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

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Lord, Throughout These Forty Days...7

Yesterday I started unpacking the parallels between the temptation of Adam and Eve and that of the Lord Jesus. The settings of each were described. Then I contrasted the circumstances surrounding the temptation of Adam and Jesus.

Now to temptation one.

Flash back to the Garden.
"Eve...saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food." Adam and Eve were tempted to eat something that looked like good food. Now remember, they were full and had the entire world of food possibilities within arm's reach. But that fruit of that tree started looking yummy. Why was God keeping such a yummy thing from them? The question of the Tempter started to take root.

After all God had made the tree and its yummy looking fruit. Surely He made it with a purpose. Everything, EVERYTHING, He made was declared good. What was up with a God who would make all things good and then deny them access to some -- even one -- of them?

The core of the first temptation centers not on the fruit's yumminess. That simple starting point leads the First Parents to doubt the specific word of God. He had said they were not to eat that tree's fruit and that doing so dire consequences would follow. Why would He say that?

Fast forward to Jesus in the Wilderness.
He is hungry -- an argument could be made for starving to death. Little round rocks dot the landscape. The Tempter again whispers. The rocks start looking like golden-brown loaves of bread, just like Momma Mary used to make. "Turn them to bread...if you are..."

After all Jesus did have the ability to produce bread miraculously. He would do so at least twice to feed thousands from mere lunchables. Why would He have such power and not be authorized to use it in this extreme need?

This temptation presents itself to Jesus just as it had to Adam. The yumminess of the foodstuff at hand gives rise to doubt about why God's Word restricted access to it. Doubts finally call for a choice.

"Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes out of the mouth of God." Unlike our First Parents, Jesus acclaims the primacy of the Word of God and affirms the nature of God from Whom that Word precedes. Where God clearly speaks, we must abide by that Word.

God did make everything very good. He does have a purpose for it being available. But He has the right to proscribe its use. As the designer and maker, He knows best how things are to be used or if they are to be used at all.

The first choice, temptingly wrapped in yummy food, challenges our trust in God and His Word. Do we trust the Word or our reasoning? Do we trust God enough to follow His direction? Both settings forced a choice about what sustains us and our life.

Adam failed because he chose things to sustain him. He denied God's right to direct the use of the things He provides. He rebelled against the clear command of God. He assumed too much thinking he knew better than God what was good. He abdicated his governership of creation by his unauthorized use that creation.

Jesus overcame. He reaffirms the Word of God as man's rule for living. Jesus trusts to the Father's provision for His physical need rather than selfish use of His authority. He redeems the failure of Adam.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Lord, Throughout These Forty Days...6

In a previous post, I outlined an allusion to Israel's 40 years in the Wilderness in Jesus' 40 days in the Wilderness. From the many parallels, I concluded that Jesus replaces the failed Israel through His conquest of temptation through the application of the lessons Israel should have learned in the Wilderness. He leaves this place to call and form his band of 12 and initiate a new people of God.

Today I begin another reflection on a parallel to Jesus' temptation there. In Genesis we find Adam and Eve failing in the face of temptation.

Together Adam and Eve were the whole of humanity 1) then, as the only two of the species and 2) in the future as the common ancestors of all others. In a very clear way, their choices impact not just themselves but all people. Adam served as a sort of head of the human family. All others procede from his seed. His decisions impact all of us like those of a leader of any group. As prototype, potentate and parent, when this one man rebels and suffers the just consequences of such a move, all humanity did -- then and forever.

Look at the surroundings of our First Parents' temptation. Adam lived in a perfect world. God had created a world full of food. Adam and Eve always had enough to eat and more. They had variety and choice.They were full. The climate-controlled Garden afforded them to live comfortably without clothing for warmth. It never even rained on them. The animals co-existed without tooth or claw or danger of harm. They lacked nothing.

Their hearts were in perfect alignment with God's. They discoursed with the Divine. They willed what He willed. They had intimate, personal relationship with their Creator.  Every choice was moral except one. No barrier existed between humanity and Divinity.

The relationship between Adam and Eve also reflected perfection. They enjoyed intimacy without covering or concealing. They communed without shame. Of all creation, Adam knew Eve completed him, countered his loneliness and cooperated in their life's work. They were to tend the garden, govern the world, reflect God to all the rest of creation and fill the earth with more humans.

Now contrast the temptation setting of Jesus. He faces temptation alone, without close companion. He faces temptation in a Wilderness. Desolation, and perhaps desert, provide temptation's terrain. There depravation ruled. There wild animals roamed. Danger lurked behind bush and boulder. Jesus has not eaten in 40 day and nights. He hungers. Exposure to the elements -- hot sun in the day, cold in the night, rain, wind -- all may have added to the pressure propelling the temptation plot. Every choice was immoral except one.

That Adam failed should surprise us, humble us, and warn us. Under ideal circumstances, he failed. He tried to make perfection better, to rise above his God-given position, to add to his complete provision. But despite all of God's manifold blessings, Adam failed utterly.

That Jesus did not fail should impress us, humble us, and encourage us. Everything added to the pressure of temptation.In dire staits, Jesus chooses to leave well-enough alone, to remain constant in His character, to rely on the Father's provision. Despite all of the enemy's manifold temptations, Jesus triumphs totally.

Thanks be to God that Jesus, being tempted and overcoming, can help us in our Wilderness -- no matter how challenging -- and lead us to victory over temptation. A victory that comes only with and through Him.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Lord, Throughout These Forty Days...5

As I continue to walk with the Lord in the Wilderness, I notice this morning His solitude.

Strange...because I am preparing for my weekly worship gathering with my wonderful church family. I will not be alone with the Father today. I will not lead alone today. Tim and Lisa will shoulder the load like Aaron and Hur of old. We will sing together, pray together, plan together, feed together on His word, work together and serve together around the Loaves and Fishes tables.

I must leave my lone Lord. I walk with His people.

Then this afternoon I hope to re-enter His solitude and solice. I cannot live my life What-Would-Jesus-Do style, because I cannot do what Jesus can. Forty days alone. Forty days without food. Forty days of intense temptation.

But still He calls, "You MUST follow me." And so I walk in the shadow of His cross. I am totally dependent on Him -- gracious and merciful. I walk, a simple follower, behind my mighty Leader -- our Lord.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Lord, Throughout These Forty Days...4

In the Wilderness with Jesus, I am tempted to satisfy the cravings of my flesh.

I have not fasted whole meals for several years. I had a bad experience with diabetic like issues once and my wife has lovingly asked that I give up something else. I have fasted from television, pop, coffee, sweets and the like. These have all been meaningful and I have grown from the exercise.

To my shame, my experiments with traditional fasting have been utter failures. Once my roommate and I formed a fasting accountability. By the end of the second day I was renegotiating the terms of our fast.

But as I come to the Wilderness with Jesus this year, I cannot escape the fact He was not eating. He did not give up a favorite activity or beverage or foodstuff. For 40 days and 40 nights He did not eat -- anything. After he became hungry from this fast, he was tempted. The rocks started looking like little golden-brown loaves of bread.

I'm not sure what will happen. Like Peter confronted with his failure, I can only mutter "Lord, you know all things..." All my promises, all my attempts, all my willing and wishing. Only You, Lord know how this will turn out.

I am following, Lord. Please don't go to far steps are faultering and slow...

Friday, February 24, 2012

Lord, Throughout These Forty Days...3

Yesterday Eli noticed that I wasn't having my usual after-school snacks. He asked why. I told him I was fasting (not eating) during the daylight hours because it is Lent.

"What is that?" he asked.

"Forty days before Easter Sunday we spend extra time thinking about Jesus and the cross and empty tomb. We say, 'No,' to ourselves and "Yes," to God. Fasting mean not eating or doing some fun thing. I have promised God I will miss my daylight meals and spend that time listening to Christian music, praying, reading the Bible and thinking about God."


We both get in the Cavalier and start on our way to Upwards basketball practice.


"Yes, Buddy?"

"I am not going to play my DS 'til Easter."

Tears instantly in my eyes! Then, "Really? Wow. That's a big choice. Just make sure you really want to. The Bible says it is better not to make God a promise like that than to make it and then not keep your promise."

"Okay..." "Dad...I'm sure."

The weight of fatherhood responsibility crashed down on my shoulders -- like a cross needing baring. I willing receive this bitter-sweet gift from His nail-scarred hand. The shadow of His cross marks my way forward. Following Jesus matters for my good but also for my family's good.

"O I love to wlak with Jesus...lead me anywhere He may. I will follow where He leadeth, I will pasture where He feedeth. I will follow all the way, Lord. I will follow Jesus every day."

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Lord, Throughout These Forty Days...2

Lent, 40 days of prayer and fasting leading up to Resurrection Sunday began yesterday. This journey of self-denial, discipline and contemplation calls for reflection and "mile-markers" along the way.

Today I begin with Jesus in the wilderness of temptation. This experience lasted forty days as well. So I follow the Lord there.

Matthew, in presenting the King, records His time in the wilderness in chapter 4 of his Gospel.

The parallels to the Wilderness wonderings of Israel are striking. First, Matthew has previously quoted Hosea 11.1 "When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt, I called my son." Then Israel passed through the waters of the Red Sea to enter the Wilderness. Jesus had just passed through the waters of Jordan in baptism. Both Jesus and Israel were lead by God into what seemed like a detour from a more direct route to goal-achievement. Jesus fasts forty days and nights. Then He is tempted. This 40 days in the wilderness calls to mind the 40 years Israel wandered in the wilderness. The quotes from the Penteteuch Jesus uses as defense all come from the Wilderness Years.
Israel's wilderness experience was the incubator for the formation of a sovereign nation out of an extended family of slaves. The experience did pull the people together and prepare them for nationhood. But they failed to maximize the potential. They failed God. After a generational reload, they failed God again.

First we see Jesus, more hungry than you and I have ever been, being tempted to make stones into bread -- to satisfy His physical need. Israel complained of their hunger and potential starvation. They reminisced about onion soup in the slave camps. They threatened revolt against God and His man Moses. God provided manna "bread from heaven" to meet their need.

Jesus does not complain or immediately supply His real need. He states the lesson offered to Israel, "Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word of God." As he would later teach in John 6 we should seek God and not His gifts.

Second, the tempter recites God's offer of protection for His Anointed One (often Israel, often Jesus.) Jesus counters by quoting the lesson from another 40-years-in-the-wilderness moment. "Do not put the LORD your God to the test." For they had put him to the test when the water ran low at Meribah. They asked, demanded to know if God was with them or not. Moses told them to stop testing God. Later David warned another generation not to harden their hearts as they did in testing God at Massah and Meribah.

Jesus would not put God or His promise to a test. He would not demand a sign. He would trust God's nature and Word.

Lastly comes the matter of worship. In the Wilderness Israel worshipped a golden calf they had made. At the foot of the mountain where Moses was meeting with the True and Living One, who alone deserves worship, Israel broke 3 of the first table of commands that would make up the Decalogue. Moses shattered the Stones to symbolize their utter failure.

Jesus quotes the lesson from the Calf incident, "Worship the LORD your God and serve Him only!" He would not offer to anyone or thing, what belonged to God alone. He would later teach that His followers must not give to Caesar what belongs to God.

Jesus redeemed what Israel forfeited in the wilderness. Immediately after this, He begins calling His 12 disciples to replace Israel's failed 12 tribes. More faithful than Moses, He begins forming the new Israel -- people who follow Him in allegiance to, trust in and desire for the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.

Not an Imposition

Ash Wednesday, 22 FEB 2012, arrived without incident or imposition (of ashes at least.) Instead I bore marks made in powdered sugar. Icing and ink soiled my clothes, not a greasy smudge of last year's palm ashes. But the day marked me with the life of Jesus and my mortality.

You see our ladies group wrapped up a month-long cupcake fundraiser project with over 600 baked and decorated this week alone. They drafted myself and several men of the church to aide in the last big push -- yesterday. In the kitchen, Brother Lawrence style, instead of at the altar, I received the marks of Christ again.

Service, community, sacrifice, joy...all these qualities of our Savior and of His church flowed in the room like icing through a piping bag. Fresh-baked laughter and friendship perfumed the usually-stale, dank basement air. Commitment and excellence marked every package.

I missed the imposition of ashes yesterday. But I was reminded that I am only temperary. 100 years from now, I'll be dead. But what God started long ago, continued to operate in the basement of our church last night -- and will in days to come.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Free! to Live

She held up a child's shape sorter ball.

"We are like this -- born with a God-shaped hole in our core. "

"The emptiness gnaws at us. The gap won't close"

She lifted up a yellow shape block.

"We try to force other things, other shapes, into the hole to complete what's missing."

"Alcohol...Drugs...Food...Relationships...Shopping...But nothing else fits because nothing else is God."

She held up the yellow heart-shaped block that matched the heart-shaped hole. It slipped right into place.

"But God can close the gap. He can fill the emptiness full. He wants to."

Monday, February 13, 2012


"What would it hurt, a little pinch of incense and a few mumbled words?"

That was the plea from the Roman officials in Smyrna to Bishop Polycarp, disciple of John, disciple of Jesus Christ. After all he was 86 years old and lead the worship he loved among his brethren every week. Just a pinch and a few words...

But Polycarp refused. He would not preform his "civic duty." He would not offer incense to the worship of Caesar and the Empire. He would not declare, "Caesar is Lord."

At his execution site he was asked again to preform his "civic duty." Instead he said, "Eighty-six years I have served Christ, and He never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?" He was then taken away and executed -- for just a pinch of incense and a few words.

I post today that I echo my brother Polycarp in rejecting my "civil duty" to the country I love and in declaring, "ONLY JESUS IS LORD." I have no other.

Just a little money in an insurance policy that will cover procedures YOU WILL NEVER USE. What does it hurt? You are not responsible for what others do with this coverage. Abortifacients are included along with contraceptions my Roman Catholic relatives cannot condone.

I declare today, "ONLY JESUS IS LORD." I have no other.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Free! to Serve

While researching for two in the 3-part series, I re-read Luther Lee's A Woman's Right to Preach delivered at the first US ordination service for a woman, September 15, 1853 in South Butler, NY.

Thanks, Dr. Ken Schenck for making the manuscript available at

Read, ponder and decide.

Free! Series

February is Black History month and much is made of it in the public school district in which I teach. Rightfully so. Lessons focused on African-Americans who made significant contributions to our daily life and collective culture mark the classroom. Assemblies with speakers acclaiming the virtures of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Frederick Douglas and even Louis Armstrong call us all together.

But one voice remains mute. One vital constant in the racial equations routinely goes uncalculated. The place of spirituality, especially Christian spirituality in changing race relations and policy for the better.

So every February, we on the West Side look at the role of Christianity and in particular the Wesleyan branch of the family in these matters.

First we will look at "Free from Chains: Slavery and the Church." My denomination has a rich heritage in the abolitionist movement of the early 1800's, work with the Underground Railroad connecting runaway slaves with freedom and "missionary" work in the pre-Civil War south. These experiences grew out of an understanding from Scripture that God loves everyone and never planned for anyone to be kidnapped, violently mistreated and enslaved for life.

Second we will look at "Free to Serve: Womens' Ministry." The Womens' Sufferage (right to vote) movement began in the Seneca Falls Wesleyan Methodist Church in July 19-20, 1848. Luther Lee, a Wesleyan Methodist pastor, preached and conducted the first Ordination service for a woman in the United States in 1853. A wholistic view of Scripture and church history point to using everyone to achieve the Great Commission. Women are free to serve Christ and His church!

Last, we will look at "Free to Live: Temperance and Addiction." Wesleyans have historically been "Teetotallers." While never a popular position, even during Prohibition (which we worked very hard to see achieved) it addresses the topic sensibly. The major factor for continuing this stance for me is the connection I have to the many on the West Side who struggle with an addiction they never intended to start. If two beers is legally drunk, why drink at all?

Look for more detailed postings and reflections from now until LENT 2012 begins Wednesday, February 22.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Missed Point

Yesterday my beloved denomination posted 1 Corinthians 2.9 "However, as it is written: 'No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.'" 27 people "liked" this Facebook post.

This posting points to one of the most misinterpreted verses in Scripture. Like the Mizpah of Genesis 31.49, this verse has been sentimentally quoted without an understanding of the surrounding pericope. (Mizpah, btw, arose from mistrust between two deceivers NOT from mutual concern and friendship.)

The usual, sentimental view of this verse looks to heaven and the future blessing of those who love God. The afterlife of believers will be so amazing no one can even imagine its glory and splendar. Thoughts and discussion quickly move to gold pavement, mansions constructed of semiprecious gemstones and the like. While there is a blessed future prepared for God's own, this verse deals with something else prepared for us.

Immediate Vicinity:
1 Corinthians 2.9 forms the first part of a sentence. verse 9 completes the sentence. This most basic context turns the saying on its head. "these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit." Because this completed sentence declares that the hidden things God has prepared have, at the time of Paul's writing, been revealed to us we do not wait for futher revelation. What ever this mystery might mean, the Spirit of God now lays it bare for us.

Expanding the Radius:
At this point in the letter Paul deals with his ministry to Corinth. He came in physical weakness and with plain language when he shared the Good News of Jesus Christ. He carefully avoided the "hard sell" of eliquent and persuasive presentation so that Corinthians would put their trust in the power of God, not his speaking skills.

Twice he refers to Jesus Christ CRUCIFIED as the center of his message. This plan of God to use the death and resurrection of his Son had been a hidden secret. Paul came to expose this secret so that people could enter into what God was doing through Jesus. He declares that if the rulers had understood this hidden truth they would not have crucified Jesus.

During this discussion Paul quotes from the prophet Isaiah (64.4) where he cried out to God, "O that you would rend the heavens and come down..." Isaiah had cried out for God to come and help his people as he had done in the time of Moses. God contacting our world would once again shake the mountains. Isaiah, like all prophets (1 Peter 1.10-12), did not fully understand the mystery, though he caught glimpses of and cried out for its coming. Paul is saying that One like Moses had come. God did come down and took on human flesh in Jesus.

Nowhere in this pericope does Paul discuss heaven or afterlife or future blessings.

Larger Context:
Later in chapter 15, Paul again recollects his ministry to the Corinthians and reminds them of the tenets of his Gospel: "that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day, according to the Scriptures..." Here again we find Paul exposing the core of God's once-hidden plan. He does in Jesus, that which he designed from before creation.

From before the foundation of time and space, God had a plan of action. This plan of God, though hinted at in nature and Scripture, remained outside the scope of human perception (eyes, ears...) and imagination (mental conceptions). Peter also states that this mystery didn't consist of cleaverly invented stories. But God revealed his work in the death, burial and resurrection of his Son Jesus. The benefits of Jesus are available today, the truth understandable with the help of the Spirit. While future blessings await, present blessing remains!