Tag Archives: sin

Looking Back at Yesterday’s Gospel

The Temptation of Christ 

The Readings:

Deuteronomy 26:1-11, Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16,

Romans 10:8b-13, Luke 4:1-13

Today’s psalm is a great place to go for an understanding of the way Jesus survived Satan’s temptations. In this psalm is the statement Satan extracted and twisted into a temptation that Jesus rejected. The psalm is not designed as a temptation, but Satan, like many of his slaves, abused the text, eviscerating it and holding up a bloody shred to dare Jesus to show off his power in a dramatic performance rather than live up to his purpose. Jesus the Beloved Son, was sent on a rescue and recovery mission to save human beings, God’s beloved creation. He was not sent to show off and be a sacred celebrity.

The Bible says that Jesus was tempted by Satan for forty days. Only three temptations are recorded, of which one was the last of all, but they are enough to give us a good idea of the vicious, malevolent finesse with which Satan approached the One sent to defeat him forever .

We can imagine, for example, that the temptation to turn stones into bread could have come early in the forty days. A healthy person becomes hungry after only a few hours without food. Did Satan arrive about sundown that first day to taunt his archenemy? Jesus had been baptized earlier that day, and as Jesus came up out of the water, the Holy Spirit fell into him, and people heard the voice of God say, “This is my Beloved.”  Satan heard those words, too.

It is easy to imagine Satan watching and waiting all day as Jesus trekked into the wilderness with neither food nor water. The path, or perhaps it would be better to say, the route Jesus followed, was dusty and rocky, lined with brambles. One gospel mentions wild animals, although they likely appeared only after dark. Did Jesus find a cave where he could rest for the night, or was he out in the open, unprotected in any way? Mark says the Spirit “drove” Jesus into the wilderness, so perhaps he was weary of dealing with that pressure as day began to fade into evening.

Satan appeared. Writers and dramatists portray Satan in all sorts of guises. One novelist presented Satan as a scruffy, smelly old beggar, all in tatters, just the sort of person Jesus would approach lovingly during his ministry. Satan simply sat down beside Jesus and said, “You got anything to eat?” Jesus had nothing, but the reader knows he would later feed five thousand people with almost nothing. Jesus shook his head. In the spirit of the old maxim “If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride,” the beggar says, “Well, we could pretend that stone over there is a loaf of bread.” The biblical conversation develops from that point. Satan has set the stage for not only tempting Jesus to use his power to serve self, but he has cast the scene as a pretense of exactly the sort of thing Jesus actually does later. In the novel, Jesus rejects that temptation with the words of Scripture, at which the filthy beggar takes extreme umbrage and wanders off into the night.

The novelist understands that Satan did not appear with horns, a tail and a pitchfork for his battle with Jesus. Satan never appears like that. In fact, it seems highly likely that Satan himself inspired that image for the purpose of fooling people. When temptation comes our way, it is always dressed up like things a person would actually want, not like a frightful demon. Women tempted to abort their unborn babies do not succumb to a temptation to skewer an innocent baby on a pitchfork. They succumb to a temptation to believe that God himself would not want that baby to be born. They believe that the fact that conception was sired by an irresponsible man means they should never have become pregnant in the first place; it’s his fault for refusing to use a condom. They believe that they don’t have the means to support the baby, and God himself would not want them to take on that responsibility without proper means. Maybe they even think that being pregnant at this time will interfere with their opportunity to achieve personal fulfillment in a career or with a different man or etcetera. Maybe they simply buy the notion of “a woman’s right to choose” and think of the unborn baby as an unwanted interloper in their bodies. They aren’t responding to a demon in red tights. They are responding to subtle and not-so-subtle temptations to serve self and to deny the humanity of the baby.

How was Jesus able to fend off all these temptations? He relied on Scripture. A lot of brain power has been expended in arguments about the nature and authenticity of the Bible. There are a lot of secular thinkers who respect it as literature but reject it as revelation or authority. They look at the Bible and the Baghavad Gita the same way – interesting ancient myths. Jesus helps us learn that the Bible is God’s book, and the fact that Satan tried to use it to destroy God himself is additional evidence that the Bible is powerful. Today’s psalm is a testimony to that power as experienced by one ancient poet. Satan pulled out a shred for nefarious purposes, but borrowing the novelist’s viewpoint, we might wonder if he chose that text because Jesus was actually praying this psalm as Satan showed up. It would make the use of this text even more fiendish.

Psalm 91 begins by announcing that its subject is “those who live in the shelter of the Most High.” What a beautiful image. We can imagine Jesus, parched and sunburned, laboriously battling through the underbrush of the wilderness across Jordan, focusing on the words, “in the shadow of the Almighty.”

As Jesus tried to find a comfortable place to sit in the rocky, inhospitable landscape, he had to know that Satan would come. Jesus knew that the Tempter would not, could not, let him embark on his work without a savage battle to prevent people from learning that their Savior had arrived. Young men in Jesus’ day attended synagogue schools where they learned to read and write, and where they memorized the ancient texts. Perhaps as the Evil One approached, Jesus was quietly praying the psalmist’s words as his own, “Because you have made the Lord your refuge, The Most High your dwelling place, no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent.”

That would have been a perfect time for Satan to appear, whisking Jesus up to the pinnacle of the temple while picking up the text of the psalm, “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” Did Satan dress in rabbinical robes, perhaps with the face of Jesus’ childhood teacher as he said, “Go ahead. You believe it. Prove it.” Jesus replies from Deuteronomy 6:16: “Don’t tempt me!”

Satan comes to us, not as the Enemy, but as our friend. He whispers in our ears, “You are as good as God. Don’t let him lord it over you. How dare he say ‘Thou shalt not.’ God is just an old bugaboo of people who don’t know any better. You’re too smart for that.” Satan always makes us feel really important, like he did when he offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world. He offers us shortcuts to popularity and success and gratification. He constantly tells us we deserve better and we shouldn’t be treated like this. When Jesus was in the wilderness, alone and starving, driven out there by the Holy Spirit, Satan played on his knowledge that, in heaven, Jesus was honored and worshipped by angels. Why did he need to wander the earth in poverty and die a cruel death? Satan offered Jesus what he came to claim – the people of the world – and Satan made it look a lot easier than God did.

That’s the way he poses it to us. Maybe it is just a little favor for a friend in high places. Maybe it is one transaction in a million with a few extra dollars to a secret account. Maybe it is the right word in the right ear that opens the right door but now you owe somebody something. Jesus had the same ego we have. He wanted to save all the people, because that was what he came for. The night before he was crucified, he prayed to be spared that agony, if there were any other way to save the world. Here was a chance to escape the pain. It could all be avoided if he simply bowed before Satan instead of God.

Jesus saw through the sales pitch. He knew that to do this would be worshiping self, serving self, saving self, instead of saving the world. He responded, “Worship only God.”

Satan comes to each of us in a thousand different ways every day, whispering, hinting, insinuating, turning even our best impulses into opportunities to reject Christ and serve Satan. The Bible says that Christ was tempted in every way we are tempted. To fight back we need the same ammunition that worked for Jesus. In the Bible’s words, God makes the same promise to us that he made to the psalmist: “When [you] call to me, I will answer [you]; I will be with [you] in trouble.”

For timely articles about the persecuted church and about cultural and political pressure in the Christian life, read Living on Tilt the newspaper.

 

 

Freedom of Worship does not equal Religious Liberty

We must obey God rather than any human authority. Acts 5:29 

Over my lifetime I have heard many people use the term freedom of worship as if it were synonymous with the freedom protected by the First Amendment. Certainly that freedom is protected, but the words of the First Amendment protect a much broader freedom than the right to worship. The First Amendment is about the freedom to live by the tenets of your faith. Secular thinking defines religion as the act of worship and thinks of religion as acts of worship that take place in a space dedicated to worship. Because secularists view religion this way, they tend to see advocacy for freedom to live religiously in all contexts as a demand for privilege, not freedom. The culture of the USA is becoming increasingly secular. Many secular thinkers hold high elective office and serve in a variety of administrative, legislative and judicial posts. As a consequence, interpretation of the First Amendment is at risk. More than forty lawsuits currently making their way through the courts are attempting to affirm the original principle stated in the First Amendment. In the court of public opinion there is a great deal of fractious rhetoric. This post will focus on the text of the First Amendment and the threats to its intent in one government regulation.

The motivation for this post is a definition of religion that is buried in the regulations implementing the Affordable Care Act:

a religious employer is one that—
(1) has the inculcation of religious values as its purpose;
(2) primarily employs persons who share its religious tenets;
(3) primarily serves persons who share its religious tenets; and
(4) is a non-profit organization described in section 6033(a)(1) and section 6033(a)(3)(A)(i) or (iii) of the Code. Section 6033(a)(3)(A)(i) and (iii) of the Code refers to churches, their integrated auxiliaries, and conventions or associations of churches, as well as to the exclusively religious activities of any religious order.

This definition is found in the Federal Register /Vol. 77, No. 55 /Wednesday, March 21, 2012. It applies to DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, 45 CFR Part 147 [CMS–9968–ANPRM] RIN 0938–AR42 and the title of the rule is Certain Preventive Services Under the Affordable Care Act.

The definition of a religious employer is probably a reasonable one. What is unreasonable is the way this definition is being used. In the administration of the Affordable Care Act, widely and uncharitably known as Obamacare, a religious employer is entitled to have a conscience objection to some features of the law. There is no provision, however, for any other sort of employer who has religious principles which shape his life. The First Amendment protection says:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….

The free exercise of religion is not limited in the First Amendment to exercise by religious employers. The First Amendment protects the right of every citizen to choose and to exercise his religion. The exercise of religion permeates all of life. People exercise their religion when they use its teachings to decide what is right and what is wrong. They exercise their religion when they act on the determination that something is right or wrong. The right to make these decisions and act on them is granted by the Constitution to every citizen. This protection applies whether a citizen is an employer or an employee or unemployed. The definition of a religious employer applies a regulatory limit to religious liberty that is at odds with the Constitution.

To limit a conscience exemption this way is to say that the federal government respects freedom of worship but it does not respect religious liberty.

For more than two hundred years, the USA has been the place where people seeking freedom of religion ran for refuge. If the definition of religious employer in the regulations of the Affordable Care Act is allowed to override the First Amendment, religious freedom in the USA will be dramatically reduced. Many Christians who do not live according to the teachings of Catholic theology think this struggle has nothing to do with them. They should not feel this way. Every person of faith, Hindu, Muslim, Catholic or Baptist or any other religion, is affected by this act. If the Catholics can be compelled to disobey the tenets of their faith by the federal government, then no person of any religion can claim protection for the right to live by the teachings of that religion. Christians and all people of any faith must resist the attempt by the federal government to force any person to disobey the teachings of his faith. In Laos today, some government officials have decided that it is in the compelling interest of their government for Christians to be compelled to drink water blessed by a shaman and then to renounce Christ. In the US today government officials have decided that it is in the compelling interest of the government for Catholics to be compelled to pay for contraception, sterilization and abortion, services they believe to be sin. Persecution for religious reasons takes many forms in many places. Today in the USA it takes the form of a pretense that freedom of worship is freedom of religion. 

What should you do about it? Please pray for God’s guidance. You can write your Senator or Representative. You can even write to the President. You can blog or write a letter to the editor of your local paper. You can call a local talk radio host. Trust God’s guidance and follow it. Everybody can pray about this problem, even people who are not religious employers.

Choose this day whom you will serve. Joshua 24:15

A Verse For Meditation

Bear fruits worthy of repentance.  Luke 3:8   Torah Scroll

  • John the Baptist shouted these words at self-satisfied religious leaders who had come out to see the spectacle of this weird prophet in the wilderness. What fruits are worthy of repentance?
  • One translator says that their conduct needed to be consistent with an abhorrence of sin. What does that mean?
  • In The Message Eugene Petersen says, “It’s your life that must change.” How would your life change if it expressed your abhorrence of sin? You don’t become a policeman for everyone else when you change your attitude toward sin. Your attitude is shaped by your relationship with Christ. What did Jesus do because of his abhorrence of sin?
  • One Sunday in a Bible class my teacher said, “Do fruit axiomatic of radical reorientation.” What did he mean?

Temptation — You Can’t Win By Yourself

In her novel, The Gathering author Anne Enright’s central character muses over her practice of drinking a bottle of wine every night, just before dawn. The character says, “I have all my regrets between pouring the wine and reaching for the glass.” That statement sums up the battle against temptation for most of us.

It doesn’t matter what the temptation is.

 The temptation could be adultery. Somewhere between sensing the attraction and making a move there is a moment when the decision hangs in the balance. The image of your spouse recedes as you tell yourself that this feeling isn’t what it purely is, and you tilt your head just so before you say, “Do you always sneak up on people that way?” For a moment, you see where the threads of your life are woven into the fabric of your marriage, but as you turn to examine them, something – light, darkness, glare, or sand in your eye – obscures the image and you turn away. Your momentum shifts, and the decision is no longer possible, because the first teasing word has already been already spoken.

The temptation could be a few potato chips with a sandwich. You know you don’t need potato chips. Your sandwich is fine without them. You promised yourself yesterday that you would take action to reduce unnecessary fat in order to maintain your weight after working so hard to lose ten pounds before your birthday. But the birthday was yesterday. Today the chips are right there on the counter, and there aren’t many left in the bag anyway and you just want a taste. As you lift the first one to your lips, you remember that “nobody can eat just one.” And then they are gone.

Satan lives and dwells in the interim between choosing and not choosing. Eve had a moment like that. Satan, that snake, whispered, “Did God say …?” She paused, stating the obvious. Then Satan said, “God lies.” Caught by the attractive prospect that she could dismiss God and judge his motives and do anything she darn well pleased, she contemplated the choice, and forgot to choose at all, and took a bite of the forbidden fruit.

That is the way it usually feels. Most of us don’t really recall the decision to do what we know we ought not to do. We remember our good intentions, but we simply cannot recall when we took the first step forward. We even comfort ourselves by saying that we do not recall making this choice. It just happened.

Nothing just happens. We do make choices, even when we refuse to watch ourselves doing it. Satan is so good at whispering the words we want to hear that we simply tune out the other words. It feels so good to say, “I deserve this one little taste.” In fact, Satan is pretty good at taking God’s own teachings and reshaping them to serve ourselves. He likes to quote the Golden Rule. He can whisssssper in your heart, “Remember, God said to love your neighbor AS YOURSELF. Don’t you deserve some of the good stuff?” SSsssoooon what was just a passing thought – “Nobody will ever know if I simply borrow $50 from petty cash” — becomes “What’s $50 to this rich tycoon? I’ll put it back on payday.” At first you are steering through the muddy swamp of regret, but soon you find the path of self-justification. There was a moment when you might have chosen otherwise, but you no longer remember that moment.

The apostle Paul documented this experience in Romans 7, when he wrote, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” (Romans 7:19) This is how we feel. Paul described his battle as something that happened over and over. He could never vanquish temptation and put it behind him.

I remember trying to do that very thing – stop sinning. I had a good reason for trying. I had heard a sermon in which the pastor said that there is no need to ask God for help in overcoming sin if you aren’t serious about it. In those days, I thought pastors did not make mistakes, so I was completely undone by that statement. I wanted to ask God for help with my problems, but since I continued to have more and more problems and to fail more and more miserably to overcome them, I felt that God would not want to hear from me. I had to improve my track record. Satan used that simple statement to completely steal the joy of my salvation from me.

Thank goodness the day came that I understood the truth. God wasn’t trying to put me through some marathon test. Jesus died so I could run to God for help every single time I needed it. And when I failed, because I forgot to notice the moment when I made the wrong choice, I could go to God and ask forgiveness, all because Jesus died for me. No conditions. No limit. No test. The memory of that moment is quite vivid in my mind. We were all holding hands during prayer. The pastor prayed, “Thank you, Lord, for forgiving us all our sins, not because we deserve forgiveness, but entirely for Jesus’ sake, because he died in our place.” I burst into tears as the truth came clear to me. I have never been the same since. Every time I get lost in the minefield of temptation, I know I have a safe haven to run to. God isn’t going to ask me for the final, final, final time to get my act straight. Instead, the Slaughtered Lamb will be standing beside the throne of my Heavenly Father, speaking my name and saying, “This is one of Mine.”