus literally went without food during His forty days. Two other men are recorded practicing total abstinence from food: Moses and Elijah.The work of God in establishing the Law, the Prophets and the New Covenant all proceed from a season of intense fasting. Fasting proves a prerequisite for these major new stages in His-Story (Bob Black-ism.)

When the first church began, it too was preceeded by a season of intense prayer. The first followers held up in the upper room prayerfully waiting the Gift, the Holy Spirit. The miraculous response of 3000 to the Gospel that day grows out of that season.

I am challenged today to think about my prayer life. How intense? How specific? How integrated? Do I just say words or do I lay everything aside in pursuit of an answer from God? Are my prayers ineffectual and powerless due to so little intentionality and fervor?

The very Son of God did not begin His life's work without FIRST being lead by the Spirit to seek the Father's will and power. To my shame, I see too many sermon series planned and preached and prayed for later. I see too often I set in motion activity and then pray for blessing.

Lord, forgive my lack of prayer priority, my weak work, my lukewarm lack of intensity.

Lord, Throughout These Forty Days...37

Jesus, filled and lead by the Spirit, spent forty days in the wilderness being tempted by the devil. Even if Satan intended to lead Jesus the Son of Man to sidetrack into sin, Jesus the Son of God could not be tempted by evil. This experience proved in practical terms the declaration by the Father concerning Jesus. Jesus passes the testing.

How did Jesus repel the advances of the devil? By quoting Scripture. He passed His testing by being well-versed and totally dependent on the Word of God. He carried out His confession and "live[d]...on every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Deuteronomy 8.3 quoted in Matthew 4.4 NIV.)

At each suggestion of Satan, Jesus confesses an appropriate passage. Rather than believe a lie, Jesus trusts to the Truth of God's Word. Like Mary in the Magnificat Jesus has fully integrated the Scriptures and they flow out naturally and fittingly to the situation at hand. He has hidden the "word in [His] heart" (Psalm 119.11 NIV.)

Paul, a first-generation follower of Jesus, teaches us of the importance of the Word in our struggle against the devil. In Ephesians 6.17 he refers to the Word as "the sword of the Spirit." Of all the armor of God discussed in this letter, only the sword provides offensive weaponry. The rest protects passively. The writer of Hebrews* also uses the analogy of a sword to describe the effectiveness of the Word. "For the Word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any two-edged sword..." (Hebrews 4.12 NIV.)

We who claim to be Christ-followers must be people of The Book. We must commit to reading it. So very few have read it cover to cover. We must commit to memorizing it. Hiding it in our hearts stores up the truth for the day of testing. We must have so integrated our thinking (meditation) and living (application) to the Scripture that when under pressure, it oozes out of us. Certainly the Jesus we follow did so and it showed in the wilderness.

*The unknown writer could have been Paul, Apollos, Priscillla or anyone. This is the only book in all of Sacred Scripture to which I apply the phrase "the writer of." Most often that phrase connotes a textual/historic critisism view of Scripture that undermines its inerrant and infallible, fully God-breathed nature by asserting the authorship, and thus authority, of the document is questionable.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Lord, Throughout These Forty Days...36

We have been looking for other Biblical narratives that involve forty days. We looked at Noah and the flood story, which Jesus links to His second coming, where it rained for forty days and nights. We looked at Elijah's forty days of fasting/journey through the wilderness to reconnect with God. Jesus will meet with Elijah when He is transfigured and the Father will pronounce again, "This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased" as He just has at the baptism. We looked at Jonah/Nineveh waiting forty days for God's mercy to hold off judgement. Jesus links Himself closely with Jonah.

Today we unpack Jesus appearing to His followers for forty days after His resurrection (Acts 1.3 NIV.)

Luke says that He appeared for forty days "after He suffered." This forty days is preceeded by the trial, punishment, crucifixion and death of Jesus. His forty days in the wilderness were also days of suffering. Hunger, loneliness, trial met Jesus. "Man of sorrows! what a name for the Son of God, Who came ruined sinners to reclaim. Hallelujah! What a Savior!"

Luke also says, "He presented Himself to [the apostles He had chosen]." People did not recognize the Risen Jesus. He had to "present Himself" to them before they indentified Him. Mary at the tomb mistook Him for the caretaker. Cleopas and his companion "were kept from recognizing Him..." (Luke 24.16 NIV.) But then again, people did not see Him for Who He was during His life and ministry either. It takes a revelation to open our eyes to Who He is. Thank God Jesus steps through the vail so we can. "Open the eyes of my heart, Lord...I want to see You high and lifted up, shining in the light

The chosen apostles saw Him over these forty days. Jesus invested Himself in relatively few. The masses never held His heart, though they often benefited from His compassion. In all the resurrection appearances we find Jesus still pouring Himself into His followers. He showed them how He fulfilled the Scripture. He dealt with lingering failures, doubts and sin. He prepared them for their future leadership in His Church.

Luke says Jesus "...gave many convincing proofs that He was alive..." Jesus could be touched, He could eat, He had fresh wounds from His crucifixion, He was alive in deed. Spending forty days allowed His followers to process the reality of His coming back to life. This extended period of time, and the various circumstances for the appearances strengthened their confidence that they were not hallucinating or dreaming.

Luke finally says that Jesus, "...spoke about the kingdom of God..." The beachhead had been established, the new creation launched, the renewed world order begun.

Two forty day periods book-end the ministry of Jesus Christ. The beginning foreshadows the end. The end fulfills the promise of the beginning. These forty days are bound together.

Preaching the Gospel always requires connection to the beginning and the end. We must never leave Jesus hanging on the cross without a mention of the empty tomb. We cannot declare victory without mentioning the struggle. Jesus fulfills so much of what was anticipated before His life, death and resurrection. That event begins so much that will be fulfilled at the Consumation Coronation. Hopefully we are beginning to see that the Good News events cannot be understood in isolation from each other. Like a tapestry, the Trinity has been weaving Salvation's history out of diverse threats that converge only in the person and ministry of Jesus.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Lord, Throughout These Forty Days...35

The Spirit of God lead Jesus into the wilderness. While there He fasts forty days. We have been looking at other pericopes in which forty days are involved. Today we look at a group that received revelation that God was going to judge them at the end of forty days. In response they fasted as a sign of repentance. They were the people of Nineveh to whom Jonah reluctantly preached.

The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time (Jonah 3 NIV. )He was to warn the inhabitants of Nineveh in forty days their city would be overthrown as a judgement on their cruelty and wickedness from God Almighty. The capital city of Assyria, Nineveh indeed housed the leadership of a barbaric, powerful army known for its enslavement, mistreatment and torture of defeated peoples. Jonah literally ran from this assignment because he knew God's mercy would be offered to the hated enemy of his beloved Israel.

When they heard the clear message of doom, they believed God and declared a fast. They stopped normal commerce and living. They sat in sackcloth, the Mediterranian symbol for sorrow, repented and called out for mercy. From the king to the streetcleaner, from the young to the old, human to animal every living thing fasted and hoped God would not allow the overthrow to be carried out.

The text of Jonah 3 does not express, but does imply, that the fast continued until the fortieth day, the day of judgement, passed uneventful. Jonah, we are told, delivers the message then sets up a make-shift camp east of the city and waits to see what would happen. East of the city, perhaps so he could see the overthrow by the first beams of the rising sun on the fortieth morning. When the day of doom broke bright, clear, cloudless and overthrow-less, Jonah saw God's mercy and he wept. He had so hoped for the overthrow.

Jesus Himself pointed to a connection with Jonah. First, Jesus said Jonah's three-day experience in the fish serves as a forshadowing of His three-day experience in the tomb. He would come out of what seemed a certain end just as Jonah had (Matthew 12.40 NIV.)

Secondly Jesus said the people of Nineveh, who heard the warning of God and repented, would stand in stark, condemning contrast to the listeners in Jesus day. They would not repent in response to God's warning through Jesus (Matthew 12.41 NIV.) Knowing God's revelation dims in comparison to acting according to what we know of God's revelation. Action not assent honors the God who give us fair warning.

Jesus said in Luke 11:30, "For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will be the Son of Man to this generation." Jonah served the Ninevites as a sign of mercy in the face of deserved judgement. He signalled God's willingness to forgive and avert destruction. He was a sign of God's nature in relation to humanity's broken nature. He was a second chance calling others to their second chance. In all this Jonah was a reluctant revelator and a disappointed observer of Divine mercy. Jesus actively, longingly sought to show the mercy of God and to reconcile us to the Father. He wept over a city, Jerusalem, because they did not heed the call of God to repent and enter the mercy provided.

Like the Ninevites, we fast and wait for the mercy of God. Rather than a deadline for doom, our forty days move us to the "line that's been drawn through the ages...on Golgotha's hill" (Gather, "It Is Finished.) We await Jesus condemning sin in His body on the cross and the release of overwhelming grace and mercy. May our forty days be filled with grateful anticipation because in Jesus we find something greater than Jonah (Matthew 12.41 NIV.)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Lord, Throughout These Forty Days...34

Another interesting 40 day experience involves a wilderness, some bread, a journey and fasting. We find it in 1 Kings 19. In Chapter 18, Elijah has prayed and the Living God answered by raining fire from heaven to consume his sacrifice. He prayed a second time and the Living God ended a three-year drought by sending a turrential downpour. But upon learning of the defeat of Baal, the god she worshipped, Queen Jezebel has literally swore out a death warrant for the prophet.

Elijah runs for his life. He travels a day into the wilderness to hide. Sitting under a broom bush, he prays again to the God who answered him so miraculously twice before. But this time he prays that God will let him die. Rather irrational to pray to die while running for your life. Perhaps Elijah preferred to die at the hand of the benevolent Lord as opposed to the hand of the malevolent Lady. Maybe he hoped for euthanasia -- a good, quick death -- rather than an excruciating, torturous one.

In his depression, Elijah lay down and slept. Suddenly he was awakened by a stranger. The smell of fresh-baked bread filled his nostrils. The stranger, an angel, told him to eat and drink some fresh water. After this meal Elijah slumps back down into a dreamless sleep.

"Get up and eat!" the angel commands again. He feeds on more bread and water. Elijah now travels 40 days and nights on the strength of that angelic way-bread. With no further meals, He arrives at the place to which God told him to go. There in a cave at the end of his journey, he met with God.

Elijah ran through the wilderness to hide from the powers of a kingdom of this world. Jesus walked through the wilderness to confront the splendor and authority of all the kingdoms of this world. Elijah received special provision for his 40 day journey. Jesus faced His forty days without miraculous way-bread. Elijah went to the wilderness near the end of his ministry. Jesus went to the wilderness near the beginning of His ministry. An angel served Elijah before his fasting. Angels served Jesus after His fasting. Elijah met God in the wilderness. Jesus met the devil.

Elijah tried God's mercy with his request to die. Jesus refused to but the Lord His God to the test. Elijah looked for special acts of God while endangered. Jesus declined God's specific promise of help in the face of danger. Later Jesus would suffer an excruciating (literally - on-a-cross, crux) death rather than seek escape.

Elijah in the wilderness sat down in despair. He had no trusting faith left. He assumed the work of God ended with him. Jesus in the wilderness walked on in trust. He relied on the Word to sustain Him. He knew the work of God began with Him.

The ministry of both Elijah and Jesus were affirmed in the forty days in the wilderness. They both had more work to do for the Lord. Elijah had a ministry anointing a new king and a new prophet to accomplish before his translation in a heavenly chariot. Jesus had an anointed ministry of prophet and priest and king to accomplish before his ascension to His heavenly throne.

Jesus transforms our wilderness from despair to hope. He renews our call to serve in the name of the Lord. He provisions us so that we, too, may reach our God-appointed end.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Lord, Throughout These Forty Days...33

We have been looking at Bible events that happened or took place over a 40 day period. These lend insight into the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert. We have already seen the tight parallel between Jesus 40 days in the wilderness and the 40 year wandering of Israel. Now the antecedent event, the 40 days exploration of the Land of Promise will be unpacked.

God said, "Your children will be shepherds here for forty years, suffering for your unfaithfulness, until the last of your bodies lies in the wilderness. For forty years -- one for each of the forty days you explored the land -- you will suffer for your sins and know what it is like to have me against you" (Numbers 14.33-34 NIV.) So the very important parallel of the wilderness wandering has a strong tie to the 40 days exploration.

The spies were to assess the land and its people. Their exploration would help the Israeli people become familiar with both the blessings and the barriers to possessing the Promise of God. This was not to ascertain whether they could possess it, but rather how to proceed. God's sure word had established that the land WOULD be theirs.

They found both the blessings and barriers. Grape clusters so large that two men struggled to carry them back grew there. The rich soil produced amazing crops. They described the land as one "flowing with milk and honey."

They also found fortified cities. They observed strong people living there. They reported seeing oversized warriors in large communities all over the place.

Ten of the twelve also added commentary to their observations. They insisted their long-awaited homeland could not be possessed. God's promise would not actualize. They then spread this report and commentary beyond the leadership who asked then to serve. They started telling everyone the dream had ended.

Two spies, one from Judah and one from Ephraim* offered a dessenting report. They acknowledged the barriers existed, but continued to place possession of the land in the hand of God who had promised it to them. With God all things were possible.

In His forty days, Jesus anticipates the promise that the Messiah would "save His people from their sins" (Matthew 1.21 NIV.) He, in effect, sizes up the barrier of temptation and the tempter who brought it. The words of Luthers Ein Feste Burg beaufully and powerfully describe the situation here.

For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe.
His power and art are great and armed with cruel hate,
on earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be loosing.
Were not the Right Man on our side, the man of God's own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus it is He:
Lord Sabbaoth, His name, from age to age the same.
And He must win the battle.

As Joshua and Caleb, Jesus does not adjudicate the possiblility of the promise fulfilled. He just familiarizes Himself in experiencial knowledge with the barriers. The blessing of the Promise can be seen as a weak and weary Jesus emerges from the wild COMPLETELY VICTORIOUS over Satan and his exploits.

Hebrews, which I believe to be an unsigned manuscript of a First Church sermon/teaching (but that's a whole other post,) says Jesus actualizes the fulness of God's Promise. He does what Joshua (unfortunately translated Jesus in KJV) could not. He gives us rest from the struggle that comes only with the achievement of victory (Hebrews 4 NIV.)

As with the spies, Jesus time in the wilderness did not accomplish the possession, just anticipated and prepared for the possession. Jesus would have to pass through more than the Jordan and the wilderness to free us from our sin. He would have to pass through the cross and the tomb. And because He did we can now have through the application of the Spirit, what the Father promised long ago!

*Joseph and Jesus compared.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Follow Me -- Into Service

Sensing there must be something more than the decision-dimension to the Kingdom of God, Faith Community Church has returned to the Gospel of Jesus Christ to find out what HE called people to. We have found Him calling, "Come, follow me."

This Sunday series in Lent unpacks what it might mean to be the people of God calling others to do just that, follow Jesus. It becomes obvious that Jesus doesn't usually say more than "follow," but the time/space context does flesh out the intent.

A rich, young man comes to Jesus seeking advise about right living and eternal destiny. He has a lot going for him. He is young. Rather than wait til life and its various pursuits have passed, he comes to remember his Creator in the days of his youth. He will serve God with all his youthful vitality and for length of days.

This young man is rich. He has provisions to do much more than a poor man could in service to Jesus. He has benefitted from the best while growing. He is blessed.

His moral quest makes him a seeker. Seekers find what they seek much more frequently than non-seekers. He has concern for spiritual things, realizing there is more than a merely physical existance.

But Jesus says he lacks one thing. "Go sell all you have and give it to the poor, then, come and follow me."

Moral correctness and financial provision fall short. To follow Jesus for this young man meant letting go of control of his life from this point forward. Selling his possessions, seeing what was his as not his any longer, would be a first step. And as the old axiom says, "Watch that first step, it's a doozie!" Selling his things, like a burnt offering, releases them into God's hand -- it cannot be recovered. Holding everything as stewards for God who really owns all does not impact us. Like Denethor in LOTR, we begin to act as lord rather than leige. But when told to sell it all, burn it all up on the brazen altar, then the issue of ownership arises and our resistance to His rule becomes exposed.

Keeping the "love your neighbor" side of the Decalogue is not enough. Right living goes well beyond rule keeping. The Lord now calls the young man to give the proceeds of his estate sale to the poor. Following Jesus for this young man meant living for the benefit of others from this point forward. This life of sacrifice continues the act of sacrifice in the call to sell.  The young man, like Father Damien, would no longer refer to those in need as you but as we. Giving the proceeds to the poor would be the start of sacrificial living.

Jesus lived a life of surrender and sacrifice. He lived for the benefit of others. We, like this rich, young man, must decide if Jesus is really Lord and if others are really loved. Following means these two are true.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Lord, Throughout These Forty Days...32

We began yesterday looking at the 40 day and night length of the wilderness experience of Jesus and other places in Scripture where things happened for the same duration. We looked at the 40 days and nights of flood-causing rain Noah experienced. Today we look at Moses' 40 days and nights on the Mountain with God.

In Deuteronomy 9, Moses recalls his experience on the mountain of revelation. He states that he ate nothing for those days, like Jesus. God gave him revelation of how to order and supply the worship of Israel. God also gave the 10 Simple Rules for Living known classically as the Decalogue.

God used these 40 days and nights without food to bring humanity closer to Him in behavior reflected in the 10 Commandments. This way of living comes closer to His moral perfection than unrestrained, lawless living. God also uses the place and practices of worship to act out the way to Himself. Substitutionary death, washing, prayer, confession, and the Tabernacle layout with many barriers show forth what we need to come near again to the God we rebelled against. In precept and practice God invites us to fellowship.

Jesus in the wilderness also goes 40 days and nights without food. He is alone with the Father, just as Moses was alone with God. He shows more clearly what God is like. He lives out moral perfection in human experience. One "greater than Moses" had come.

Thank God for the Way and  not just a way, back to Him!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Lord, Throughout These Forty Days...31

The 40 days in the wilderness tie into allusions from many moments in the history of God's interaction with humanity. Joseph's 40 years in Egypt, Israel's 40 years in the wilderness, the 3-fold temptation of our First Parents, the 3-fold love of the world, the 3-fold declaration of God the Father at the Jordan all connect with aspects of Jesus experience in the Jordanian wilderness. Each brings nuance and insight into the days there.

Today we look at the 40 days and nights. Another reference came to mind for me as a Sunday School child. It rained 40 days and nights to flood the earth and to float Noah's Ark.

Noah and his family had prepared an ark of gopher wood at the behest of God. They had provisioned it with food. God had called the animals in groups of sevens and twos. Then God shut door to the ark. It rained for 40 days and nights.God washed the world of the violence and evil practices of humanity.

They heard God say it was time to enter the ark. God shut the door isolating those inside from those without. Here like in the wilderness, God actively participates in the 40 days. Jesus and Noah were directed by God to enter these days. They were both isolated for God's purpose.

Both were with wild animals. In both cases, Jesus and Noah had to trust God the Father to tame them while they were together. The enmity that resulted from the rebellion of the Garden was suspended or reversed during the 40 days.

The forty days for Noah signalled God's judgement on human violence and sin. The forty days for Jesus affirm God's judgement of Him as accepted, loved and pleasing. God's right judgement impact both 40-day events.

Noah emerges after the 40 days of rain (plus about a year of flood-floating) as the new Parent for Humanity. All people find their ancestory through him. The flood condemned the old order of things (Hebrews 11.7 NIV,) cleared it away and ushered in a new beginning. The rainbow symbolized God's promise never to produce a universal flood. The rain itself gave rise to the sign of God's faithfulness.

Jesus "...condemned sin in the flesh..." (Romans 8.3 NIV.) What the Deluge could not totally wash away and the Decalogue could not totally restrain, Jesus condemned and totally overcame. Jesus' cross symbolized the breaking of sin's dominion. The instrument of that judgement gave rise to the sign of God's faithfulness.

Noah's 40 days of judgement point us longingly toward a better judgement. God wishes to remove the sin that taints His once-perfect creation. He must condemn this distructive element wherever it is found, even in the very fiber of His highest creation -- human beings. As a fair judge He cannot overlook what is destroying us and our world just because He loves us. Just because He loves us He must end sin. Christ's 40 days tell us our longed-for deliverance was near, even at the door.

Thank you Jesus! You not only rescue us from the consequences of sin, You deliver us from the power and domination of sin. "There is now, therefore, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!!!!!"

Jesus would later say the days of Noah typify the days of the Son of Man. The coming of Jesus will involve judgement and restoration. Again God will purge His creation from the polution of sin and violence. Fire, not water, serves as the active agent for the second purge.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Lord, Throughout These Forty Days...30

I made reference to Joseph a few blogs ago. In many ways his 40 years in Egypt bring additional meaning to the 40 days and nights of Jesus in the wilderness. Let's unpack the parallels.

First, God declared, through a series of dreams, who He knew Joseph to be. He would lead and his older brothers would follow. They would bow down to him. Even his parents would acknowlege his supremacy. God the Father declared, at the Jordan, who He knew Jesus to be. These declarations came before the practical proof but must have been in both their minds as they faced trials.

Second, adding up the date references in Genesis 37-50 we find Joseph lived in Egypt 39-40 years in slavery, prison and in preparation for the famine that eventually reunites him with his family. These were mostly years of extreme hardship. His slavery immersed him in a strange culture and language. He faced temptation to despair and toward sexual immorality. Hardship came to him due to sibling rivalry, betrayal, sexual harassment, false accusations, being forgotten and human cruelty. Jesus' suffering in the forty-day wilderness have been discussed exhaustively in this series.

Third, Joseph's slavery began when his brothers exchanged his freedom for 20 shekels of silver. Flags should go up as the whole story of reconciliation with his family involves silver. His brothers bring silver to buy grain. Perhaps the same silver once traded for Joseph's life. Joseph in turn refuses to accept the silver, replacing it in their grain sacks twice. How this should have stirred their consciences. The silver, blood money, was not used. Jesus, we know, was betrayed for 30 pieces of silver -- silver that Judas did not use and later used by the priests to buy a paupers' graveyard.

Forth, Joseph fathered two sons while in Egypt. Manessah, the older, and Ephraim the younger both recieved blessing and adoption from Jacob as sons. While in the ceremony, though, Jacob reverses the order by blessing Ephraim first. Ephraim means "twice fruitful" and Joseph choose this name because "God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering." God emphasized the fruitfulness of suffering in this act. Jesus, also, found His wilderness time fruitful as He would next call key followers to His service. Suffering can produce good things and good impacts.

Joseph did the heavy lifting in his suffering that would provide easy access to life-sustaining food for his family. His path to leadership created relationships with persons of power that released homes and lands in which they could live. They all received the dividends of Joseph's investment of time, trial and tenacity. Their once discarded brother became their desperately needed benefactor. Jesus did the heavy lifting for us on the cross and in the tomb. His relationship to the Father released the power of the Holy Spirit into our living. We receive from Him blessing upon blessing.

Joseph described his 40 year experience of suffering to his brothers when he said, "You intended it to harm me, God intended it for good...the saving of many lives" (Genesis 50.20 NIV.) This teaches us something about the interaction between temptation and testing for Jesus in the Wilderness. Satan intended to tempt Jesus to sin, to sidetrack to fail. God intended it as part of His saving act accomplished through Jesus. The wilderness was not just about Jesus, it was about all of us.

God also wants us to know that though someone else, even the Devil, intends us harm, He intends to use our life experiences -- even suffering -- to bring good. "God works all things for good..." The good God brings overwhelms the bad intended, both in intensity and scope. "Where sin did abound, grace overwhelms!" Our momentary and light afflictions may bring blessing and good to many, many people as well as to ourselves.

The wilderness experience of Jesus calls us to follow Him into the grander scheme of the Kingdom of God. He lived for more than Himself. He lived for Father-God's glory and our good. We need to approach even suffering as an opportunity to glorify God and benefit others. This thing is much bigger than me just getting through my trial, my tough times. Leading in part means going through great adversity so that others might not have to go through it or at least have to go through it alone.

Finally, the wilderness of Jesus and the Egypt of Joseph teach us that preparations precede productivity. We want the crown, but avoid the cross. We want the wisdom, but stay clear of the experience. We want fruit, but cringe at the pruning. We want the prize, but chafe at the process. Without the struggle there is no victory. Without the training, there is no trophy. Without discipline, there is no freedom.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Lord, Throughout These Forty Days...29

Jesus faced testing in the wilderness. Mark and Luke suggest the testing lasted 40 days and nights. They both use the present participle form of the verb which indicates continuous action. The verbal also indicates the action of testing was "being done" to Jesus. Jesus endured continuous pressure, propositions and testing from a source outside Himself.

Very few humans could honestly say they were tempted to do anything for 40 continuous days. Our tempting/testing lasts for a much shorter duration. And our effort to resist and remain faithful seems momentous and drains us of emotional, physical, mental and spiritual energy. Our momentary trials cannot compare to this intense, long-lasting trial of Jesus. How weak we truly are!

Matthew alone implies that Jesus fasted 40 days and nights and THEN came the tempter and the test. This provides a warning as well. Testing and temptation can come when we are weak and where we have weakened ourselves. For instance, Scripture tells husbands and wives "not to deprive each other [of marital relations] except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer.Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you..." (1 Corinthians 7.5-6 NIV.)

While Jesus clearly commands, and Scripture provides examples of the practice, fasting from food can easily lead to a temptation to satisfy our hunger at the expense of our vow to God. Going without proper sleep might make us susceptable to a temptation to act out easily-angered.

Luke adds an powerful reminder to us at the conclusion of the 40 days. "When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left [Jesus] until an opportune time" (Luke 4.13 NIV.) These days did not form the only temptation of Jesus. The devil watched and waited for an "opportune" time -- times of weakness, weariness along the way to Jerusalem's cross/tomb. He would tempt Jesus through the cry of the crowds and the voice of His closest followers. Jesus confirmed in His conduct the confession of the Father. But this was not the end-all temptation.

So, too, with us. We may endure this season of testing. We may resist temptatin and through Jesus remain faithful. But other times await. We cannot let down our guard.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Lord, Throughout These Forty Days...28

We have examined whether Jesus's experience in the wilderness involved temptation to sin or testing to prove His character. From the detailed teaching in James 1 and the principles from mutliple narratives, we concluded that this time tested Jesus to demonstrate in practical terms Who He is. God the Father had already stated His confident asssessment of Jesus as God the Son -- the Accepted-Beloved-Pleasing. The Spirit affirmed this assessment with His anointing presence.

That Jesus endured this testing effects us in several ways. The author of Hebrews [whole other post, ;)] points out "Because He suffered when He was tempted [tested], He is able to help those who are being tempted [tested]" (Hebrews 2.18 NIV.) He suffered the hunger, the pressure, the testing circumstances. Being made fully human, like His brothers, He comprehends the casualties caused by testing. He can now dispense mercy and faithfulness to us. He understands the fullest potency of temptation as He alone outlasted the tempter. He knows what it takes to make it through victorious. HE OFFERS US HIS HELP TO OVERCOME TEMPTATION.

"...we do not have a high priest who is unable to emphathize with our weaknesses, but was tempted in every way, just as we are -- yet He did not sin. Let us approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need" (Hebrews 4.15-16 NIV.) He endured temptation and remained true. He alone knows the full potential of humanity in the face of temptation. We only know the limit of our breaking point. He alone can appropriate grace and mercy so that we do not have to cave in to the pressure. HE OFFERS GRACE AND MERCY TO THE TEMPTED.

What a compassionate, merciful, understanding Jesus! His wilderness days open up to us days of victory. His suffering eases ours. His faithfulness props up our faithlessness. He walked the wilderness alone so that we could travel temptation in tandum with Him. And with Him, we have freedom from sin! Bless His name!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Lord, Throughout These Forty Days...27

We are exploring whether Jesus faced temptation or trial in the wilderness. We are going to deal with the significance, if any, of either. Something very difficult and important happened to the Lord during and immediately following the 40 days and nights.

Using the Rule of Faith -- that Scripture, as Truth, is non-contradictory -- we looked at a clear teaching passage on temptation found in James Chapter One to clarify our understanding of the wilderness. Three key truths about temptation emerge: 1. God cannot be tempted by evil. 2. God does not tempt anyone with evil. 3. Our own evil desires lead us into temptation. So Jesus, fully Divine, could not be tempted by evil. Being the new Adam, conceived directly in the womb of a virgin by the overshadowing power of the Spirit, He had no "bent to sinning" not inheriting original sin. Jesus had no inner brokenness that would be enticed. He was not tempted in the same sense that we are.

Let's look at other narratives. Abraham was tested by God when God told him to sacrifice Isaac as a burnt offering. God does not tempt anyone with evil. God was testing Abraham's trusting obedience. Abraham passed the test and God stopped the sacrifice.

Satan accused Job's faith and integrity. God trusted Job and granted the Accuser permission to test Job through adversity, trials and sickness. At each increasing level of challenge, God affirmed Job's integrity. Job passed the test and God restored to him all the Accuser had taken.

God states in several passage that He allows evil, pagan empires to harrass or harm Israel as judgement on bad behaviors. God does not design or delight in the afflicting nation, but grants permission for the eventual renewal of His nation, Israel. He sets boundaries of intinsity and duration for the time of trial.

In these passages, God actively supports the person being proven through testing. God grants permission to one who wishes to deceive or destroy and sets boundaries for the trial. These adversities are within the scope of God's sovereign will and reign.

Peter encourages us "In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief from all kinds of trials. These come so that the proven genuineness of your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even if refined by fire--may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed" (1 Peter 1.6-7.) Again, God allows difficulty as a proving ground for our character. He stamps His approval on us by the trials He allows. He expresses His trust in us.

If we return to James 1.2-3 once again we discover we should, "count it pure joy...whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perserverance." Here again we find a clear teaching that God allows difficulties not as temptation to evil, but as testing our our character. He indends it for good, no matter what the actual trial intends. (Recall Joseph's statement to his sold-him-into-slavery brothers.)

So in the wilderness Jesus faces testing. His Father has full confidence in His Son. The devil has permission to present the scenarios. He vainly hopes to sidetrack the Son into evil. The Spirit supports the Son who makes the Father-pleasing choice every time. Jesus emerges from the wilderness fully accredited in actual space/time testing. He has demonstrated, in part, why the Father declared Him "...My Son, whom I love. With Him I am well-pleased!"

We need to allow this time in the wilderness to encourage our hearts. When we face hardship, sickness, mis-understanding, betrayal, financial reversal or out-and-out temptation to sin, God has pre-approved the situation based on what He, in absolute perfect omniscience, knows He can get us through. I certainly feel more like Tevye, "I know. I know. We are Your chosen people. But once in a while, can't you choose someone else?" than Peter and James who counted trials and problems as God-authenticating-me pure joy.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Follow Me -- The Call of Jesus

"Come, make a decision for Christ."

I grew up in that tradition. My Baptist friends called you forward for one decision. My Wesleyan/Holiness church called you forward for two. But we all called for decision. We had serious doubts about the orthodoxy and orthopraxy of churches without altar calls.

The ministry of decision-based churches forms from a three-fold mission. First came evangelism or calling people to decision. Then came discipleship. Then came service -- to God and man. In reality, discipleship only served to produce more evangelizers to call people to decide. Service only counted if it lead to more decisions. Behind all our talk our mininstry was one-dimensional -- decision making.

Then we as decision-based believers wondered at the great falling away from the faith. We wrung our hands at the all-too-appearant lack of passion in the pews. We lamented the lack of committment from our members. We bemoaned the lack of holy "peculiarity" between God's people and pagan society. Why?

In an effort to stave off this crisis of Christlikeness, we strategically decided to add a new dimension to our ministry: DICIPLESHIP. We planned discipleship groups, discipleship classes, discipleship studies and discipleship emphases. Discipleship became the mantra of my denomination -- "Making more and better disciples!" Still the crisis continued.

I began looking at the teaching of Jesus again. He produced disciples capable of evangelizing, leading and building the kingdom in just three years. He lost only one to falling away. His followers had passion to carry them to and through martyrdom. These men and women distinguished themselves from their pagan culture by love, service and moral excellence.

Then I noticed a pattern. Patterns are God's way of speaking to someone as slow in understanding as I. JESUS CALLED PEOPLE TO FOLLOW HIM. He did it beside roads, at well heads, near rivers, in the marketplace, in places of sickness, poverty and want. Jesus simply, without qualification, called to people, "Come, follow me."

This Lent Faith Community Church unpacks this simple, church-culture changing call of Christ. We look at passages in which Jesus makes this call and at the results of such a call. Look for more posts to come,

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Lord, Throughout These Forty Days...25

Now at this point in the Lenten journey, we need to address an issue relating to Jesus in the Wilderness. Was Jesus tempted or tested? Could this question be more than word-play? What does it matter, if at all?

First, the Word says in Matthew 4.1 "Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil." There is a footnote attached to the word tempted. Mark 1.13, "...and he was in the wilderness 40 days, being tempted by the devil." Again the NIV notes multiple possible meanings for the word tempted. Luke 4.2 "...he was tempted by the devil..." with footnote.

The word is πειραζόμενος to tempt, try, test to see value or worth. to prove. In the Synoptics, it is a participle indicating continuous action. So the texts of the Wilderness experience allow for an understanding of both testing and tempting happening to Jesus.

Now let's look a clear teaching passage on God and temptation. James Chapter 1 teaches, When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

James ays God cannot be tempted. He cannot be lead astray from His will. As living perfection, God does not have flaw, weakness or gaps. No place can be found to exploit by the tempter. No desire exists to have or be more, as God -- in the Blessed Trinity -- has and is all He can be. Being the Truth, he cannot be other than He is.

James also says that God does not tempt anyone. Temptation stems from individual, internal desire. In Wesleyan terms, our "bent to sinning" pulls us toward sins that EASILY entangle us. The brokenness of our whole selves lends itself to temptation.

Jesus is God. As God He cannot be tempted. All-Knowing, He cannot be lead astray as He knows every path and its ending, every suggestion and its motive. All-Powerful, He can resist any pull. Holy, Pure and Good, He cannot do wrong. As Perfection, He lacks nothing so desires nothing more. Temptation as it comes to us, did not come to the Son-God.

Jesus, while God, is God-in-flesh. As the new Adam, created by the Word of God as the Spirit overshadowed a virgin, Mary, Jesus has not the fallen nature. He inherited no "bent-to-sinning." No imperfection pulled at Him. Unbroken, no internal desire distracted Him.

We seem to have found that in the sense that we are tempted, fallen and broken and sin-prown as we are, Jesus was not tempted. Later we will explore "testing" as what may have happened to the Son of God in the Wilderness.

Lord, Throughout These Forty Days...25

Today I quote a prayer attributed to St. Patrick. It fits the dangers of the Wilderness through which I journey with the Lord.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity;
By invocation of the same.
The Three in One, and One in Three,
Of Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Lord, Throughout These Forty Days...24

Jesus alone in the wilderness determines how He will live out the role of Messiah. The Spirit has just descended on Him at the Jordan baptism. He is the Anointed One. Satan has tempted Him to alleviate some of the suffering caused by sin in making stones into bread. The tempter teases out a scenario in which Jesus could reclaim Adam's abdicated authority...if He acknowledged Satan's authority to grant it.

Now comes a temptation to live as Messiah, the Marvelous.

Taking Him up to the highest point of the Temple, Satan reminds Jesus that the Word of God declares special care and protection on the Anointed One. The promise included angels holding up the Anointed One so that His foot would not strike a stone. The devil dared Jesus to jump and let those angels hold Him up from injury instead of crashing into the courtyard.

What a scene that would have been! A man comes hurtling out of the sky from the high point of the Temple. Some in the court of women would see Him falling and scream. Mothers would shield their children's eyes to avoid the carnage on the pavement. A crowd of men in the outer court would run to the landing sight. But instead of a dead man lying broken and mangled, they would find the Anointed One standing there completely unharmed. His clothes would hardly be rumpled or dusty, His hair hardly out of place.

This, this would start the work of Messiah off with a bang! The word of the miraculous Temple Diver would spread like wild-fire. No one would doubt His power and anointing then. God's people from all over the Mediterranian world would flock to Him. How easy it would have been to raise a liberating army to drive the Romans out of the Holy Land, just as the Maccabees had done with the Greeks. This would bring the kingdom of God and and give His people freedom.

Jesus responds, "Do not put the Lord your God to the test."

I have often wondered at the frustrated, disapproving comments of Jesus in response to demands for a "sign" to prove His authority. Jesus calls sign-seekers perverse, wicked and adulterous. He refused to provide any sign upon demand. In the narative of the Rich Man and Lazarus, Jesus even teaches that people who won't believe based on Scripture will not "be convinced even if someone raises from the dead." (Luke 16.31) Marvels and wonders do not convince. Jesus does not employ this tactic.

Whenever Jesus did activate His power and authority to work miracles, He often commands the beneficiaries to keep it secret. He instructs cleansed lepers to tell only those who need to know -- the priests who must declare then clean and fit to return to society. He never does one miracle to impress or show off.

Jesus will renew the world. He will re-establish the rule of God in the world. He would do this through a new people of God. But He would not draw men to Him the way Satan suggests. He would draw all humanity to Himself by being lifted on Calvary's cross. In place of a marvelous display of a man unbroken and uninjured by a fall, He will demonstrate His power in the mangled and broken man on a cross. The empty tomb would serve as the rallying point for the subjects of this King and the reign of God's Messiah.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Lord, Throughout These Forty Days...23

Jesus, as the Messiah, faces the tempter. Satan sought to sidetrack Jesus into a physical provision to overcome the curse of sin on humanity. Making stones into bread would feed the poor, to whom He came to preach the good news. It supplies the starving "sheep without a shepherd" with much needed nutrition. Jesus refused this method of supply in favor of teaching dependance on God and His Word to sustain.

But now there comes an appeal to aquire authority.

I have heard many ask, "Why didn't God just come down out of heaven and declare His dominion over all the earth?" or "Why wasn't the message more clear? " or "Why all this hidden truth rather than direct statements?" or "Why didn't God begin in Rome or Athens or some other world center?"

When Adam rebelled and attempted to usurp Divine Authority, he rejected what Divine Authority had granted to him -- His governership of earth. He subjugated himself, humanity and the creation to the direction of the tempter. Thus the world came under the dominion of the devil. Satan became the prince and power of the air. The dark lord's tyranny began. The world and its inhabitants were subverted by evil -- inherited and individual.

The Messiah came, in part, to destroy the works of the devil. He would "break the power of him who holds the power of death --that is the Devil -- and free those who all their lives were held captive by their fear of death." (Hebrews 2.14). His ministry as Messiah would destroy the dominion of darkness. His kingom -- for a Messiah rules as king -- would replace the kingdoms of the world. Daniel (2.34-35) fortold of the rock, carved out of the mountainside, crushing the powers of world empires and then itself grown into a mountain of justice, righteousness and peace that would fill the whole world.

Now in the wilderness, Satan feigns an offer of all the authority and splendor of those self-same world kingdoms. Jesus could right then claim the authority to rule the earth. Satan would relinquish control. One trade rights a horrible result of Our Rebellion. The dominion could end.

Except for the string attached...

Satan conditions the offer of all the authority and splendor of the kindoms of the world on Jesus bowing down in subjegation to him. Such a move places the one bowing in subordination to the being bowed to. The whole feudal system rested on this leige/lord ceremony. This would place Jesus under the authority of Satan and in effect not change the rulership crisis.

Jesus counters the offer with the sure Word of God, "Worship the Lord, your God and serve Him only." Jesus had already, in eternity past, placed Himself in subordination to Father-God. "The LORD said to my lord, 'sit here while I make your enemies your footstool.'" The Father would place all things under His control. And in anticipation of the day He would in fact rule the whole world, He vowed to place it at the feet of Father-God, for His glory. The LORD was the Lord of the Messiah.

So deliverance would come. Dominion would transfer. There would be an exchange that lead to the re-establishment of the Right World Order. That would happen at the cross and empty tomb. In that critical moment in space/time, Jesus would ascend the throne of governership Adam abdicated in that long-ago moment in space/time. He would aquire the keys (authority) of death, hell and the grave. He would create a beach-head for the advance of His kindom to come on earth as it is in heaven. And one day His kingdom will arrive in its fulness with Satan vanquished and Jesus as King!

"Living, He loved me. Dying, He saved me. Buried, He carried my sins far away. Rising, He justified freely forever. One day He's coming. O, glorious day! O, glorious day!"

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Lord, Throughout These Forty Days...22

Jesus in the Wilderness redeems the failure of Adam/Eve. Jesus in the Wilderness activates the lessons the Nation of Israel failed to learn. Jesus in the Wilderness shows how to love the Father and not the world. Jesus in the Wilderness confirms the Father's confession of His identity.

What about His mission as Messiah? What does the Anointed One do? How best can He reach His goal? These and other questions about Messiah-ship form our next series of reflections.

When tempted to turn stone into bread, Jesus decided how He would use of His power to serve the hurting world. Later indeed He would produce loaves of bread in mass quantity to feed the hungry and hurting. His heart moved Him to feed the people He characterized as "sheep without a shepherd." Twice 5000 men (plus women and children) were fed. Once 4000 men (again, plus women and children) were fed. All by the miraculous power of Jesus, the Messiah.

But here in the wilderness the temptation tries to short-cut the Father's plan to serve the whole human languishing in the results of First Parents' rebellion. The Anointed One would "preach good news to the poor." Just feeding them will bring you followers, the tempter seems to imply. But Jesus mission to revolutionize the world would focus not on the crowds, but the twelve. He would invest Himself, perform the majority of His miracles in the presence of His little band of believers rather than the masses. In resisting the temptation to turn stone to bread, Jesus in part chooses the method for completing His Father-given mission.

 Here we see that our decisions impact not just our personal relationship with God, but also how we interact with others. The new creation, the new people of God would have been side-tracked from all that the Trinity planned and will if Jesus only offered physical bread. People need the sustaining Word of God, the owners manual for use of life and liberty. To paraphrase a cliche, "Giving us bread would have fed us for a day. Giving us the Word's guidance feeds us for a lifetime." Jesus came to teach us to live, not just keep us alive.

What a cautionary tale for one who leads a compassion-based ministry. I must never, personally or as a leader of a community of faith, give just bread. I must not seek just to meet immediate need. I have to share what is life-changing and not merely what is life-sustaining. Dependence on what God gives must always supercede the what's-in-it-for-me.mindset.

The Anointed One still calls His people to "preach good news to the poor." Let us learn from His choice in the wilderness how best to share.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Lord, Throughout These Forty Days...21

At the baptism of Jesus, the Spirit settled on Him in the form of a dove. At the baptism of Jesus, the Father's voice declares who Jesus is -- the One-and-Only, the Beloved, the Well-Pleasing Son. The Spirit then leads this Son into the wilderness of testing.

"...with Him I am well pleased."

God the Father affirms the Son. What He does and who He is pleases the Father. This positive affirmation supports the life and ministry of Jesus. From heaven, God shouts for all to hear, "That a boy!"

The tempter calls into question the affirmation on Jesus life and ministry. He displays the splendor of the kingdoms of the world of men as they look from a high place. Then he insinuates God has placed these things in his control. "...it has been given to me and I can give it to anyone I want to." What a boon of power. What control. What seeming affirmation.

Why would God allow the tempter such control, such splendor, such power? Why not grant these to the Son? What is at work here? If the Son who comes to save the world of men pleases the Father, why was the authority and splendor of the world of men given to another?

Then the devil offers Jesus a trade. He will bestow all of this authority and splendor on Jesus. "If you worship me, it will all be yours." The tempter offers not just authority and splendor, he offers to affirm Him as worthy of such rare and powerful gifts. He seeks to replace the Father.

As with the First Parents, Jesus can see the pleasing nature of the tempter's offer. The well-pleasing title might be replaced by the pleasing splendor of the world's kingdoms. The devil asks for completion of a simple, painless task, while the Father asks for the completion of a difficult, pain-filled one. Might not this exchange save the world and deliver it from Satan's tyranny? The Trinity had set in motion another exchange plan for just that purpose.

Jesus repells the tempter by quoting, "Worship the Lord, your God and serve Him only." Again the Son echos the Father's claim on Him. He is MY God and I am His. He came to do the Father's will and continues on that mission here in the wilderness. Jesus will serve the Father, seek his approval only.

On the mountain of Transfiguration, the Voice will pronounce Him still well pleasing. Peter will declare on Pentecost that "Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs...God has made this man...both Lord and Messiah." He lives and ministers with the seal of God's approval -- the same Spirit that seals us.

We too must only seek to please the Father. Peter and John decided they would rather please God than man. Paul chose God's approval rather than that of the circumcision group. God's "well done, good and faithful servant" awaits all who, through the power of the Holy Spirit, work as unto the Lord and do all that we do to the glory of God alone just as our Faithful Guide did even in the wilderness.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Lord Throughout These Forty Days...20

We began yesterday unpacking the temptation in the wilderness as an assault on the baptism in the Jordan. There the Triune God appears in a specific point in time/space. There God the Father defines Jesus' identity in terms of acceptance, affection and affirmation. Today we continue with a look at the attack on affection.

In the Jordan, Jesus heard Father-God claim Him as the one "...Whom I love..." The Father loves His Son as He had from eternity past. For in the Trinity we see love perfected. God created the universe, not as a necessity for love to exist between He and humanity, but as the product of that mutual love already operational among the Three-Who-Are-One. This love continues even though the Son has now taken on humanity for the sake of salvation.

In the wilderness, Satan seeks to undermine this mutual affection. Jesus walks the wastelands hungry. He has not eaten in 40 days and nights. Now the tempter calls, "If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread." "If you are..." the clause causes pause, raises doubt. If God loved you He would have given you manna just as He did Israel, whom He loved. How could a loving Father allow His Son to suffer so? Would a loving Father give His Son a stone if that Son asked for bread?

Jesus reaffirms the Father's affection by quoting, "Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word coming from the mouth of God." Father is providing for Jesus in the wilderness. The word sustains. The Father hasn't diminished His love or affection. Interestingly, after this temptation Father-God sends angels to minister to the Son. Could they have brought him angel food, bread of heaven?

Later in His ministry, Jesus, humgry and thirsty, sits by a well while His followers go for some lunch. There He leads a woman to new life. When His followers arrive from the local grocery store with food, He says "I have food you know not of." The Father sustains again, though not through physical supply.

For us we need to realize that gifts do not equal love. The starving Jesus knew better. Even if our needs -- real or supposed -- go unsatisfied, God still loves us. He gives. His word sustains. He does provide. Our spirits need supply as well as our bodies.

"Lord for this and all Your blessings, make us truly grateful. AMEN"

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Lord, Throughout These Forty Days...19

The Temptation of Jesus in the wilderness comes immediately after His baptism by John in the Jordan. That blessed moment gives rise to one of the most significant statements in all of Holy Writ. As Jesus, the Son, comes up from the baptismal waters, God, the Spirit, settles on Him in the form of a dove and God, the Father pronounces Jesus identity. God -- three in person and one in substance -- manifests in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Here modalism and monism as a view of God fall apart. For God in His three persons works in unison in a specific point in space/time.

The declaration of Jesus identity interests me as I meditate on the wilderness today. Mark and Luke record the Father saying, "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased." It is significant that two-thirds of the Synoptics tell us that Father-God speaks to Son-God about who He is. This brings us into the wilderness.

Satan attacks Jesus about His identity. "If you are..." forms the condition for all three temptaitons. The Father just reaffirmed three aspects of Jesus true self: acceptance, affection, affirmation. Now the devil tries to undermine each.

Let's look at acceptance.

In the Jordan, Father-God unashamedly said, "You are MY Son..." The sense of belonging flavors that expression of acceptance. Father-God claims this person as HIS.  From the bleachers of heaven, the Divine Dad yells for all to hear, "That's MY boy!"

But in the wilderness the tempter challenges that piece of identity. In s-s-suggesting that Jesus could demonstrate his Son-ship by activating Father-God's written promise of protection, the tempter tries to give Jesus doubt about whether or not God truly claims Him. Does Father-God really accept you? How can you be sure without activating a clear promise?

To deflect this Jesus quotes, "Do not put the Lord, YOUR God to the test." In asserting that Father-God was HIS God, Jesus echos the mutual acceptance of Son and Father. Just as Father-God had just declared Jesus as HIS Son, now the Son claims the Lord as HIS God. He rests in the the knowledge that He and the Father are One and of one mind about this acceptance. Even in the wilderness of separation, Jesus belongs to the Father who claims Him as His own at the Jordan.

For us, we need to listen again to the voice of Father-God claiming us as His own in the regeneration accomplished by the power of Spirit-God as the result of Son-God's death/resurrection. Though we are not all we will be, we are indeed now children of God.

We also need to echo back this word of acceptance and claim this God -- Father, Son, Spirit -- as our God. He is our life, our source, our hope, our righteousness, our King and coming Lord. Without Him and His acceptance, we are nothing and can accomplish nothing. We are HIS!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Lord, Throughout These Forty Days...18

Jesus was tempted in the wilderness just as we are. The tempter pulled at Him to sidetrack the Cross/Tomb goal. Jesus overcame.

John says we are pulled by this world away from the Father's love. The last aspect of this worldly love is the pride of life. Being boastful of what one has and does comes not from a core of Father-love, but from the base world of physical reality.

The truth is we are a soul composed of a body and filled with a spirit. In the creation of man, God fashions a mud-man out of dust and breathes into this figure spirit or the breathe of life. Then we became a living soul.

Far too often we live in the physical reality while ignoring the spiritual. In so doing we are less than human. Life consists of more than what we eat or wear -- Jesus said.

The pride of life deceives us into thinking we are only what we have and what we do. We boast about our possessions our accomplishments. Even the Barney Fifes of life drop names and activities into conversation trying to impress or justify their worth.

Satan whispered to Jesus, ..."if you are...you have special protection..." This tease tugs at who Jesus is and appeals to pride. God had promised and, as discussed in a previous post, will provide this special protection to His Son numerous times. The temptation in the wilderness puffs up the promise as a way to prove worth or show off to the crowds no doubt congregated at the Temple. Literally, pride would have gone before a fall -- a fall most likely leading to Jesus' premature and non-redemptive death.

Money, power, popularity -- all hold the temptation to pride. Huberis has been listed by our RC brethren as one of the Deadly Sins. Pride launched Lucifer and Nebechadnezzar into a failed rebellion to usurp the Divine throne. Pride moved Adam and Eve to seek to be God-like. Pride deludes us into thinking we stand secure at the very moment we teeter on the brink of disaster.

The victory over pride? Submission to God and God-appointed authority. Jesus deflected the deceiver by quoting, "Don't tempt the Lord, your God." He humbled Himself in submission to the Father's will. We need to do the same, to submit our decisions to His descretion, to yield our wants to His way, to  pass the praise to the Provider. In the process we need to guard that we don't become proud of our humility.

We can overcome this temptation as we walk in the Yoke of the Yielded One. "Come to me, all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." Matthew 11.28-30

Friday, March 09, 2012

Lord, Throughout These Forty Days...17

John encourages all Christ-followers to love God, the Father and not the world. He even deliniates what he means listing the characteristics of the world. In the wilderness temptation, Jesus deals successfully with these same issues.

"the lust of the eyes..."

John says that the desires of our eyes -- our looking and seeing -- draw us away from the Father and toward the world of things. "The eyes are the windows to soul." "If your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if the light in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!"

The First Parents saw that the forbidden fruit's beauty and ate. Israel saw that Moses was a long time returning from the mountain and made a beautiful golden calf to worship in place of the Living God. Jesus had been shown the splendor of the whole world of manish domination. He chose to worship the Lord only.

 The tempter promised our First Parents' eyes would be opened. Their vision expanded.The writer of Proverbs says our eyes are never satisfied.Later Jesus would teach that His followers would be foolish to trade their true selves in exchange for even the whole world. We see what we look at.

Set the Lord before you and no other object of worship, no other goal. Like our Lord, we find the way through the wilderness in the direction of that Beautific Vision.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Lord, Throughout These Forty Days...16

Jesus days in the Wilderness center around temptation. I have looked at the 40 years testing of Israel in a wilderness and the temptation of our First Parents. Jesus has done in His time of temptation what neither of these had done. He remained faithful to the Father and overcame the Tempter.

1 John 2.15-16 adds another dimension to the discussion. "Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world." Temptation presents the tempted with two alternatives -- the love of the Father  or the love of the world.

In the temptation days in the wilderness we see Jesus deal with the three-fold world. The tempter presents each of these three aspects in a separate trial. Jesus overcomes each in turn and remains rooted in the love of the Father.

...the Lust of the Flesh...

Jesus fasts 40 days and night. His hunger boarders on literal starvation. His body needs to eat. He might not survive without it. Eating is essential for existance. God designed the human body with safeguards against starvation. Hunger pangs, fat absorption and finally muscle depletion war against starvation.

Jesus flesh desires food. God gave that desire. Life demands fulfillment of that desire. The desire for food ranks as neither morally good or bad. To a starving Jesus, mini-boulders start looking like mini-buns. The tempter whispers, "You could make them into bread..."

But life in this world centers on satifying the desires of the body. We live at our lower, animal level when life's direction depends on our desires. How many of our choices focus solely on self-satisfaction.

Instead Jesus chooses the love of the Father and His Word as His sustainance. In His choosing He frees us to choose above our base desires and choose our real satisfaction -- the love of the Father. Because He overcomes His life-and-death need, He strengthens us to overcome our not-life-and-death desires. Money, power, sex -- the big three-- don't have the strenth of food to the starving. We can overcome through Him.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Lord, Throughout These Forty Days...15

Some final observations about our First Parents as it relates to the temptation of the Lord in the Wilderness.

In Genesis 2.9 declares that all the trees that God made were "pleasing to the eye and good for food." This is exactly what Eve and Adam saw in the forbidden fruit as well. In other words, there was nothing about the forbidden fruit to distinguish it from all other fruit. It had no intrinsic evil residing in it. Things are never the problem. Evil is the relationship of how we use things and God's directives for their use.

Also in Genesis 2 "the LORD God commanded the man, 'You are free to eat from any tree in the garden;  but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.'” Death follows eating.

But in Genesis 3 Eve says of the fruit of the forbidden tree, "but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” Death follows touching.

Somehow Eve added a second prohibition. God NEVER said they were not to touch the fruit. Fruit benefits us when we eat, not when we touch. I find it interesting that the command came directly to Adam. Eve was not yet created. She received a mediated command through Adam. Did he add the secondary no? Did they together add the no touching rule to keep them from breaking God's command?

I think that this misquote contributed to the willful violation of God's clear command not to eat in two ways. First, it shows that our First Parents were already toying with adding to the perfect. They violated their creature-ness by assigning commmandments of usage to the Creator's world. This indicates a heart-desire to advance beyond their scope of rulership. When Eve attributes this MAN-MADE rule to God, the Tempter catches a glimpse of their heart and where they might be vulnerable. [BTW, I do not believe Satan is omniscient. He cannot read minds. But that evokes another, theology post.] Then he leads them down the road of desire, enticing them. This temptation conceives and give birth to sin, which when fully grown produces death -- a la James 1.14-15.

Secondly, the Adam-Additive contributed to the rebellion by creating false confidence about the consequences of violating the commmands. Eve touched the fruit. Taking the fruit in her hand did not result in death "when" she touched it. Now how much time passed between touching and tasting is not clear. But I suspect that surviving the touch emboldened the First Family's next move. The thinking might have been, "We did not die when we touched, although there was a command and a consequence attached to it. Let's try eating. That consequence now seems uncertain."

The secondary boundary, rather than strengthen the primary boundary, weakened it. If touching doesn't cause death, tasting might not either. Maybe God did misrepresent this yummy-looking, fruit-ishly beautiful thing to them. Perhaps He did have alterior motives for keeping it from them. Touching added to the doubting. Religion -- man making a way to please God -- begins and right relationship fades.

Jesus, on the other hand, clearly quotes the Word with out additive, editing or omission. He trusts God's directives alone to guide His actions under temptation. He will follow Father's directions alone to guide His life's work and life's sacrifice. He knows exhibits internalized knowledge of Scripture. He live by that Word.
In so living and dying [and resurrecting] according to the Scriptures, He restores right relationship and religion fades.

May we as Christ-followers take ample warning here. Wrong does not present itself very differently from right. David's "snare" analogy works here. The danger comes camoflaged. Guide us, o Thou great Jehovah.

We also need to see the danger of making up rules for living that are not clearly connected to or directly derived from Scripture. Our words about the Word will most likely make failure more frequent. We are not God and should not delve in His directing His world. Well-intentioned legalisms or regulations could cloud the consciencness of consequences for ourselves or others.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Lord, Throughout These Forty Days...14

In His wilderness, Jesus redeems the failure of Israel's wilderness wanderings. In His barren place, Jesus restores First Parents' paradise. In both He is more than we have ever been ourselves. In both He becomes the New -- Adam and People of God.

In Christ, a new creation begins. He is the first-fruits. As the Second Adam emerging victorious over temptation, He can now represent all of humanity in His actions. He can lead us in unbroken fellowship with the Father.  The tarnished imago dei can be restored. The wilderness starts to reverse the curse.This Second Adam can die for all of us just as in the first Adam we all died. All born "from above" through faith in Him can live forever. With confidence and hope we can declare, "If anyone is in Christ, that person is a new creation."

In Christ, a new people develops. He leads. As the second Called-Out-Of-Egypt Son emerging triumphant from the wilderness, He can now build the New Israel. Through Moses God gave the Law from a mountain. Through Christ God gave Grace from a hill. Once we were not a people but now we are the people of God. Once-wonderers now have a home. We stand as new nation of priests worshipping and declaring the glory of God. He builds His rock-solid church that "the gates of hell shall not prevail against..."

If I go through these 40 days in solitude like Adam and Eve, I will fail. I cannot wish for perfect circumstances, because they failed in Paradise. If I go in community like Israel, I will fail. I cannot hope for perfect companions, because they failed together. If I go with Jesus, I can "walk and not grow weary, I can run and not faint." With Christ, all things are possible and all wildernesses passable.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Lord, Throughout These Forty Days...13

I turn now to the last temptation of Jesus in the Wilderness and its parallel in the temptation of our First Parents.

Flash back to the Garden...

"The serpent said to the woman, 'For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.' When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was...also desireable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it...her husband, who was with her...ate it."

The fruit was desireable for gaining wisdom. First, I'm not sure how a fruit can be that or appear to be able to do that. Except that our First Parents had already looked too long at it. The yumminess and fruit-ish beauty had lead to the conclusion that this indeed might give added wisdom. The serpent had s-s-said it would.

Wanting to be like God?!?!?! They were already the imago dei His image-bearer and appointed governer of the whole earth. They were already made "in [His] likeness." They already had what the serpent s-s-suggests-s-s God is denying them.

Fast Forward to the Wilderness...

The devil...had him stand on the highest point of the temple. "If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down from here. For it is written, 'He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'"

Here again the Tempter tries to undermine the issue of identity. "If you are..." casts doubt on who Jesus really is. Jesus is the express image of God. Jesus has the promise of protection. Later in His ministry, folks would take up stones to stone him to death and he was protected. In this very chapter outlining the Wilderness experience, a crowd "got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way." God does fulfill His promise to protect His Son.

Jesus knows who He is and Whose He is. He responds, "Do not put the Lord, your God, to the test." No room exists for doubt about either of these two key identity factors. As the True and Faithful Son, He serves His Father. He allows the Father to provide protection. He does not need convincing or proofs.

Back to Life, Back to Reality...

In the Garden, our Parents operated in doubt and reached out to become on their own what they already were by God's design and blessing. They failed and we all became less than what they had been.

In the Wilderness, our Lord operates in confident trust and allows the Father to demonstrate His unique identity in His timing. He prevails and raises us up to who we can be.

May I, like my Lord, remember Whose I am and who I am because of Him!

"Who Am I?"
Not because of who I am
But because of what You've done
Not because of what I've done
But because of who You are

I am a flower quickly fading
Here today and gone tomorrow
A wave tossed in the ocean
Vapor in the wind
Still You hear me when I'm calling
Lord, You catch me when I'm falling
And You've told me who I am
I am Yours, I am Yours

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Lord, Throughout These Forty Days...9

Just a little progress report on The Boy Enters the Wilderness, Too. from Lent Day Three.That DS XL has sat on the shelf for 6 days, untouched and unasked-for. I thank God for my boy and the lessons he teaches me every day. "And a child will lead them..." -- a glimpse of the Wilderness no longer wild due to the rule of The King from Isaiah 11.6 .

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Lord, Throughout These Forty Days...8

I continue walking with the Lord in the forty-day Wilderness journey. The unpacking of parallels between Adam and Jesus uncovers temptation number two.

Flash Back to the Garden...
They "saw the fruit of the tree was...pleasing to the eye..."

As the Tempter continued the assault on the creatures' trust in their Creator, our First Parents now notice how beautiful the fruit looks. Maybe they shyed away from this place like a forbidden zone around the forbidden fruit. (Eve did have a misunderstanding of the command. God only said not to eat. She incorrectly attributed a command not to even touch it to God.) More likely they just had only explored a small part of the Garden world and never been this close to the tree. They might have never noticed this before as the fruit of the tree grew on high branches above their line of sight. Maybe the serpent's body weighed down a branch, bending it close to their faces. However, they became suddenly aware of its intrinsic attractiveness.

The beauty of the fruit. How many acclaimed masters have painted that bowl of fruit? Why our fascination with the shapes, textures, gloss and coloration of fruit? The human heart craves what the human eye captures -- beauty. Sometimes just the look of the fruit satisfies.

The Tempter brought the beauty, the perfect fruit-ishness of the fruit, to their attention. God made it. Everything was in prototypical perfection. He had, in absolute Divine wisdom and insight, observed then declared this and all vegetation good on the Third Day of creation. I see no indication from the narrative that this fruit tree distinguished itself from others astheticly.

Fast Forward to the Wilderness...
"The devil...showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said...'I will give you all their authority and splendor...'"
Again the Tempter appeals to the visual effects of the world in an effort to mislead Jesus. The world of men glows with beauty. Recently I was overwhelmed by the warmth and charm of a little Victorian town nestled in the hills of Virginia. The joy of driving through those mountains with the many vistas and rustic beauties, pulled at my heart. We have created works of architecture and enginering that truly amaze and inspire. What wonders they have wrought!

The splendor of the kingdoms -- their eye-catching, jaw-dropping splendor -- motivated many a leader to conquest. Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, vandals, Vikings, Goths, Mongols, Spaniards, Frenchmen, Brits, Nazis, Japaneze, Russians -- each empire or empire busters sought to possess the splendor of the world of men. The glow of gold, the shine of cities, the marvel of manufacturing moved many a man to take and try control.

Back to Life...

Jesus sees behind the beauty of the fruit to the the trap of the Tempter. The devil promises unhindered access to the splendor IF He will worship him. Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6.13: "Worship the LORD your God and serve Him only." The appeal of the beautiful cannot compare to the Beautific Vision. God intends the wonders of nature and the splendor of human creativity to point mankind back to Himself -- the Creative Maker of heaven and earth.

May we all like Jesus, "Worship the LORD in the splendor of His holiness..." Psalm 29.2. May our prayer be

"Be Thou My Vision!" Bernard of Clairvaux

Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art
Thou my best thought by day or by night Waking or sleeping Thy presence my light

Be thou my wisdom and Thou my true word I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord
Thou my great Father, I , Thy true son Thou in me dwelling and I with Thee one

Riches I heed not nor man's emptly praise Thou mine inheritance now and always
Thou and thou only first in my heart High King of heaven my treasure Thou are

High King of heaven my victory won May I reach heaven's joys, O bright heaven's Sun
Heart of my own heart whatever befall Still be my vision O Ruler of all