Jesus

Those Things That Are Right

1384201_10201607437404552_810844066_n

Sunday we asked God to grant us the spirit to think and do always those things that are right. Our Old Testament Scripture reading gave us the example of Joseph.

You’ve likely heard Joseph portrayed as a braggart and a tattle tale, perhaps in an effort to explain his brothers’ jealousy.  Perhaps some teach him that way in an effort to justify their own jealous tendencies.

Some say Joseph bragged about his dreams.

But Scripture doesn’t say he bragged about them, it merely states that he reported them. And just because your brothers are jealous doesn’t mean you made them jealous.

Remember Cain? He was so jealous of his brother, Abel, that he entertained murderous thoughts.

God found Cain stewing in his anger and asked, “What’s your problem? If you do what is right, I’ll bless you, too.  Sin is crouching at your door, don’t answer it.”

But he did answer it. When given the choice between yielding his heart, mind and behavior to God and being blessed, or stubbornly holding onto his anger, he took the anger and killed his brother.  Abel wasn’t killed because made Cain jealous.  Abel was killed because Cain wanted to do what he wanted to do and be blessed anyway. And he hated that God doesn’t work that way.

The assumptions we make about how Joseph reported his dreams are shaded by the bits of our personality we project onto him. When I read the account of his dreams, I don’t imagine Joseph bragging at all.

What do you do when you have a really wild, vivid dream? Do you report it to whoever is at the breakfast table?

I think that’s what Joseph was doing, just reporting a couple of weird, amazing dreams and naively believing his family would be amazed by them, too.

What about Joseph as a tattle tale?

There appeared to be just cause right there in our bulletin: “Joseph brought an ill report of them to their father.”

That’s how all the modern translations I’ve consulted tell it. But the Septuagint – the original translation of the OT from Hebrew and Aramaic into Greek – tells a different story.

The Septuagint says it was the brothers who brought a bad report against Joseph. They were the tattlers. The exact wording: “And they brought against Joseph a bad fault to Israel, their father.”

“But,” Scripture continues, [in spite of the bad report] “Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age.” No reason other than he was born in his old age.

I keep hearing from friends who are becoming grandparents that grandkids are so much more enjoyable than kids. Perhaps because you can relax and enjoy children more when you are no longer striving for all the things for which youth strives.

In addition, Joseph as a braggart and snitch isn’t congruent with the character he displayed during the rest of his life.

Joseph was seventeen when his dad sent him to Shechem to check on the health and safety of his brothers. Some 17-year-olds would say, “No way! I’m not going. They hate me!” But not Joseph. He said. “Okay, (Septuagint: I’m ready).”

Being hated by your siblings is a long, lonely road to walk, and Joseph walked it, all the way to Shechem.

When he finally arrived his brothers weren’t there. At that point, some teenagers would shrug their shoulders, return home and say, “They weren’t there.” But not Joseph, he went the extra mile – the extra 20 or 30 miles to be more accurate – to Dothan.

That’s what always doing the right thing looks like – going the extra mile, even when you’re hated. Even when you’re really tired of being hated.

The rest of Joseph’s story reminds me of a book from my childhood. Remember it? The one with the guy in a parachute on the cover?: “Fortunately Ned was invited to a surprise party…” “Unfortunately the party was 1,000 miles away.”

Unfortunately going the extra mile got Joseph sold into slavery.
Fortunately “The Lord was with Joseph and he prospered and the Lord gave him success in everything he did.”

That phrase recurs several times throughout Joseph’s story. “The Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in everything he did…” Perhaps that is the key to always doing what’s right. Having the Lord with you, talking you through it.

But what came first, the chicken or the egg? Did Joseph always do what was right because the Lord was with him or was the Lord with him because he always did what was right?

Scripture tells us that God chose David to be the second King of Israel, because, as he said to Samuel, “He will do whatever I tell him to do.” Perhaps God chose Joseph because he was the same sort of man – one who could be counted on to do the right thing – to yield his heart, mind, and attitude to God.

So Joseph found favor in his master’s eyes and became his trusted attendant. But either Joseph was really hot or Mrs. Potiphar was really horny, either way, she pursued him relentlessly and when he wouldn’t acquiesce to her request, she accused him of rape and he wound up in prison.

Some people would be angry and bitter about now. But not Joseph. How do I know he wasn’t bitter and angry? He reached out to others, even in his own need.

The Lord was with Joseph in prison and Joseph was put in charge of all the other prisoners. One morning he noticed a couple of the new guys looking dejected. He sat down and asked them what was wrong. They had both had disturbing dreams the night before. Joseph said, “I’m pretty good with dreams, let’s hear ‘em.” After hearing the dreams he told the first guy that his dream meant he would be restored to his position as cupbearer to the king within three days. The cupbearer was thrilled and relieved. Joseph said, “When you get out of here mention to Pharaoh that I don’t belong here.” The cupbearer said he would.

But, he didn’t and Joseph languished in prison another two years.

Two more years of faithfully performing the duties placed in front of him. Two more years with his dreams on hold.

You can dwell on all the bad things that have happened to you – sold into slavery when you were just trying to help; exercising sexual integrity and being falsely accused anyway; helping someone who doesn’t help you back. You can rehearse all the injustices and conclude that God doesn’t care, or you can look for all the ways He helped you in the midst of it all and be grateful.

You know the rest of the story. Pharaoh had a dream that no one understood, the cupbearer finally remembered Joseph, Joseph interpreted the dream and even offered a brilliant plan to deal with the impending famine. He was made second in command of all of Egypt, was reunited with his dad, wrestled with prospect of reconciling with his brothers and in the end did the right thing.

And, if you know the whole story, Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, were greatly blessed.

What lessons can we glean about always doing right as we watch Joseph’s life unfurl?

  • Go the extra mile, even when people hate you. Be good for goodness’ sake.
  • Do your job well, even when you thought sheaves were going to bow down to you and you’re someone’s slave instead; give it your all even when you thought your life was going to be greater than it’s turning out to be.
  •  Take a compassionate interest in others, help them even in the midst of your own need.
  • Let God be with you, even when you are languishing for two more years. Let Him still be with you. Listen to Him, yield your heart and attitude and thoughts to Him.
  • Consistently do the right thing and your children will be blessed with a great legacy.
  • Trust that what the haters mean for evil God means for good. God always means for our good.

In order to trust you have to think right.

Which brings us to Sunday’s gospel reading (from Matthew 14).

Mark and John gave a slightly different account, but Matthew told us that Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of Him to the other side of the lake.

He made them get into the boat. That’s an important detail.

After He dismissed the crowds, He went up the mountain by Himself to pray.

By the time He finished praying, the boat was quite far from land. The disciples had been battling wind and waves all night and they were probably exhausted by the time Jesus caught up with them. So when they saw Him approach – walking on the sea – they were terrified. Not because the waves were battering their boat – some of them were seasoned fisherman, they knew how to handle wind and waves. They were terrified because they thought they saw a ghost.

How do you think right when you’ve been up all night battling strong winds and now you think you see a ghost?

You look at the facts:
Fact 1: Jesus made us get in the boat. It wasn’t our idea.
Fact 2: Jesus sent us to the other side of the lake. He didn’t, as Beth Moore so brilliantly pointed out, send us to the bottom of the lake.

Conclusion: So what if it’s a ghost? The second Jesus sent us ahead to the other side of the lake our arrival was guaranteed.

Same right thinking applies when you are Peter, endeavoring to do what only God can do.

What God invited you to do.

Peter got out of the boat and started walking toward Him. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened and began to sink.

Peter had complete confidence in Jesus’s invitation until he saw the strong winds.

Reminds me of the first time I water skied: I grabbed the rope, the boat pulled me right up and I was skiing and having a really good time slipping in and out of the wake. And then it occurred to me that I shouldn’t be doing so well on my very first attempt, and with that thought I let go of the rope.

People can’t walk on water.

But when Jesus is the One doing the inviting, we can. So what if the wind is strong? His will is stronger. When He invites you to “Come,” He will get you there.

Or do you think He plays cruel tricks? Invites us and then lets us sink or swim?

When my first husband left me I spent many moons in a battered boat trying desperately to figure out what I had done to deserve abandonment. I rowed hard against a sea of accusations because Job wasn’t the only one who had bad friends. I evaluated my imperfections against the, in some cases, greater imperfections of my non-abandoned friends trying to make sense of it all. I felt like my life was doomed.

And then God climbed into the boat and reminded me of the facts.

He reminded me of that Sunday morning in April when I was getting ready for church, I was being baptized that day. And as I zipped myself into my floral dress, a thought floated through the air, “He’s going to propose today.”

He, I figured, was my boyfriend, who was also being baptized that morning. We had only been dating 4 months and we hadn’t talked at all about marriage so I just let the thought float right on by. I finished dressing and then practiced the Scripture verse I had chosen to recite before the dunking.

And sure enough, sitting on a sofa together in the pastor’s office – dry clothes back on, hair dried – waiting for the rest of the service to end, he did indeed propose.

And there were the facts: God knew that the marriage would end even as He floated that thought to me on that April morning. Perhaps that’s why He whispered it, So I’d remember that He was well aware that I was getting into the boat.

And even though He knew it wasn’t seaworthy, He didn’t try to stop me. He loves me and He didn’t try to stop me.

It’s not like I was rebelliously getting into a lemon of a boat. He was a christian, I was a Christian, his parents were happily married. I did my due diligence.

I hadn’t made a fatal mistake. I hadn’t married outside of His will. I wasn’t doomed. God knew and He allowed. He loved me and He still allowed. And if me getting into what He knew would turn out to be an unreliable boat was okay with Him, then from now on, it would be okay with me. I still couldn’t say the d word but I would trust that God meant it for good.

Praise God for always meaning it for good,
for speaking truth to our battered souls,
for taking the oars from our flailing hands,
for urging us on as we walk the lonely road,
for directing our thoughts as we languish for two more years.

Praise God for giving us the spirit to think right and do always those things that are right, even when life is habitually hard, that we, who cannot exist without Him, may be enabled to live according to His will.

Amen.

#unfurl

 

Standard
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.

Standard
Jesus

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

Standard
Jesus

A Bold, Crafty Devil

Between wiping my beagle’s bottom, wiping the kitchen floor and standing outside in the cold while she strains to go, I’m writing my sermon for this Sunday.  I hear you Baptists gasping.  Some of you.

We follow the Liturgical Calendar at the church I attend and this Sunday, the first Sunday of Lent, is all about temptation.

And since the WordPress word of the day is “doubt,” I thought I’d share a little of what I’m writing – just to put Jesus on the grid.

I’m highlighting the crafty tools the devil uses to tempt us, reruns of the ways he tempted Jesus.

One such crafty tool is doubt.

“Then the devil took him 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.’”  – Matthew 4

Jesus was tired. He was weak. He was forty days fasted. But He wasn’t stupid. And He had no doubt.

“Are you kidding me?,” He replied. “‘If you are the Son of God’? Please. What did my Father say right back there at the end of chapter 3, right before you led me into this God-forsaken wilderness? I’ll give you a hint:  ‘This is my Son!”? [paraphrase, italics, bold, underline and exclamation point mine.]

Jesus wasn’t stupid, but we are. Sometimes.  He didn’t doubt, but we do. Often. He had nothing to prove, but we think we do.  And that’s when the temptation to lie, cheat, claw, and shamelessly promote ourselves while holding others back does its best.

This particular trick of the devil’s trade – doubt – probably hits teenagers the hardest.  They want to know: Do I have what it takes? Am I desirable?

Do I have what it takes to be popular, to be cool, to get a man, to succeed, to make you proud?

That’s all they want to know.

And in seeking the answers to those questions they are enticed to do some foolish and sadly sleazy things.

Beat the devil at his game.  Instead of fasting from something this Lent, take something on. Take on the challenge of telling your teens – in big, small, creative and crafty  ways – every day for the next 40 days – that they DO have what it takes, that they ARE desirable – to everyone who does and will matter.

Tell them in ways that aren’t obvious. Tell them in ways that are true.

Tell them, tell them, tell them.

And leave no doubt.

I’m not going to say all this on Sunday ‘cuz I’ve got other stuff to say, but the word of the day got me elaborating.

Who’s had a paczke?

 

Standard