The Spirit in the Law

Deut. 30-15-20; Psalm 119.1-8; 1 Cor. 3.1-9; Matt 5:21-37

I admit it! I have a tendency to drive with a view to what I can get away with – on the open road. Strangely, perhaps, for an Aucklander of a total of 23 years, in the city and small towns my attitude to speed limits, lights and roadsigns is completely different. I find that I’m motivated more by a “what if it were one of mine “ scenario. Eg what if a little one like my youngest grandchild tore out onto the road as I came flying on at an irresistible 60+ kph? Red lights always mean stop! Now! and orange lights? Well – the Road Code says you must stop unless it’s unsafe not to do so. I do forget that sometimes…and boy do I hear about it.
We know the law says the open road limit is 100 kph, and that in some circumstances, the Police will overlook up to 10 kph in excess of the speed limit, but as they will quickly remind us the legal limit is actually …? The intention of speed limits is to ensure that everyone can use the same piece of road safely – in towns that includes pedestrians and children on wobbly bicycles. That’s the spirit of regulations that restrict our speed.

The spirit inherent in each law is set to meet the spirit in each transgression. Thus Jesus revolutionises our view of what obedience really looks like. How many of us are restrained from murdering someone who really annoys or hurts us by a law that says “thou shalt not murder”? Truly! Isn’t there some kind of inherent repulsion at the idea of taking the life of another human being, that means it doesn’t even occur to us?
And yet Jesus applies that very law to the spirit of the act of killing another person. If murder is about getting someone out of our life forever, about paying them back to daring to hurt us or ours, about finalising our rage at someone – then so is hatred and violent anger. The belittling tongue is meant to shut another up, and send them packing from our circle of acquaintance in shame and horror – never to return. It’s certainly not an act of affirmation, nor is it an attempt to find commonality with that person or persons.
That’s the spirit inherent in the law forbidding us from taking another’s life.
Try another – it’s unpopular in our day where our society winks at adultery (except in politicians of course – especially as they’re on the other side). Hear this and tremble: “…everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” By the way don’t worry about the plucking out your eye and cutting off your hand sentences, I think that’s a kind of black humour (perhaps). Jesus’ real point is that our heart is where the real problem resides…not in my eye which is directed to this or that view by my perverted will, nor in my hand which is moved and enabled by my mischievous intention. I’m sure his disciples didn’t nod sagely at these sayings and quietly resolve to do a little ophthalmic surgery, or hand removal in response to lustful pondering on the girl at the office or the waitress at the Cafe.
Our heart needs a little surgery from the crucified One. Reshaping our desires and our deepest intentions.

First love God is the message of the Deuteronomist, the lawgiver. His message is very simply that the only effective path to compliance with God’s intentions (otherwise known as obedience) for humankind, is to first love the Giver of the law. We have to think that that was in Jesus’ great wisdom here as He challenged mere compliance with the letter of the Law. That mere compliance is not in fact obedience.
In Deuteronomy God is challenging us to make some basic, life-determining choices. Life or death, prosperity or adversity – the glowing path of blessing or the mired highway of curses. Those choices start with our response to live the way God has approved and designed in order to bring about for us the fulness of life, prosperity and blessing. And the path to making the right or best choice is in our relationship with God into which He continually invites us. His love for us is intense, generous, full of grace, startling and is demonstrated for us right there on the altar – the freely, though painfully given, body and blood of Jesus for our life, our blessing, our future hope – something to which we recommit ourselves every week (or more).
God calls us first to love Him, to embrace and lose ourselves in Him, to find the meaning and goal of our life in all that He is, all that He shows us of life in all its fulness. Obedience will achieve nothing more than begrudging compliance without that prior commitment of all-consuming love. Obedience can end up being like the child who has been repeatedly warned to sit down in her high-chair, and finally complies, but says “I’m sitting down, but I’m standing up inside!” When, in love, we appreciate the loving intention and thoughtfulness in God’s law, obedience is an act of showing our love in a way that is deeper that the most passionate and glorious act of worship.

Do what you say you will just as God, who loved you first, has unfailingly continued to fulfil for you everything He ever held out before as signs of His loving commitment to you. I have found that doing what God says precisely because I KNOW that He loves me, even when I don’t like it, or find that obedience distasteful, ultimately it becomes more of a delight, a sign of His victory in my life, a freedom rather than an annoying restriction. Love changes everything – it changes us in the hands of the Saviour, and in the breath of the Spirit, and in the Father’s endurance with us – let it guide you, change you, delight you, bless you and those who are lucky enough to come in contact with you.

What Salt, Which Light?

Isa 58:1-9a,(9b-12); Ps 112:1-9 (10); 1 Cor 2:1-12, (13-16); Matt 5:13-20

Some of things we hear and remember from the Bible are empty and powerless if we repeat them without understand or grasping the content in them. Even pithy, catchy, seriously theological statements may sound good and even offer a certain encouragement or comfort; “God is love” and “love one another”, or “the good shepherd”. However two strong examples come out the sermon on the mount, out of Jesus’ mouth; “you are the salt of the earth” and “you are the light of the world”. They both sound like a clarion cry to motivate and challenge us, with Jesus warning us not to lose our saltiness, and not to hide this light that we are. But really what do they mean – what salt, which light?

In anticipation of the coming of Messiah, Isaiah gives us a stunning answer to the question; what salt, which light? Isaiah starts with a stunning attack on the religious practices of the Hebrew people; they study, they fast and they worship as if they mean it, and yet God finds their practice lacking. It’s all futile, this religious performance, as a means to a Divine hearing and approval. Why should it alter God’s view, when in this case it effects no change in the unethical behaviour of the practitioners; when it’s first concern is themselves. They accuse God of not noticing. The trouble is that God notices all too well – that their unjust and oppressive relationships with the less advantaged is not affected by their religion. All they’re fasting from is from food they have no intention of sharing.

The fast God is looking for is the fast from self-interest, self-advancement; the kind of fast that effects a change in our attitudes towards the less privileged and those reluctantly dependant upon our generosity and compassion. God’s concern for the weak and vulnerable is the proper focus of our fasting.

My fasting ought to heighten my awareness and vulnerability of the poor and oppressed [the least of these]. There is a kind of worship of our good and gracious Lord that includes feeding, housing and clothing the needy. This is what God involves Himself in, this is where His presence is felt [Matt. 25]

So what does this salt look like? What is the effect of this light that we already are? This “loosing of the bonds of injustice and undoing of the thongs of the yoke”?
– feeding the hungry (whether the abjectly poor of Africa and Asia or the poor on our doorsteps…there’s no grades of poverty, just plain old lack)
– housing the homeless (radically in your own homes – or at least in some decent place they can relax and be at peace)
– clothing the naked (including those who live in the same shabby rags day-on-day, week-on-week with no means to add to or improve them)

These are not exclusive, in other words not just this, but emblematic of the kind of practical compassion true devotion to God results in. This what a deepening relationship God in Christ looks like when it encounters the world of need – this is what we see our heavenly Father and our servant King continually drawing our attention to – if only we give the time of day to show it to us.

The dawning of the light within us, comes when do these things. “Then your light shall break forth like the dawn…then you shall cal and the Lord will answer”. This is what true saltiness looks like; world-changing, life-transforming, heart-lifting, flavour giving; relieving the tedium and horror of dependant, crushing poverty. Preserving life, giving hope. This is when the lights go on for oppressed peoples – and for us. I have friends in a large church in Charlotte, NC who formulated a policy to help their people engage with least and the lost in their communities. They decided that every Life Group should spend a least eight sessions a year at one of a number of approved social outreaches, or social justice causes in the Charlotte area – whether it was Habitat for Humanity, or literacy programmes for homeless women, or refuge for the abused, or a church that fed homeless kids. They also did emergency relief in places like Haiti after the earthquake. The result is that people felt their faith come alive for them – they found their prayer lives enhanced – so lost their hearts to the various causes that they never returned to the parent church. For them the light shone bright and clear, and they saw the savour that their saltiness gave to the poor and depressed. The result for the church was growing community of excited and committed followers of Jesus Christ.

Our abiding concern is neither solely nor chiefly with this building and its rituals but with the world that exists beyond the Church driveway. We have all the light and salt that we could need to dispel the darkness and relieve the tedium of a Christ-less existence that the majority of our fellow citizens live through as a daily experience. Our religious duty, that is the outflow of our experience of the love and grace of God in Christ, is less in here than in the neighbourhoods and communities of Dargaville and the Kaipara District. We are in habited by enduring light and life preserving Salt-not for our own sake but precisely for those who are at the centre of Christ’s concern. Engage with Christ in order to engage the community.

From romance to reality

Malachi 3:1-5; Ps 24:7-10; Heb 2:14-18; Luke 2:22-40

First a deep breath, as we pack away thoughts and emotions emanating from the joys and wonder of Christmas, the Epiphany, and all with which we wrap those festivals,
we face that the “real world” awaits our attention. My neighbour has brought her caravan home from the beach, my other neighbour’s family are packing to head home to the big smoke, or careers across the waters of the western Pacific. Many are concluding their last blast in the recalcitrant sun of this summer, closing up the bach, bringing home the boat,
the recreational toys, and the stories of fish caught, and waves ridden, and water-skis mounted, tracks walked, bargains hunted and scored, and Odyssey-like road trips.
Now we take a deep breath and look to the road ahead into the rest of 2017, into whatever it is that God is calling us in our own expanding world of mission. The office computer, the farm tractor, the classroom all call with their varying demands. What do we take with us into this emerging journey, this perpetual pilgrimage?

holiday-traffic

Coming from the stable to the Temple meant a change in their pilgrimage for Mary, Joseph and their special baby boy. As Joseph and Mary proudly carried their precious little boy into the place of worship, their hearts would have realised that this was a turning in their pilgrimage in God’s surprising call. If they didn’t realise the change that was coming, they soon would as two encounters affirmed that this was no ordinary child, with an extraordinary purpose in God.
A man called Simeon, was lead by the Holy Spirit to go to the temple and God would show him the beginning of His work, in a person, the Messiah – did he know to look for a baby?simeon-and-jesus I guess so. So he went, and he waited – and when he saw the little family enter the Temple he knew, “This is it. This is what God sent me to see and had me waiting for.” Here is salvation, the promise of deliverance, in the person of this month old child – not just for Israel, but for all peoples. People will live in newness of life, in the abundant life, all the promises of prophecy are coming to fruition in this vulnerable and needy baby. Ah, but wait – there’s more, but it’s not going to come easy for His parents to hear.
This child will be a dividing point for those who encounter Him – some will rise, some will stumble, some will try to stop Him – actively, mischievously. The chambers of secrets in our minds will opened for view by this One – things they’d rather keep under wraps will be exposed – brought into the light. So of course people will oppose Him, governments will oppose Him – and those who follow Him.

This is reality. The charm and good feelings of Christmas evaporate so fast – joining the ruck at Boxing Day sales should convince us of that! They don’t really like the Baby in the manger, the just like the excuses for the Saturnalia and holiday. They don’t really like that inconvenient, itinerant preacher, that worker of miracles – and yet He is our salvation and He is their salvation. And who can tell them that – who can show them that? At this point a lot of people would be tempted to point at Brendan – the clergy, the specialist. But that’s not what we see even in this story. Simeon – old and waiting to leave this world for the next prophesying; and Anna an aged frequent visitor to the Temple – worshipping God, fasting and praying. Simeon tells the young mother the wonder of her son’s destiny, and Anna tells anyone who’ll listen. And back in the Christmas story, the first evangelists are the shepherds – they tell everyone they come across.
We have a tremendous story to tell – our own story. A God-purposed and Spirit-filled life, by the grace of God – a surprise, a gift (one we’re to share). The founding story is even more compelling – more startling. God comes among us – why? To kick us in the collective butt for being so stupid? No! To save us – for now, for those in our now, and for an unimaginable future. We’re now heading through Lent towards Easter – God is calling us to take our faith seriously, to face reality, and to walk through it in grace-fired faith, with the express purpose of being the blessing God always intended His kids should be.loudly-proclaiming

Food For the Journey.5.Offering ourselves

hand-reaching-bw
Isaiah 43.16-21; Psalm 126; Philippians 3.4b-14; John 12.1-8

John has just completed his degree and the question that naturally arises is what next? Does he join an event company, a theatre, or an advertising or publicity organisation? Does he go on to post-grad studies? Or does he ditch it all for the sake of some other vision? Like his desire to develop the musical ideas that are crowding his soul…or pursuing a different passion to offer care to refugees from the horrors of North Korea? To pursue any one of those means letting the others go, even though he may have worked hard and successfully to achieve them. Whatever it is we know that it will be a serious expression of his appreciation of what the grace of God in Christ is calling on him to do – it will be consistent with who Jesus is developing him into, where faith requires he will go, and go single-mindedly. The determination of faith can sometimes look like stubbornness.
Mary’s Focus was to honour the Lord in whatever way gave expression to her faith-journey with Him. She was the one whose pleasure was to sit at Jesus’ feet lost in deep and heart-touching conversation.
It occurs to me that this flask of perfume with which she anoints Jesus was the same that would have been used to anoint Lazarus – or possibly being kept for the next funeral, to anoint the dead. But Mary wanted to give expression to the giveness of her life to Jesus. Isn’t it a lovely thing to see someone wanting to anoint the Lord instead of trying so hard to gain it for themselves (or for some teacher or worship-leader)?
The fragrance of such an act of devotion filled the house, changed the atmosphere – we could say it set the tone for the evening. Just as it does when, as God’s people, we lift up worship from devoted and loved hearts…when worship becomes a priority for us as we gather. Whether it be the context of every week worship (in whatever form), a great gathering of people lead by a skilled worship leader and worship band, or just an individual bending their head in private quietly loving and praising God for all HIs kindness in Christ.
Of course such an act of demonstrative love and devotion (as Mary’s) is to some an embarrassment. They see it as excessive and needlessly extravagant, as did Judas who sought to have Mary reproved for her “foolishness”. They often protest nearly as disingenuously as Judas, that it somehow distracts form the harder realities of faith, or should be expended in concern for the lost, the poor, the whales, the climate. Jesus replies that these come when they come and should become an offering of the incense of faithful and surrendered praise to God.
Singing in the Messiah the first time (felt like being perched on the edge of heaven) – matched by experience at the second Vineyard conference – tears rolling down my face, heart full of the Holy Spirit’s unerring touch.
There are purposes behind our worship that we may not have fully intended as we began that act of worship. Sometimes we may not even consciously aware of them. We may have been part of creating an environment in which people can release their tensions and uncertainties to open themselves to the whispering and loving, healing voice of God. Just as Mary’s act was interpreted by Jesus as having to do with His impending death, our own acts of worship may have an impact on the work of the Kingdom of God that surprises and blesses.

So let go of past inhibitors Paul knows that in the face of Christ, and in the pursuit of loving, worshipping and serving Him, much that we have claimed to value, loses it’s sheen and it’s trophy-like glory (which is our glory rather than God’s). What Paul is letting go is not horrible, polluting, disfiguring sin – instead what he declares to be rubbish to him now is the illusion of achievement and status. He is humbly glad to surrender all that commends him for the sake of reaching intimacy with Him to whom belongs all glory – from whom flows all good and all blessing, to whom belongs all honour. Paul wants to know Christ both in His glorious resurrected power and in His selfless, life-transforming sufferings. When we lose we suffer, even if it is to our long term or eternal benefit, so when we albeit willingly lose reputation, status, personal honour for the sake of a destiny of lasting, and unfading worth we still suffer for it.
And here’s the rub – it never finishes this sacrifice, this leaving behind the shiny, second best – this quest for a closer and more intimate relationship with the Lord who loves first is never over until we stand face-to-face with Him who gave Himself for us and constantly calls us to Himself. Whose home is our heart’s true home, even if we struggle to believe and accept that. And what it does cost? Nothing and everything. That is you can’t earn it or buy it, this relationship is a gift, this is destiny is grace – but it will ultimately cost everything you have and are – and that’s okay because your gain will exceed anything you could ever have imagined or hoped for.

 

What are you holding onto that inhibits your selfless giveness in worship?
Negative or positive?

How readily do you find yourself entering into a worship situation (whether at home or in the company of His people)?

What is your attitude to demonstrative and extravagant acts of worship? Have you ever thanked God for such a person – wondered what has happened for them int heir relationship with God?

Has the criticism or perceived criticism of others (especially gate-keepers) ever dampened your enthusiasm, or misdirected your acts of worship?

Give yourself time this week (daily if you can) to focus on the gracious work of God in Christ, saving and selecting you? …to remember and dwell on the character, attributes and acts of God?

Food For the Journey.4.Mothering Sunday

1 Samuel 1.20-28; Colossians 3.12-17; John 19.25-27

Mothering what? It was very confusing for a young cub scout; they said this was Mothering Sunday, but not Mothers’ Day. It wasn’t about our mums, it was about the church being our mother – though we still had to take a sprig of rosemary home to our mums. And I thought if it was about the church that “mothered” me then why was I at St George’s in Frankton, Hamilton, and not at First Church around the corner, where I was definitely nurtured in the faith as a child. But because I wanted to be a good Cub I went along with it anyway. Wasn’t church as I knew it: sit-stand-kneel – when? how? And now look, here I am; sitting, standing, saying the responses. So this Sunday we do acknowledge the role our mothers and grandmothers played in our development, and the nurturing role the church played in shaping us; and of course we give thanks for those who so shaped us. For this bride of Christ, this precious life sharing, life communing, life shaping organism of which we find ourselves a part – whatever shape or variety it takes.
Giving them up Hannah’s story is one that is delightful; joy tinged with courage and the pain of surrender of one’s dearest to the purposes of God and of His community. Imagine giving up your treasured little 4 or 5 year old to some old guy who runs a religious organisation. (Weaning happened much later then than is the custom these days.) But Hannah was thankful for God’s improbable answer to her impassioned plea, and saw that this special child had a place in God’s plan that required her surrender.
This was Mary’s burden too, and likely her joy; but at the Cross what horrendous pain what massive questions must have assailed her now. Throughout those last three years she must have risen on waves of pride as her son taught and ministered with such wonderful effect in people’s lives, but also she must have felt those waves ran her close the rocks of despair as people lied about him and tried to trap him – while people gossiped about him and sought to assassinate his character. And yet here she is given to the care of a loved friend.
A community of nurture is an important role for the church. This community is the agency of the Holy Spirit for our growth, nurture and the development of our ministries and roles in both church and society. In that many have served the Lord and have served us with the gift of their time and their talents, their Spirit-endowed gifts – awakening and refining ours. Educating us in the faith and in the ways of God, those who comprise the living body that is the church brought us to where we now stand. As surely as we want to give thanks for the nurture of the Church, we also want to honour those whose loving service and kindly mentoring have been as Christ to us.
It’s not just those who have taught us, or lead various groups in which we have been given life to share, but also those who have quietly and faithfully, for their love of God, served unnoticed and never thanked. Those who cleaned the church or polished the furniture or the altar furniture; those who made sure there was enough money in the bank to enable us to function as a frontier for Christ’s mission in our place and time.
Being held together However to achieve any of this we have to have shown to the community around us, that we have something quite wonderful and distinctive. An environment filled with the Presence and power of Christ, an atmosphere that is sufficed with the gratitude of people who know that something quite undeserved has done for them that has secured for them an eternal destiny that is out of this world – beyond dreams or imagination. The costly love of God in Christ sets a tone of which values like compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience are characteristic. Where because God loved us even while we were still His enemies, we find ourselves willingly putting up with annoying quirks of behaviour, forgiving slip ups and even deliberate offences. We create, nurture and perpetuate an environment in which love is the cardinal virtue, the great communal distinctive. We seek ways in which we encourage one another – we find the good to praise – we speak words that only put hope in people’s hearts. Everything, everything is about giving thanks and praise to God for what He did for us in Christ, and offered through Jesus who has help the door of heaven’s throne room wide open for us.
Mother church not only gives life, but encourages and praises generous Godly virtues and behaviour.

So…

Who deserves your thanks today for their sharing of life that never ceases, never diminishes?
Who needs your encouragement today?
What in the wonderful liberating work of the Christ and His Cross deserves your praise?
Who can you bring it to even in the coming week?
What is your gift? What is your role in this nurturing, witnessing body of life eternal?

Food for the Journey.2.Being Transformed

Genesis 15.15.1-12,17-18; Philippians 3.17-4.1; Luke 9.28-36

This flag debate has raised the question of our identity. Who are we? What defines us? What makes us the nation we are? Come to that what makes you the person you are? Where you belong in the world, you role, you sum of attributes and experiences? What matters most about you? Our natural Kiwi reticence makes us want to be just a decent enough person, like anyone else. Neither scum nor prince.
And yet there is more to us, there is a life that’s somewhat remarkable, connections that are frankly heavenly; and so many are hardly aware of the reality into which they have been brought by the grace of God.
Peter, James and John are confronted with this, barely perceiving what’s really going on in this mountaintop experience of theirs. They’ve gone up this hill (think Tutamoe rather than Taranaki), and Jesus’ appearance is dramatically changed right before their eyes. Suddenly glorious, heavenly, shining in beauty. Their walk up the hill has tired them, but sleep is no longer possible now. Not has Jesus changed, but he has unexpected company in the Lawgiver and The Prophet. Apparently talking about the new exodus that will liberate us from eh slavery of sin.
It’s like God is reminding them that this is no ordinary Rabbi they’ve been following, not just some brilliant miracle-worker. In a way the disciples get it and in a another way they don’t. They get that Jesus is heavenly, glorious and stands alongside the great figures of Hebrew faith, and they want to build shrines to commemorate this – somewhere they can bring others to tell them what they saw. They want to institutionalise this experience – hold it at arms length – domesticate it.
Suddenly a cloud descends – a frightening sign of God’s veiled presence and out of it God addresses them and their misunderstanding. “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to Him!” Not an experience to boast about, to build a shrine to, or build an institution around. This is an encounter with the Son of God, the Messiah, the Chosen Deliverer – he’s to be taken very seriously. Though the disciples found no way to talk about this to others for now, it will have filled their minds and hearts with life changing wonder. And maybe the question: what have we to do with heaven, with this heavenly being who looks so ordinary?
Paul tells us that because of the Cross of Christ, we are indeed different, with an almost unimaginable significance. We are citizens of heaven, we belong to the glorious and ascended Jesus, to the realm from which comes our salvation, our hope, our meaning. We are not limited by the things with which we usually identify ourselves: family, culture, history, education and occupation; faults and attributes; quirks and habits; triumphs and disappointments. If that’s our focus we become the sad creatures that Paul reflects on in this letter to the Christians in Philippi whose ultimate end is their destruction, because when offered the resources of heaven they chose to be distracted by the immediate and earth-bound.
However we have an identity that is forever, organically linked to the King of the heavenly realms which means more than just a decent average Kiwi person.
It means God is always with you ands listens to you and notes the things that are important to you and the things are upsetting you. But it also means you have amazing resources with which to help and minister to others – heaven’s life-changing, transformative resources. When you come, in Jesus’s name, to lovingly help or pray with someone you come with His authority and His blessing, you can come with some expectancy that He both hears and responds to your dependance on Him.
Abraham simply believed that God had all that he needed, even when everything looked hopeless, and thus chose to act on what he believed rather than what he feared. He didn’t just believe some promise, he chose to believe the One who made the promise.
All this promise, these limitless resources, this encouragement to believe in a transcendent Lord, calls to the ultimate act of righteousness. That is to act upon what we say we believe, to what we know at heart is possible in the love and grace of God in Christ. The transfigured Christ descended the mountain and lead His disciples onto the world of ordinary people with ordinary needs, but showed them to meet those needs with extraordinary grace and power. What happened on the mountain was to inspire and dare Jesus’ followers in every age to do astonishing things for His sake and the sake of His kingdom.

Food For the Journey.1.even Jesus was tempted

Luke 4.1-13; Romans 10.8-13

Temptation is sneaky; I’ve never been tempted to throw myself off the bridge over the river, drown my self in the surf at Bayly’s Beach, or even to grab a gun and go and shoot the leaders of any congregation I’ve served. Temptation is about things we like. So I’d be tempted to eat way too much ice cream or chocolate, but not to eat banana skins and cow pats. Sexual temptation confronts many of us as does the temptation to do really dumb things that are against the law – like I’ve looked at the long straights near here and wondered fast I could our car to go. Often a severe temptation for many sober Christians – but could get you into trouble you can’t control.

Even Jesus was tempted – and not only that once we all read about here.

Notice how it happened in the environment to which He’d been lead – by the Holy Spirit at that. Hot on the heels of the spiritual high of being baptised, and called “my beloved Son in whom I’m well pleased”.

Note where temptation came from. Many will tell you it comes from within us, that our souls are playing with the idea of rebellion, but the Gospel tells us it came from outside – from the Devil – the Enemy, Opponent, Destroyer. It was a triple attempt to spoil Jesus’ ministry right at the beginning. The temptation was NOT a sign of any internal or moral weakness in Jesus. The temptation was in effect to look away from God’s plan and take the easy spectacular route.

Jesus knew the temptations for what they were; but note that each victory was followed by another assault from the Enemy. Jesus didn’t think of these temptations as even remote possibilities – that was not His call.

Jesus repelled each temptation with the Word of God and His own obedience to that Word. You could say His obedient word of testimony defeated the Enemy’s concerted attempts.

Repeating the earlier point, each temptation was to do or reach for something inherently good – bread (He was hungry); power and reputation (then He could achieve whatever He wanted); a Divine sign (that He was special and that nothing could harm Him). It was all for the wrong reason, at the wrong pace, focussed on what Jesus might personally have. It was a programme for a shortcut to what God would do soon enough anyway – claiming something immediate that would fizzle away, whereas God’s purpose final and lasting.

Many in ministry or leadership fall victim to temptation took for themselves that which was only for God to give (if it was in His plan). Often it’s something they had no right reaching for, but thought they sere worth it because they were somehow more special than you or me. But know this, to play with that idea in our heads is to have already surrendered and made ourselves available to the Enemy’s tricks.

God gives us whatever He knows will enable and empower whatever it is He has called to do – His gifts are always plentiful and appropriate and they change us more into His image than anything we might want for ourselves.

In answer to this problem, what Paul writes in His letter to the Romans is about how we stay where we belong with God and become resistant to the while of the Tempter.

Here this carefully:

“if you confess with your lips…and believe in your heart…you will be saved”

Yes but confess what? Believe what?

1. That Jesus is Lord not you, not the preacher or Pastor, not that habit or addiction that you’ve been struggling with, nor the advertisers that tell you that you’re worth it or deserve it, nor the social pressure that says everyone else is doing it, and certainly not that sneaky, slippery character that comes along and tries get you to please yourself. He’s the Enemy, the Opposer, the Destroyer – right? Confess this! Make this your “point of difference”, your team banner.

2. That God raised Him from the dead He is alive! That means He’s present! That means He’s really powerful! And given that He’s been raised to save us and bring us to eternal life – He is motivated by an immense love for us (even at our grubbiest).
Hold that in an impenetrable place in your heart. Not even death can defeat or resist His purpose for your life.

We face temptation (and the Tempter) with faith in Christ, in the God who loves us with an everlasting and unshakeable love. The Tempter is NOT more powerful than the Lord, and hear this carefully he is definitely not more powerful that Lord within. You may know the promise, that greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world. Greater than anything that is in the world.

So when confronted with what we know within us, is not for us, and because of the Word of God, when we’re drawn to something or someone that will stand between us and God, we need to confess verbally and audibly so that we can hear ourselves say it, that Jesus is in this, as in all things, still our Lord. That Jesus is more powerful than anything and that He alone can save us…and…He will.

If you were drowning, you’re not going to be saved by a well-meaning friend who can’t swim, nor by some self-help programme, nor by the one who pushed you in there in the first place – only the one equipped to save can do it.

Know this and know it clearly; when you’re struggling with temptation, the Lord who defeated death and the power of anything to permanently harm you, won’t beat you up, or make you feel stupid, because you were tempted, or even because you’re finding it hard to resist. He will rescue, clean, love, feed and strengthen you with the inner dwelling presence of His Holy Spirit.

So don’t despair,
don’t give in
don’t give up
instead call out to God with whatever little bit of faith you can muster and He will deliver you, and bless you.