Tag Archives: temptation

A Christian Worldview

                Last Friday I examined a study by the Barna Group that alleged to identify adults with a Christian or biblical worldview. In truth, even though the study and the post used “Christian” and “biblical” almost interchangeably, the fact is that people being polled might not have considered the words equivalent in this context. That is a challenge for surveyors. Despite universal compulsory education and the wide availability of dictionaries in hard copy and online, it is still extremely difficult for people to communicate fully on most subjects. My husband and I cannot agree on the color of one of his jackets, and this difference is quite trivial. To disagree on the meaning of the word “person,” however, can precipitate incomprehensible violence. This very disagreement is at the root of Mohammed’s rejection of Christianity in the 7th century, and this semantic problem underlies violence between Christians and Muslims to this day. People very often do not recognize the number of issues that are actually rooted in a misunderstanding about the meanings of words. I vividly recall a shouting match when my daughter was in high school during which it became clear to me that our argument was due to our choice of words, not a real difference of opinion. I shouted, “But I agree with you!” to which my daughter replied at the top of her lungs, “Well, I agree with you more!”

                Differences in worldview are a bit more substantive than my differences with my teenage daughter. Differences in worldview underly many gigantic issues such as the US national debt and the perceived need for government to assure universal healthcare. A worldview is by definition comprehensive and powerful. That is to say, an individual’s worldview truly shapes his life.

                In the course of teaching a study of the book of Mark, Dr. Rick Carlson took some time to talk about worldview. It made perfect sense, because the book of Mark is the life of Jesus, and Jesus’ life, like anyone else’s life, reveals his worldview. The Greek word that led to this study is phroneo. Dr. Carlson’t definition of the word is evaluative point of view, in other words worldview.

                To understand Jesus’ worldview, it must be remembered that Jesus is God in the flesh. When Jesus spoke, it was God speaking. When Jesus acted, it was God in action. The story of Jesus is the story of God walking around among people. Several years ago, I remember hearing a song in which the singer asked, “What if God were one of us, just a slob like one us?” When I heard that song, I knew that the singer had never truly confronted Jesus, because if she had met Jesus, she would know the answer to her speculative lyrical question. Jesus came down from heaven and became one of us. He lived with 24-hour days. He had to pay bills and taxes, just like everyone else. He got tired. He got hungry. Everything humans do, Jesus did. Yet he never stopped being God, and his Godhood established his evaluative point of view. He evaluated everything and everyone he encountered based on his worldview, just as every person does.

                God’s worldview is very different from that of most people. God’s starting point to evaluate what is happening around him is loneliness and servanthood. There is a great choral work whose name I forget now that begins, “And God stepped out in space and he said, ‘I’m lonely. I think I’ll make me a world.’” God’s behavior in the creation story shows us a person lovingly creating a place for people to live, and then he creates the people: “The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.” Then later, knowing what loneliness is, God looked at Adam and said, “It is not good that the man should be alone.” God knew loneliness, and God knew fulfillment, and God made woman.

                We can see the elements of loneliness and servanthood that set boundaries and burst customs as we read the story of the life and ministry of Jesus. After his baptism, he immediately confronted Satan’s worldview in the wilderness. That battle is a model for our lives, too, because even though we can look around and see all sorts of worldviews at work in our world, every conflict ultimately boils down to the same conflict Jesus endured in the wilderness.

                What was Jesus up against in the wilderness? What are the elements of Satan’s worldview?

  • No suffering – not the cross
  • Me first – serve self, do what feels good to me, get what I want
  • Greatness and power – be in charge, tell other people where to go, or simply scorn their very existence
  • Save your life – Avoid risk and danger unless it feels like fun. Never confront when deception will get you past the risk without revealing truth
  • Conform to other people’s values – be a chameleon. Fit in. Look like all the others
  • Blend in with the collective mentality – trade in your personal values for the community’s values
  • Exploit others – others are expendable, if you must use someone to get to your goal, just do it
  • Acquire for self–Cannot give to others because to do so limits what you can do for yourself

When Satan showed up in the wilderness, he began to grind away at Jesus’ worldview. “You poor thing. So God sent you out here to starve. Why should God’s son starve? Just make these rocks into bread. Who will know? A man’s got to eat, you know. Why, when all is said and done, who really cares if you fast or not? Why should you suffer this way? “

Jesus demonstrated his worldview and showed us all how it is done. He told his disciples about this experience later. How else would anyone know this story? He told them so they would know that it is possible to live by God’s worldview, and so that they would know the consequences of accepting God’s worldview. I don’t feel strong enough to stand up to Satan by myself, so it helps me a great deal to know that Jesus could do it. I rely on him, because this story tells me he will win.

Jesus responded to Satan with all the force of his worldview:

  • Yes to suffering, even the cross
  • Me last – the least of all, the one who suffers for everyone else
  • Weakness – this is the appearance of weakness, such as hunger, even starvation, that covers inner strength and power. Jesus was willing to look weak, because he was not weak. Appearances do not matter.
  • Lose your life – Jesus risked losing his life in the wilderness by fasting so long. Later he risked his life and lost his life on the cross. But that loss set the stage for eternal gain for all people.
  • Conform to God’s values – When Satan tempted Jesus to leap off the temple, it was a temptation to do what would excite people. What a spectacle, what a self-serving use of God’s power in Jesus. Jesus stayed true to his mission
  • Stand out against oppressive tyranny – Most Jews resented Roman tyranny, which was huge and oppressive, but the real tyranny in their lives was the tyranny of the Pharisees, who tried to run every breath of their lives – what they could eat, when they could walk, what they could wear, what sort of work they could do, and so forth. Jesus spent three years relentlessly dismantling the Pharisaical tyranny in full view of his disciples, preparing them to persist in that rebellion
  • Serve others (servanthood) – Jesus never put himself first, not even the night before his crucifixion. A human being faced with such a prospect might want to be pampered. Instead Jesus served his disciples by washing their feet.
  • Give to others – Jesus had riches nobody could take away, but he was still God. He could take whatever he wanted. That is what human power does. Instead, he gave healing, loving touch, sight, forgiveness, speech, and life itself to all who came into his presence. He never asked anyone for anything. He was always giving. 

                Each of us faces ongoing, maybe daily, challenges to our willingness to serve God before self. Sometimes we fail. Sometimes we simply cannot give up self. We cannot mature to a place where we always evaluate our options the way God does. If Jesus had failed to do that, all would be lost. We would have no means of cleansing, no way to be made righteous, no grace, no forgiveness. If Jesus had caved in to Satan’s worldview even once, even at the very last minute after living and teaching and suffering, if Jesus had given up God’s worldview and absorbed Satan’s worldview, he would have climbed down off that cross to screams and hallelujahs and fainting women. He would have been scooped up by the Pharisees and washed and combed and hauled out regularly for miracle shows till the day of his natural death. And if he had done that, we would have no hope, because Jesus failed to stand firm in God’s worldview.

                Each of us is called to adopt God’s worldview. That is what Jesus meant when he said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” We all want to do it, or we think we do. Then comes the day when we lose a friend or lose a job or simply can’t learn to love an enemy. It is too hard. Satan has worn us down and we cannot go on. That is when we need to be able to call on Jesus, who lived by God’s worldview without fail. He will carry us past the failures and wipe our tears and hold us up when we feel too weak to go on, because he does not fail.

                I wish I could say that I live by God’s worldview. I can only say that I have promised. I keep trying to put self last and put Jesus first, but I am weak. I intend to bring my cross along every day, but sometimes I just don’t pick it up. I want to give and give, but I can’t quite get over the fear of doing without. I have a long way to go. Because Jesus went the whole distance faithfully to the cross and beyond, there is hope for me. There is hope for you, too.

                What would you say your worldview is?

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What Do We Say to Identity Spirituality?

Identity spirituality, which was discussed in yesterday’s post, is the ultimate religion of self. It poses as spirituality, but it takes shape as actions and words and ideas gathered together to fit an individual’s tastes. The world is full of religious and spiritual ideas, and identity spirituality simply collects the ones that feel good. This version of spirituality does not lift someone up or transform or ask for sacrifice. The practice of identity spirituality may masquerade as a stage in the evolution of human beings toward some higher form, but it is always self-satisfying and it always points to the human who invented it. What do Christians have to say to people who believe that they are their own gods?

We first must remember that Jesus was both fully human and fully God. People who want to find their own god within themselves can be reminded that Jesus truly was that person they all want to be. He really was both God and man. More than that, in his humanity he fully experienced all the trials and tribulations we experience. Pain, anger, fear, humiliation, disappointment, and so forth. We read in Mark 1:12 that “[Jesus] was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.” The way Mark describes that experience is the most horrific of the three tellings. It vividly calls up an image of loneliness and that would feel like abandonment if not for the angels. It is the image many of us have actually experienced. The layoff notice. The terminal diagnosis. The end of a marriage. The child killed in an accident. The fervent dream the completely eludes any hope of fulfilling it. Almost every human being can recall some moment when he felt as if he were surrounded by rabid dogs because of a mistake or a failure that transformed former colleagues and friends into vicious enemies. It can feel like being in the wilderness with wild animals, under assault for so long it seems like a month of manic Mondays. We can share with the identity spiritualist that Christ can identify with them in the muck and the mire and the misery of being human.

The way Matthew talks about those forty days is a bit different. Matthew provides three examples of Satan’s attack. Those three examples cover the gamut of the challenge of being human, and they show us that Jesus knows exactly what it is to be human.

In the first temptation, Satan suggested that Jesus turn stones into bread. It was a test many people don’t pass. The executive in the top echelons of his company’s financial controls has immense power, but Satan has lured many such individuals to divert money away from the company and into their own pockets. Individuals such as Napoleon or Marshal Petain or Fidel Castro acquire huge power by promising to serve oppressed people, but they cannot resist Satan’s temptation to serve themselves first, betraying the trust of their followers by using the power ceded to them by the people against the very people who loved them. Jesus was tempted by the possibility of making bread out of rocks. He was hungry. He wanted food. But Jesus, as fully man as he was fully God, chose not to use God’s rich power to serve himself. The behavior of Jesus is exactly opposite to the notion of choosing among all the religious options and picking the one that serves your inner self the best. Jesus chose not to serve self at all, but rather to serve God. As a completely human being, he did not do something no human can do, but he did something that is very hard for humans, no matter how clearly they see the right thing to do. We can tell an identity spiritualist that it is not only right to put self last, but it is also possible.

In the next temptation, Satan appealed to the spoiled child in everyone. We all like attention. We preen when people are admiring us and applauding our accomplishments. Satan tempted Jesus to do something so dramatic that all the world would look up and clap, scream, whistle and whoop it up. He asked Jesus to be like the grandchild at Thanksgiving who dashes around the living room full of relatives as fast as he can screaming, “See how fast I can run!” never mind that lamps and vases are falling like winter snow in every direction. He asked Jesus to be the showoff who jumps off the platform at the top of the slide instead of sliding down when it comes his turn. He asked Jesus to be the big man at work who finesses sales the company can’t possibly deliver and collects payoffs under the table in order to become the Sales Engineer of the Year. Jesus was born for the specific purpose of saving all the people of the earth. A dive off the pinnacle of the temple would certainly get people’s attention, and then he could tell all of them how to put God and other people first in their lives. Jesus rejected the temptation to call attention to himself rather than to the kingdom of God.

Finally, Satan went to the bottom line: statistics. Sales numbers. Profit. He showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world. A good way to envision this sight is to think of a huge world-sized yearbook. Jesus would not likely have been swayed by a vision that looked like a globe, but a vision of individuals, especially those suffering from hunger, disease and loneliness. One image of suffering humanity after another paraded past by the author of all that suffering. And the images were coupled with a real temptation: if Jesus would simply worship Satan, Jesus could have all those people for himself. These were the people Jesus had come for. These were the ones he cared for. Would it be a bad thing just to kneel before Satan one time?

It is the same argument that might be offered up in the back seat of Dad’s Chevrolet on prom night. Don’t you want to know what it is like? What could it hurt to do it just once?

Hey, it’s not cheating if everybody is doing it. If you don’t make our report look good, then we will be the only department that doesn’t get a full budget allocation for next year.

The world is full of such opportunities, and Jesus, who said NO to this temptation, knows how much we all want the shortcuts to happiness.

How do we respond to the lure of identity spirituality? We respond with the message Jesus gave to a man whose identity was spirituality in the extreme – Nicodemus the Pharisee. Being a Pharisee was all about satisfying self while scorning other people who did not deserve to be noticed. Pharisees performed all their good deeds in public where everyone could see how religious they were. And Pharisees sold out the entire nation of Israel in order to be the only legitimately spiritual people in any room.

Jesus’ message to the Pharisee is Jesus’ answer to everyone who thinks he can be his own god. Jesus spoke of the real God, the one God, his own Father in heaven, and said,

No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” John 3:13-17

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.

 

 

A Bright Promise

Today’s readings:

Genesis 9:8-17     Psalm 25:1-10     1 Peter 3:18-22     Mark 1:9-15

Today is the first Sunday of Lent, People often think of it as a dark time, a time of deprivation, a time to endure some pain. I think the texts we read today give a somewhat more hopeful view of this season. It is certainly a season to examine ourselves and to think about what is in our lives that might need to be relinquished in order to remove one more barrier between us and our deeper relationship with God. But viewed as an invitation to draw nearer to God, Lent looks like a brighter time.

Today’s text from Genesis at first strikes us as misplaced. The rainbow after the flood in the story of Noah is one of the most colorful and delightful images in the Bible. With the rainbow, God announced that he would never again cleanse the earth of sin by destroying humankind. As we read Mark’s rapid-fire, high-level narrative of the beginning of Christ’s ministry, it is easy to miss the point that when Jesus began to preach, he was fulfilling God’s plan never to crush humanity again in an attempt to wipe out sin. Jesus came, and began to preach the simple message Mark records, because he was God’s solution to sin on the earth. He was the fulfillment of the promise of the rainbow. God could not tolerate the fact that “the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth.” He sent Jesus to die instead of destroying human beings.

Jesus’ message invited us to draw near to God, because God had drawn near to us. He said, “The kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

The problem everyone has with that message is that everyone knows he is sinful. People want to get closer to God, but they don’t dare. They know how unworthy they are. They feel that they have done too many bad things. They have made too many bad choices. They know they need to clean up their act, yet they feel incapable of doing so. Mae West once said, “I generally avoid temptation, unless I can’t resist it,” and most people know exactly what she is talking about. People know that God hates sin, and because they feel they can’t resist sin, they are afraid to draw near to God. They even get mad at God for being so judgmental. They think he has no idea how hard it is to be a human.

They are wrong. As Jesus came up out of the water at his baptism, the Holy Spirit manifested itself to him in the form of a dove, and God said, “You are my Son, the Beloved.” That sounds like quite a lovely sight, but Mark says that the Holy Spirit “immediately” drove Jesus into the wilderness. Jesus was about to find out exactly how hard it is to be human. For starters, he fasted for forty days. He was human, and he needed food. The wonderfully designed human body has immense resources to promote life, even in times of great deprivation, so this long fast did not kill Jesus, but it would have made him profoundly hungry and miserable and weak. It was in that vulnerable state that Satan came to tempt him, when he was as weak and miserable as you or me.

Mark doesn’t provide any detail about the temptation, but Matthew fills in the story. Jesus was tempted over and over to build up his human self rather than trust and serve God. Every temptation is ultimately that one temptation: do what will make you feel good right this minute instead of doing what God created you to do. The story of Jesus’ temptation is like the story of the rainbow, however. It is not intended to make us feel guilty, because we have problems resisting temptation; it is intended to help us understand that God loves us even though we have those problems.

We can be blessed by the story of the temptation of Jesus in three ways:

  •  It comforts us, because Jesus knows what it is like to have Satan in your face, preying on your greatest weakness, pushing all your buttons, teasing you about what you want and daring you to believe that you deserve to get what you want, because God is not fair.
  •  It encourages us, because Jesus, a real human being, was able to prevail. He responded to Satan and resisted the temptation. There is hope for us in the model he gives us. Maybe, just maybe, we can sometimes resist.
  • It helps us understand the calamitous depth of Jesus’ confrontation with Satan on the cross. In the wilderness, at the beginning of Christ’s ministry, we are allowed to see the Satan clearly, starkly contrasted to Christ. In the wilderness, Christ suffers great privation, but no torture. Satan was frustrated in the wilderness, but he did not give up. If we want to know what was happening with Jesus on the cross besides great physical suffering, we have only to look back to the wilderness. The voices at the cross screaming, “Okay, if you really are the Messiah, just climb down off that cross. Show us your stuff,” were animated by the same voice that said in the wilderness, “Why should you be hungry? You could turn these stones into bread if you wanted to.”

 If Jesus had not been tempted in the wilderness, his preaching about repentance might have rung hollow in our ears. After all, what would he know about how hard it is to live a righteous life? The temptation reminds us that Jesus knew exactly how hard it is. When we remember that story, we can put our own temptations in a different perspective. When we think about our problems in the light of Jesus’ experience, then it is easier to see how we might need to let go of some bad attitudes and self-serving behavior in order to be more like Jesus. If we didn’t have the image of Jesus in the wilderness to show us how serious God is about fighting Satan, it would be harder for us to understand that Christ’s death on the cross is the real fulfillment of God’s promise in the rainbow. Every time we see a rainbow, we should remember the price God was willing to pay for his decision not to crush us because of our sins.

The rainbow is a beautiful image. We don’t need to see one in order to think about it. It is easy for us to see a rainbow in our heads whenever we want to. Even little children can do that. When we feel tempted to give up on ourselves because we keep failing to be the people we want to be, we should remember the rainbow. In the rainbow God tells us that he knows all about our problems. He knows how hard it is, and he loves us anyway. In the rainbow, God says, “I love you so much that I’m going to fight that war for you.” When you think of it that way, the Lenten season is not so dark after all.

 Try reading today’s Psalm as your own prayer, thinking about the rainbow promise as you pray.

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.”