Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Jesus' Temptations: Bread

For 40 long days -- almost six weeks -- Jesus was alone in the wilderness, fasting and being tempted by the devil.  There are three temptations listed in Luke 4:1-13 (and in a slightly different order, the same three in Matthew 4) but the text doesn't say these are the only three temptations Satan threw at him, just that these three are recorded for us.  There are many important meanings in this story; here are a few.

Forty days is probably a parallel to Moses' 40 days on the mountain fasting in God's presence (Deut. 9:9) and to Israel's 40 years of wandering in the wilderness.  For this time, Jesus was alone with no distractions from other people, alone in the presence of the Father and the Holy Spirit.  As he fasted, he was tempted by Satan, and came to the point of extreme hunger (v. 2).  Then Satan tempted him with the idea of making food for himself.  What was the big deal about that?
As a human, Jesus had experienced hunger before; but as the Son of God in the flesh, he showed several major truths by turning down this temptation.
1.  Jesus knew his mission on earth was to serve us, not himself; but Satan tempted him to rely on his power as God for his own needs.  In his ministry on earth, Jesus ministered in the power of the Spirit, doing the will of the Father and using his power as the Son of God many times -- but never for himself (compare for instance Matthew 26:53).  Here, Jesus taught selflessness.

2.  He trusted God to provide for him.  Eve, and Adam with her, were convinced by the serpent that God was holding out on them and they deserved more.  Israel in the wilderness, though being fed by God with miraculous manna, complained about it andwanted something 'better' -- part of their pattern of disbelief ( Numbers 11, for instance).  Jesus went through a more severe test -- no food at all -- and continued to trust that God would provide.
3.  Jesus was empty of food, yet filled with the Spirit.  By contrast, Israel "celebrated with feasting and drinking, and they indulged in pagan revelry" in worship of the golden calf.
 4.  Jesus showed by his choices that he was who his Father described at his baptism in Luke 3:22 -- “You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.”  Notice, this description is before the temptation, not as a result of his success in it. 

Jesus responded to Satan with the verse from Deut. 8:3, "people do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord."  That verse is a summary of Israel's entire wilderness experience, and in a way, Jesus' wilderness experience too.  He said that, not to command us to memorize Bible verses, but to say we must rely totally on God's provision for us -- 'hanging on to every word' as it were, for our daily life.
Fasting from something -- food and water, or just food, or from one thing we enjoy -- is a way to recognize how much we depend on God to give us life itself.  And when we lack something we think we must have, isn't that the most important time to decide that God, who has given us victory through Jesus Christ, will certainly provide everything else we truly need?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Cats and God: Persistence

Our dear Susie (the older cat) is somewhat focused on food.  Every morning she joins us in the kitchen and asks for her breakfast.  'Demands' would be a better word -- she tells us how much she wants her food and keeps on telling us until she is fed.  If I ignore her she keeps it up, and gets louder!  So the only action that keeps any peace is to feed her. 

Jesus used a similar idea, with a different illustration, to encourage persistence in prayer in Luke 18:1-8. The widow who was asking a judge for help continued in her persistence until he answered.  "So don’t you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night?" Jesus said.  That emphasizes two things:  God's desire to give 'justice' -- and lots of other blessings -- and the importance of crying out to God in prayer and not giving up.  

God knows what we need, and he supplies it (Matthew 6:28-30).  We are his beloved children, and he cares for us more than we can understand.  He knows our needs before we even ask -- after all, God is all-knowing!  So why should we ask?  That's one of the questions about prayer that has puzzled Christians through the ages.  The answer seems to be "prayer doesn't change God; it changes us."  God has already called us his children and welcomed us into his presence, because he desires a depth of relationship with us.  One of the ways we pursue relationship with him is through prayer.  

If Susie only meowed once at me in the morning, I wouldn't think she really wanted food that much and I wouldn't be in much of a hurry to get it; but she is insistent and persistent, to prove to me that she is serious.  I think something like that is true of our prayer time with God; only we're not proving our needs to him, we're learning to understand and feel our need for him.  Praying for our bank account to be sufficient is obvious and urgent.  How often, how urgently, how persistently, do we ask God to deepen our understanding of our own sin and offensiveness, or to show us how to forgive someone who has wounded us?  Yet it is in those times that we submit ourselves to the mind and heart of God; and when we are that urgent and willing to listen, he is able to teach us what we could not hear before.  And how about persistently praying for help for victims of injustice, disaster or war?  Persistence might teach us compassion that a less-intense prayer would not.

Jesus described God's "chosen people who cry out to him day and night" -- to describe our pursuit of him in prayer.  I think he had a good point.  Here's an idea Joanne and I are working on:  a time of prayer in the morning before the busyness of the day; another at midday to stop and re-focus; and another in the evening, to reflect and give back to God all the things we couldn't resolve during the day.  How about pursuing God that way for a month, and see what happens?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Cats and God: Mornings

The Lovely Joanne and I have developed a routine with the girls (our cats Haley and Susie).  Every morning when we get out of bed, we spend 5 minutes or so playing with them -- wrestling on the floor, playing chase-the-string, and giving them some affection.  They meow at us, perhaps telling us what they did during the night, and asking us how soon breakfast will be.  They love this routine, and we've grown to enjoy this time with them every day.

Our heavenly Father deeply wants the same kind of closeness and enjoyment of fellowship with us.  He walked and talked with our first parents in the garden, remember?  And in the end of the book, he says he will live among us forever:  "I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, 'Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.'" (Rev. 21:3)

He wants the relationship to be mutual -- so we will want to be with him just as he wants fellowship with us.  In Psalm 42, the psalmist expresses longing for God, comparing his desire for God to a thirsty animal: 
"As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God."  And several of the psalms begin with encouragements to worship: for instance, 108, 111, 113, 117, 118, 122, 134, 135, 136 and the crescendo in Psalms 145 to 150.  Some talk about rising early; others about pursuing a relationship of awe, worship and love with God.  Psalm 100 is a good example of a heart filled with joy and energy from knowing God and wanting to know him better. 

So we would know him better, and so we could know his love for us, the Father sent the Son into the world (John 3:16, John 14:9; Heb. 1:2).  It's been his plan -- which means he really, really wants this, and that's why he has invested so much in creating that relationship with us -- from the beginning.  God loves his children, all of them, and he loves it when we turn to him in repentance, faith and love, to come closer to him.  It brings a smile to my face to see the kittens come bounding up to see me every morning; and even more, our desire to know and love God brings great pleasure to him. 

Would it be worth it to spend that first few minutes every morning thanking and praising God?  I know of one man who pivots himself when he gets out of bed, so his knees hit the floor first, and spends a few minutes there talking to his Creator.  I enjoy taking a cup of coffee to a quiet place to connect with him.  What could you do to create a 'holy space' in your life to spend with him, every day?  It will be worth it!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


I've been reading through the book of Hebrews again -- I recommend reading it once a year as a tool for re-focusing our understanding of God.  More on that another time.  But today, since I was reading chapter 11, often called The Faith Chapter, a basic question came up:  Why faith -- that is, faith in God?  Why are we encouraged to have faith, and in this chapter and others we are told the stories of those who had faith?  Here are a few of the reasons faith is so important:

1.  Faith is the basis for a relationship with God. Adam and Eve didn't believe God was giving, and would always give, the best to them, even though God had put them in this beautiful place, given them all they needed, and they still didn't trust him.  Instead, they turned away from God to follow what the serpent said, and suffered as a result.  By contrast, what experience did they have with the serpent, that would tell them he was trustworthy?  ("Would you buy a used car from this snake?")  So, Hebrews 11:6 says "And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him."    If you don't believe God, how would you relate to him?
2.  Faith in God tells us that what God has promised will happen, even though we can't measure it with our five senses.  Hebrews 11:1 says "Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see."  So we have to trust that God will provide the reward of totally enjoyable life without end, in the presence of our Creator and Father -- a life we won't see or experience until after we pass from this temporary existence.
3.  Faith helps us make the hard choices to do God's will.  Noah 'built an ark'; Abraham 'went without knowing where he was going...was ready to sacrifice his only son Isaac'; Moses 'chose to share the oppression of God’s people instead of enjoying the fleeting pleasures of sin'; and a hundred other stories.  Including mine, and I hope, yours.  Without trusting that God will somehow provide for us, how do we let go of the immediate desire in favor of the eternal joy?  How would we offer our finances to God, rather than holding on to every penny for our own uses?  Without faith, how do we know God will take care of us?
4.  Faith is our link to salvationEphesians 2:8-10 tells us that God saves us by grace through faith, and that salvation is not a reward for our obedience or works.  In fact, verse 9 tells us that the faith itself is a gift of God -- which we must receive obediently, rather than insisting we can work it out ourselves somehow.

Trusting God -- another definition of faith -- is essential for a life spent listening to and responding to God.  The stories in Hebrews 11 and many other places tell us it's possible to have that faith, and encourage us to ask God for a clearer and stronger trust in him.  So if you feel yours is 'running low' or you're not doing too well at trusting him, now might be a good time to read those again and let God refresh your tired heart with his own strength and peace.