Jesus

Delight

 

As I stood in front of the mirror rolling my hair, the early morning sun shining through the window behind me,  I noticed that my blue eyes looked exceptionally blue.  Must be the blue dress I’m wearing.

My mind went to the sixth graders to whom I spoke last week.  They were telling me what they like about their appearance and what they like about their inner qualities.  One of the girls said, “I like how my eyes change color.”

“According to the time of day and what you’re wearing, you mean?,” I asked.

“Yes,” she nodded.

“Your eyes are lovely,” I affirmed.

I affirm each child as they tell me what they like about themselves.

And as I rolled the last section of hair it occurred to me that that is precisely why sixth graders love my talk.

I am God for them.

More precisely I am the part of God who delights in them.

Later in the lesson, as I point out the land mines that are lurking in adolescence, I am God’s voice saying, “This is the way, walk in it.”

And they appreciate knowing what’s what.

Later this morning, the bearers of the cross, the giant gold Bible, and the lanterns processed midway down the aisle and stopped, just as they do every Sunday. The Bible was opened and the deacon read from the gospels. And I love it. I love that the procession into the aisle represents Jesus coming among us.  Jesus telling us His good news – not from afar, but from within our midst.

I jotted in my bulletin, “I want to bring an aspect of God whenever I speak – mercy, compassion, love, grace, guidance, delight.”

Wouldn’t that be something?

To bring God’s delight within a midst?

To leave each person with a sense that God finds him/her delightful?

Mr. Rogers was good at that.

I think I’ll make it my prayer.

For now, I’ll ask you what I always ask them:

What 3 things do you like most about your appearance?

What 3 things do you like most about your character/inner beauty?

 

 

 

 

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Jesus

Smiling at Ugly

I saw God once. He was sitting on a throne and He looked pleased.  Contented. As though there were no terrorism or exploitation or child/animal/spouse abuse or abortion or addiction or disease.

He was smiling as though all is right with the world.

From His perspective, perhaps it is.

Perhaps what makes the world right in His eyes is not our behavior, but His.

He sits with a serene smile because all is right in His world.

We mock Him in our world and He loves us in His.

We exploit and terrorize here, He redeems and forgives there.

His conscience is clear because He has always done the right thing.

So He smiles.

I was a little like that when I was young, smiling at the world with a soft heart.

But somewhere along the way my smile became based on the behavior of others.

I was only as content as my husband was faithful, my child was grateful, my friends were loyal.

As my contentment became based upon things I could not control, I stewed more than I smiled.

I stewed because people aren’t being how they’re supposed to be.

I’ve been wanting to get back to smiling, even at an ugly world, and God has shown me how He does it.

He doesn’t smile because we are being how we’re supposed to be.

He smiles because He is faithful.

He smiles because He is grateful.

He smiles because He is loyal.

And because He has redemption up His sleeve.

“Look at them,” Jesus said as He looked out over the crowds of rich, poor, healthy, lame, righteous, grateful, unrighteous, ungrateful, faithful, adulterous, loyal betrayers at the start of Matthew chapter 5, “Blessed are they.”

“Blessed are they because I am here to do the right thing.”

And He did.

And now He smiles.

And I want to smile with Him.

Blessed are we.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

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Jesus

On the Brink

I watched a young boy approach a precipice.

I watched him take a long, measured pause.

I watched him take a step.

In September I told a true story about an experience my daughter had in kindergarten.

She was the youngest in her class – only 4 years old when the school year began – and she was small. A sweet little peanut who hardly weighed anything, with a sensitive heart.

One of her classmates was six when the school year began. She was big – tall and strong – and a bit of a bully. Some days she made my sweet-hearted little girl cry.

So we started mentioning her name in our bedtime prayers. We asked God to soften her heart.

“By the end of that school year,” I told the group of 8-and-9-year-olds who were sitting in a circle on the floor, “the two girls were good friends.”

The child who was not seated in the circle, the one I was sort of told had ADHD, stopped whatever it was he was doing in the corner of the room and looked up.

“Did that really happen?,” he asked with great interest.

“Yes it did,” I replied.

In the following weeks he sat in the circle for the Bible lesson. He interrupted, he disrupted but he was interested and engaged. He mentioned something about his dad. I reminded him that God can soften harsh hearts.

Meanwhile, his kindhearted grandma was teaching him about Jesus. He often came to class enthusiastically sharing the things she told him.

Most weeks he was disruptive and disobedient.  He wanted to draw during the Bible lesson. I told him he could draw as long as he was drawing something related to what he was hearing.  He drew Pokemon characters instead.

He had good weeks and bad weeks.

In January he paused in front of a large picture of Jesus as we were walking down the hallway, headed to our classroom.

I watched as he stood on that precipice, wheels turning in his head. I knew what he was contemplating.

A week or so later I asked him to step into the hallway during the Bible lesson.  My co-leader was teaching and he was disrupting.

“Do you know why we are out here?” I asked. It was our familiar routine.  Most weeks he did know and we came up with a plan to curb his behavior.

But that week he said, “I almost did it.”

I knew what he meant.

“I almost bowed down to Him.  I almost bowed down to Him but now you’ve made me come out in the hall.”

Oh no you don’t, I thought, you aren’t going to pin your decision on me.

He started drawing pictures of Satan during the Bible lesson.

“You are not allowed to draw Satan while I’m teaching about Jesus,” I told him, week after week to no avail.

In March my co-leader had each student write a question they wanted to ask God.

He wrote that he wanted an angel to come and tell him whether he would be married some day, whether he would have a son.

And I understood the precipice. I understood the edge upon which he was teetering.

Align himself/his life with the kindhearted, God-loving grandma who brought him to Bible study or align himself with his harsh father.

He apparently chose the one he falsely perceived as having the power.

Counterfeit power.

There is a lot more actual power in being his grandmother than there is in being his dad.

He came to class with a mysterious gouge on his nose. He didn’t know what happened.

Once or twice he came with gouges all over his face.

Was he harming himself?

At times he paired his disobedience with a maniacal laugh.

By now every week was a bad week.

Many times throughout the year I wanted to excuse him from the program to protect the learning of the other students but my concerns were always overruled.

In May I shuddered.

It was one of our last evenings together before the program adjourned for the summer. We were seated around the table. He was successfully charming one of the volunteers and as he did so, he shot me a smirking glance.

The look in his eye, the calculated charm, the glimpse into what next year would hold.

I shuddered. His glance reminded me of a 4-year-old I met years ago when I was a social worker. I was at his foster home visiting the 9-year-old on my case load.

The foster mom and I were sitting on her porch discussing the progress of the 9-year-old. The 4-year-old was on the porch with us.  The foster mom went to get us some iced tea. As soon as the 4-year-old and I were alone on the porch, he started to ogle me in a way that still gives me the creeps. Then he propositioned me. It was disturbing on a level I can’t begin to describe.

When the foster mom returned with tea I asked to speak with her privately. I told her what happened and then she told me that the boy was back in foster care after a broken adoption.  The adoption failed because the boy had been propositioning his adoptive mother. The adoptive parents had not been told enough about his history, they had not been told that it included sexual abuse.

The shudder I felt at the Bible study table was almost as chilling as the shudder on that porch.

I made a final plea on behalf of next year’s teachers and students.

To no avail. I won’t be back next year, but he will.

Children aren’t diagnosed with personality disorders because as children their personalities aren’t fully formed. Behaviors that would be deemed narcissistic in an adult are typical of some developmental stages.

But one day this child might be diagnosed with a personality disorder, because ADHD does not begin to cover what I observed.

Watching him being coddled by those who overruled me, I wondered whether narcissistic personality disorder is groomed by well-meaning adults.

I believe in offering support to children who have learning and behavioral difficulties, and I also believe that if we don’t expect them to exercise self-control, they will never have the muscle to stand on their own. If the treatment we give them is too special, will they narcissistically grow to believe that they deserve special treatment, that it’s all about them, all the time?

It’s tricky.

On the one hand, no one wants to exclude a child from learning about Jesus, on the other hand, not every venue is appropriate for every child.

My daughter told me about a program called Brain Balance. Maybe that would help him succeed in structured venues.

At the end of the last night of class his grandma thanked me for putting up with him. She said she knew what a difficult year it had been for me.

Then why did you continue to bring him week after week? Why did you let me keep paying the price?, I thought, as I smiled and said nothing.

I’m not saying that she brought him in order to give her daughter a few hours of free weekly respite, because I don’t know that for sure.

But it seemed that way.

I don’t know all that went into the boy’s choice, but I pray Jesus, his grandma’s love and some skilled mental health intervention will one day pull him out of the abyss.

One on one sharing of Jesus, grandma to grandson.

This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 

Deuteronomy 30:19-20

#precipice #adrift

 

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life

Traveling Light

A friend shared something kind of interesting yesterday morning: Researchers asked a sampling of people what three words they most wanted to hear. The most common response was, “I love you.”  The second most common response was, “I forgive you.” The third, “Dinner is ready.”

Those 3 phrases sum up the gospel:

John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son…”

Luke 23:34: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

John 21:12: “Come and have breakfast.”

Later in the day my daughter and I were discussing her aversion to the word doctrine. Aware that there is nothing wrong with doctrine per se – it’s just a set of beliefs – she supposed the thing that makes it aversive is the way we Christians bog down our beliefs.

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My honey vanilla latte, her toasted coconut latte and sustenance.

She told me what her friend’s professor said about doctrine: “I used to try to carry all the church’s doctrine the way you would carry all your grocery bags into the house at the same time. But I kept dropping some.  Now I carry very few bags. Like three.”

Three is enough.

Bag 1: God loves us.

Inside the bag: He stepped into our mess of a world to show us what He’s really like.
He’s actively redeeming and restoring His creation.

Bag 2: God forgives us.

Inside the bag: The cross and three words: “It is finished.”

Bag 3: God has prepared a place for us.

Inside the bag: Our daily bread and an invitation to the wedding feast of the Lamb.

I love that Jesus prepared breakfast for His friends after He was resurrected.  You’d think after such a glorious feat He’d do something a little more regal.

But nope.

He made them breakfast.

I’ve been teaching the Bible these last two years via an international Bible study. Next year they’ll be studying the book of Romans. And I’m not going to teach.  I don’t want to bog kids down with a heavy load of doctrine. I just want to carry three light bags.

Dinner is ready.

 

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The Drip, Drip, Drip of Dogmatism

I’ve been too knackered to read or write anything these past two weeks.  I won’t go into the details but it has to do with my mom falling and injuring her hip (CT scan next week), both of my dogs having a nasty bout of diarrhea (clean-up in aisle 2), and me working just about ’round the clock to prepare for a presentation.

Profound exhaustion.

But then last night I went to the newly renovated Strand Theater in the newly rejuvenated Pontiac to see Phillip Phillips. Just Phillip, Dave Eggars, a guitar, a cello and a voice. In an intimate setting.

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It was outstanding.

Brian Vander Ark opened with skills of his own.

So today I had enough rejuvenation of my own to read a little something and I read this:

“Here’s the thing: Christianity is not about a personal relationship with Jesus. The phrase is never found in the Bible. And the whole biblical witness runs contrary to it.”

I was only three paragraphs into the article and I was exhausted again.

Because I’m tired of statements like that one.

Untrue overstatements to support a point.

Correct, the phrase “personal relationship” is not found in the Bible (lots of phrases to which Christians adhere are not found in the Bible), but that doesn’t mean the whole Biblical witness runs contrary to it.

When God rebuked Aaron and Miriam in Numbers 12 He said, “When there is a prophet among you, I, the Lord, reveal myself to them in visions, I speak to them in dreams.
But this is not true of my servant Moses he is faithful in all my house. With him I speak face to face…”

In Exodus 33, “The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.”

Isaiah wrote, “But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, you descendants of Abraham my friend...” and in another place, he wrote “look to Abraham, your father, and to Sarah, who gave you birth. When I called him he was only one man, and I blessed him and made him many.” [emphasis added]

God said of David: “I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.”

John referred to himself as, “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”  When Peter, learning how he would die, looked at John and asked, “What about him?” Jesus replied, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”

And there was Job who, after a long personal discourse with God said, “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.”

A quick survey of the whole biblical witness (and these are just the first few that come to mind)  reveals that God had many unique, personal relationships.

Oh, oh, oh I just thought of more: Jesus revealing Himself personally to Mary at the tomb and then to the disciples minus Thomas and then to Thomas personally with a personalized revelation tailored to his specific need to believe…

We know from Scripture that He made promises to individuals as well as to nations.

He still does.  He still has unique, personal relationships with individuals AND He has corporate relationships with nations and with the church at large.

Things are rarely one or the other when it comes to the way we practice religion.  They’re almost always a little bit of both.

Which is why dogma wears me out.

#knackered

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jesus

Straight Up Temptation

The Lessons Appointed for Use on the First Sunday of Lent:

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
Romans 5:12-19
Matthew 4:1-11
Psalm 32

The Collect

Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The Sermon

I saw God mighty to save when I was working as a messenger in a law office. I worked there for a year while I took the LSATs and applied to law schools – just to make sure law was what I wanted to do.

One of my many duties was to occasionally sit in for the receptionist while she was at lunch. The phones were quiet one day and I had a verse to learn.- 1 Corinthians 10:13: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted He will also provide a way out so you can stand up under it.”

I memorize best by writing things out so I wrote the verse on a sheet of paper. I wrote it again and again until it filled both sides of the page. Halfway through the hour the phone lines started ringing and by the time Kathy returned from lunch my paper was buried under a pile of messages.

Kathy took her seat behind the desk and I rushed out to file a motion.

When I returned to the office a few hours later Kathy called me over to the reception desk.

“I assume this is yours,” she said, holding up the page.

Before I could apologize for leaving it behind she continued, “Thank you. It saved my life.”

One of our clients had been flirting shamelessly with Kathy. She was a lovely, Christian, married woman who politely declined his indecent proposals time after time.  But it’s hard to resist a wealthy, powerful, charming, persistent man who makes you feel desirable, so that day at lunch she decided that when he came in that afternoon she was going to say yes.

And then 1 Corinthians 10:13 emerged from under all those messages.

Help is always on the way.

This morning help is right here in the lessons in our bulletins.

Genesis 3 helps us recognize the tempter when we see him.

The Old Testament

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made.

The Hebrew word translated serpent here is nachash.  It is from the root word meaning “divination, enchantment, sorcery”.

The Hebrew word translated “wild animal” means “to live, have life, remain alive, live forever.”

That’s why, contrary to all the artist’s depictions, I don’t picture Eve talking to an actual snake. What intelligent woman is going to listen to a snake?

A more accurate translation would have her talking to an enchanter.

Scripture says the devil masquerades as an angel of light. Ezekiel said he was, “the model of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.”

The Hebrew word translated beauty is from the root word yaphah (yaw-faw), which means “to be bright, beautiful, handsome, fair”.  So instead of a snake, picture someone shiny. (I picture a young Robert Redford.  He was shiny.)

“Now shiny boy was the slyest, most hypnotically charming being which the LORD God had made.”  (Genesis 3:1 JHV – Julie Hintz Version)

Is your mind set on the picture here?  Eve has just encountered a bright, shiny, hypnotically charming replica of the One she conversed with each evening in the garden.  Sin has not yet entered the picture.  She knows nothing of evil.  Distrust has not even entered her perfect mind because distrust has not yet entered her perfect world.  Shiny boy knows he’s golden, so he makes his move.

Tempters always look good in the coming; they don’t look like a snake until the going.

You know what I mean.  You’ve met someone who looked shiny in the coming. It wasn’t until after he/she betrayed you, deceived you, broke your heart, that you said to your friends, “He/she is such a snake!”

Remember, he wasn’t condemned to crawl on his belly until the end of the chapter.

He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’”
Look back at the first paragraph (Genesis 2).  Did God say they couldn’t even touch it? He commanded the man – because the woman had not yet been fashioned – and in relaying the command to the woman, the man embellished.  “Don’t even touch it, Eve, don’t even think about touching it.”  Actually, he hadn’t named Eve yet. “Don’t even touch it, woman, don’t even think about touching it.”

It’s important in this temptation avoiding life to see for yourself what God actually said; go directly to the source.

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

See how crafty he is? He even uses noble desires. Wisdom is a good thing, so how can desiring it be sinful? It isn’t. The sin wasn’t in the desire for knowledge, the sin was in the grabbiness.

Shiny boy portrayed himself as being more generous than God.  I see this temptation everywhere these days. The subtle temptation to believe that we humans are kinder, more compassionate than God. We’re not.

(Note to self: When someone wants me to do something that contradicts what God said, no matter how much that someone may look or sound like God, say to that shiny person, “Hold up, let me run that past God and get back to you.”)

Further down in the chapter we’re told Adam and Eve were afraid when they heard God coming, so they hid.  Do you think they had known fear before? This knowledge of good and evil that was supposed to be so great didn’t turn out to be so great.

And so it always goes with that snake.

I wonder if God would have invited them to eat from the tree the second they passed the test.  Once they showed they would trust Him, obey Him. (You can read Boot Camp for more on that.)

The OT helped us see that the tempter is shiny and sly. Eve said “the deceiver tricked me and I ate.”  If he can trick Eve, he can trick us. Smart as we are, Eve was smarter. She was an original, we’re copies of a copy of a copy…

So let’s learn from the Master.

Right out of the gate, the devil tried to wreck  Jesus’ ministry.

The Gospel

Matthew 4:1-11
(Right after He was baptized) Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

Just a casual, harmless, sly little suggestion.  You’re hungry, make yourself something to eat. No harm, no foul, right?

Wrong. If he had turned those stones into bread His whole mission would have been aborted.

He had to be one of us in order to take our place on the cross.  Can you turn stones into bread? I can’t either.

So if He did something we can’t do He would no longer be fully man.

“But wait,” I hear you thinking, “Jesus did miracles all the time.”

Yes, He did. But He only did what he saw His Father doing and He only said what He heard His Father saying.

And His Father wasn’t making bread that day.

As a human, He was completely dependent on His father to do anything of spiritual, miraculous value. Just as we are.

We can’t take matters into our own hands – if we could, Dixie would be happily pooping by now – so neither could He.

That’s why He said, “One does not live by bread alone, 
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

There are more important things in life than our physical appetites.

We’re going to be hungry for all kinds of things and the tempter will exploit every one of our physical weaknesses.

Let’s not get grabby, let’s not take matters into our own hands, let’s take only from the Father’s hand.

If you scroll down to the last sentence of the Matthew passage it says this: “Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.”

I imagine they brought something a whole lot more satisfying than some crusty bread.

Then the devil took Jesus to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ 
and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus said to him, “Are you kidding me?  ‘If you are the Son of God’? Please. What did He  just say at my baptism, right before I was led out to this place?  This is my Son.

Okay that’s my paraphrase. He actually said, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”   But they’re kinda’ the same. Either way when God clearly says something, it’s an insult to doubt it.

Temptation comes on strong when we think we have something to prove.  This one probably hits teenagers the hardest. Do I have what it takes? Am I desirable?

Tell them they do.  Tell them they are.  Tell them they have nothing to prove. Every day during Lent tell them in big and small and subtle and true ways that they have what it takes. Leave no doubt.

Again, the devil took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”

All the kingdoms of the world were not his to give but he’s a liar so who cares.  He has no problem promising what he knows he can’t deliver.

The temptation here was to bypass the cross; to take the easy way.

“You don’t have to suffer,” the devil hissed, “you don’t have to die for these people.  Just worship me and I’ll give you an earthly kingdom.”

This last attempt must have been tempting.  Jesus didn’t want to go to the cross. He said so Himself. If there had been any other way He would have taken it.

But Jesus didn’t come to gain an earthly kingdom.

He knew that eventually every knee would bow to Him and every tongue in heaven and on earth would confess that He is Lord.  He knew that in order to draw all men to Himself He would have to be “lifted up” on a cross before being lifted back unto His heavenly throne.

He wasn’t going to settle for a cheap imitation of the heavenly kingdom He already possessed.

Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God, 
and serve only him.’”

In other words, “I’ll take what’s behind door number God.”

Let’s not settle for the cheap imitations that the tempter offers and then doesn’t deliver.

Let’s give up cheap imitations for Lent.

The devil, who had the audacity to tempt Jesus, uses these same tactics on us.

He exploits our physical appetites and weaknesses.

He exploits our pride.

He exploits our fears and dreads.

How was Jesus able to cut through these tough temptations like a hot knife through butter?

He trusted in His Father’s provision,
He was confident in His Father’s love and
He kept His eye on the better prize. Us.

May we be like Him.

P.S. I didn’t say this in the sermon, but here’s why I think was translated as snake:

The Hebrew word translated serpent here is nachash (pronounced naw-khawsh’). It is from the root word nachash (pronounced naw-khawsh’), which means “divination, enchantment, omen, sorcery”. The root word and the derivative are identical in spelling and almost identical in pronunciation. Here’s what the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (TWOT) says:

“Because of the similarity of [the two words], some make a connection to snakecharming. More contend that there is a similarity of hissing sounds between enchanters and serpents and hence the similarity of words.”

Just a little bonus for my fellow word nerds.

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Temptation

I awoke at 5:30 am with a heavy heart. An excruciatingly heavy heart. Little Dixie has not had a proper bowel movement – not any kind of a bowel movement at all, really, since her surgery Monday.  She practically (and literally) busts a gut straining to go and produces only a drop or two.

And I’ve been worried.

Worried that all that straining is going to tear the sutures holding the the two ends of her intestines together.

Worried that she has a blockage.

Worried that she’ll never have a normal poop again.

Worried that the starchy sweet potatoes I fed her the other day are stuck like a blob of paste in her bowels, holding up traffic. What was I thinking?

I woke up crying and praying and confessing.

I’ve always been strong, smart, competent.  But this morning I was vividly aware of my weakness, my ignorance, my inability to get her bowels moving.

I curled into a fetal position in heartbroken fear that I may have harmed her. I pulled the covers over my head. I said I was sorry.

I confessed that I should have consulted God before feeding her this week.

I thought of all the mistakes – sometimes fatal – that parents make with their children and pets, that doctors and vets make with their patients.

How do they live with it?

How do any of us endure life in such a state of powerlessness, weakness, ignorance?

These are questions that have never been asked, felt, or even been on my radar in all my 57 years.

But early this morning I felt the weight of every one of them.

“That’s always been the human condition,” the Spirit answered. “Welcome to the human race.”

I lay there another half hour trying to go back to sleep because I’ve had a killer sore throat and I was going to need my voice today.

I went downstairs to make breakfast for the friends and found Dixie curled up on the family room floor with the hub. I sat with them a minute and pet her lethargic little body and then I got up and said, “I’m going to make breakfast.” And with that Dixie jumped up and followed me into the kitchen.  Thank you Jesus.

While I was cooking, the hub took her into the yard and she pooped a tiny little poop.

Oh happy day!

Maybe she’ll survive my ignorance after all.

Here’s my subtle sin: I’ve been googling bowel surgery recovery all week. I’ve been calling the animal hospital looking for guidance – which I haven’t really gotten.  I’ve been seeking answers and help from every source except the One who created her little digestive system, the One who has the know-how and power to heal her. Oh sure, I’ve prayed for her, but I didn’t ASK what to do for her. I just leaned on my heretofore competent understanding.

I went to church and gave the sermon.

The Lessons Appointed for Use on the First Sunday of Lent:

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
Romans 5:12-19
Matthew 4:1-11
Psalm 32

The Collect

Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The Sermon

I saw God mighty to save when I was working as a messenger in a law office. I worked there for a year while I took the LSATs and applied to law schools – just to make sure law was what I wanted to do.

One of my many duties was to occasionally sit in for the receptionist while she was at lunch. The phones were quiet one day and I had a verse to learn.- 1 Corinthians 10:13: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted He will also provide a way out so you can stand up under it.”

I memorize best by writing things out so I wrote the verse on a sheet of paper. I wrote it again and again until it filled both sides of the page. Halfway through the hour the phone lines started ringing and by the time Kathy returned from lunch my paper was buried under a pile of messages.

Kathy took her seat behind the desk and I rushed out to file a motion.

When I returned to the office a few hours later Kathy called me over to the reception desk.

“I assume this is yours,” she said, holding up the page.

Before I could apologize for leaving it behind she continued, “Thank you. It saved my life.”

One of our clients had been flirting shamelessly with Kathy. She was a lovely, Christian, married woman who politely declined his indecent proposals time after time.  But it’s hard to resist a wealthy, powerful, charming, persistent man who makes you feel desirable, so that day at lunch she decided that when he came in that afternoon she was going to say yes.

And then 1 Corinthians 10:13 emerged from under all those messages.

Help is always on the way.

This morning help is right here in the lessons in our bulletins.

Genesis 3 helps us recognize the tempter when we see him.

The Old Testament

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made.

The Hebrew word translated serpent here is nachash.  It is from the root word meaning “divination, enchantment, sorcery”.

The Hebrew word translated “wild animal” means “to live, have life, remain alive, live forever.”

That’s why, contrary to all the artist’s depictions, I don’t picture Eve talking to an actual snake. What intelligent woman is going to listen to a snake?

A more accurate translation would have her talking to an enchanter.

Scripture says the devil masquerades as an angel of light. Ezekiel said he was, “the model of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.”

The Hebrew word translated beauty is from the root word yaphah (yaw-faw), which means “to be bright, beautiful, handsome, fair”.  So instead of a snake, picture someone shiny. (I picture a young Robert Redford.  He was shiny.)

“Now shiny boy was the slyest, most hypnotically charming being which the LORD God had made.”  (Genesis 3:1 JHV – Julie Hintz Version)

Is your mind set on the picture here?  Eve has just encountered a bright, shiny, hypnotically charming replica of the One she conversed with each evening in the garden.  Sin has not yet entered the picture.  She knows nothing of evil.  Distrust has not even entered her perfect mind because distrust has not yet entered her perfect world.  Shiny boy knows he’s golden, so he makes his move.

Tempters always look good in the coming; they don’t look like a snake until the going.

You know what I mean.  You’ve met someone who looked shiny in the coming. It wasn’t until after he/she betrayed you, deceived you, broke your heart, that you said to your friends, “He/she is such a snake!”

Remember, he wasn’t condemned to crawl on his belly until the end of the chapter.

He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’”
Look back at the first paragraph (Genesis 2).  Did God say they couldn’t even touch it? He commanded the man – because the woman had not yet been fashioned – and in relaying the command to the woman, the man embellished.  “Don’t even touch it, Eve, don’t even think about touching it.”  Actually, he hadn’t named Eve yet. “Don’t even touch it, woman, don’t even think about touching it.”

It’s important in this temptation avoiding life to see for yourself what God actually said; go directly to the source.

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

See how crafty he is? He even uses noble desires. Wisdom is a good thing, so how can desiring it be sinful? It isn’t. The sin wasn’t in the desire for knowledge, the sin was in the grabbiness.

Shiny boy portrayed himself as being more generous than God.  I see this temptation everywhere these days. The subtle temptation to believe that we humans are kinder, more compassionate than God. We’re not.

(Note to self: When someone wants me to do something that contradicts what God said, no matter how much that someone may look or sound like God, say to that shiny person, “Hold up, let me run that past God and get back to you.”)

Further down in the chapter we’re told Adam and Eve were afraid when they heard God coming, so they hid.  Do you think they had known fear before? This knowledge of good and evil that was supposed to be so great didn’t turn out to be so great.

And so it always goes with that snake.

I wonder if God would have invited them to eat from the tree the second they passed the test.  Once they showed they would trust Him, obey Him. (You can read Boot Camp for more on that.)

The OT helped us see that the tempter is shiny and sly. Eve said “the deceiver tricked me and I ate.”  If he can trick Eve, he can trick us. Smart as we are, Eve was smarter. She was an original, we’re copies of a copy of a copy…

So let’s learn from the Master.

Right out of the gate, the devil tried to wreck  Jesus’ ministry.

The Gospel

Matthew 4:1-11
(Right after He was baptized) Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

Just a casual, harmless, sly little suggestion.  You’re hungry, make yourself something to eat. No harm, no foul, right?

Wrong. If he had turned those stones into bread His whole mission would have been aborted.

He had to be one of us in order to take our place on the cross.  Can you turn stones into bread? I can’t either.

So if He did something we can’t do He would no longer be fully man.

“But wait,” I hear you thinking, “Jesus did miracles all the time.”

Yes, He did. But He only did what he saw His Father doing and He only said what He heard His Father saying.

And His Father wasn’t making bread that day.

As a human, He was completely dependent on His father to do anything of spiritual, miraculous value. Just as we are.

We can’t take matters into our own hands – if we could, Dixie would be happily pooping by now – so neither could He.

That’s why He said, “One does not live by bread alone, 
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

There are more important things in life than our physical appetites.

We’re going to be hungry for all kinds of things and the tempter will exploit every one of our physical weaknesses.

Let’s not get grabby, let’s not take matters into our own hands, let’s take only from the Father’s hand.

If you scroll down to the last sentence of the Matthew passage it says this: “Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.”

I imagine they brought something a whole lot more satisfying than some crusty bread.

Then the devil took Jesus to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ 
and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus said to him, “Are you kidding me?  ‘If you are the Son of God’? Please. What did He  just say at my baptism, right before I was led out to this place?  This is my Son.

Okay that’s my paraphrase. He actually said, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”   But they’re kinda’ the same. Either way when God clearly says something, it’s an insult to doubt it.

Temptation comes on strong when we think we have something to prove.  This one probably hits teenagers the hardest. Do I have what it takes? Am I desirable?

Tell them they do.  Tell them they are.  Tell them they have nothing to prove. Every day during Lent tell them in big and small and subtle and true ways that they have what it takes. Leave no doubt.

Again, the devil took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”

All the kingdoms of the world were not his to give but he’s a liar so who cares.  He has no problem promising what he knows he can’t deliver.

The temptation here was to bypass the cross; to take the easy way.

“You don’t have to suffer,” the devil hissed, “you don’t have to die for these people.  Just worship me and I’ll give you an earthly kingdom.”

This last attempt must have been tempting.  Jesus didn’t want to go to the cross. He said so Himself. If there had been any other way He would have taken it.

But Jesus didn’t come to gain an earthly kingdom.

He knew that eventually every knee would bow to Him and every tongue in heaven and on earth would confess that He is Lord.  He knew that in order to draw all men to Himself He would have to be “lifted up” on a cross before being lifted back unto His heavenly throne.

He wasn’t going to settle for a cheap imitation of the heavenly kingdom He already possessed.

Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God, 
and serve only him.’”

In other words, “I’ll take what’s behind door number God.”

Let’s not settle for the cheap imitations that the tempter offers and then doesn’t deliver.

Let’s give up cheap imitations for Lent.

The devil, who had the audacity to tempt Jesus, uses these same tactics on us.

He exploits our physical appetites and weaknesses.

He exploits our pride.

He exploits our fears and dreads.

How was Jesus able to cut through these tough temptations like a hot knife through butter?

He trusted in His Father’s provision,
He was confident in His Father’s love and
He kept His eye on the better prize. Us.

May we be like Him.

P.S. I didn’t say this in the sermon, but here’s why I think was translated as snake:

The Hebrew word translated serpent here is nachash (pronounced naw-khawsh’). It is from the root word nachash (pronounced naw-khawsh’), which means “divination, enchantment, omen, sorcery”. The root word and the derivative are identical in spelling and almost identical in pronunciation. Here’s what the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (TWOT) says:

“Because of the similarity of [the two words], some make a connection to snakecharming. More contend that there is a similarity of hissing sounds between enchanters and serpents and hence the similarity of words.”

Just a little bonus for my fellow word nerds.

#vivid

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