Temptation 2 (Lent 3)

This devotional post follows on from last Sunday’s post. You might like to read it before continuing this post, it can be found by clicking here. Although I use a photo of food again, temptations are much deeper than just craving chocolate.

Bible Readings: Mark 1:9-13 and Matthew 4:1-11

Lent is traditionally a time of fasting, but spiritually it might better be considered a time to feast. A time to feed our souls by reflecting on the events leading up to Good Friday and Easter.

Jesus resisted temptation with exactly the same resources that are available to us: namely the Word of God, prayer, self-discipline, obedience and faith. This comes as a great encouragement to us.

This wilderness experience of Jesus has much to teach us, more than might be immediately apparent, especially as the account can only have come to us from Jesus himself. He clearly wanted us to know about it.

The first thing we learn is that it’s not a sin to be tempted. Temptation isn’t the same thing as sin. If Jesus was tempted, it follows that we’re not immune. So the moment the inappropriate thought comes into our head we have a choice to accept or reject it, to act on it or dismiss it. Jesus was at his weakest, the time when temptations often come, yet he was prepared.

Temptations often come to us when we are at our weakest, and they can sometimes take us by surprise. As Christians, temptations are bound to come, we should expect them and be prepared for them.

And the nearer we are to God, the closer our walk with him, the more likely we are to be tempted. C. S. Lewis wrote: There is a silly idea about that good people don’t know what temptation means.

The second thing to learn is that temptation often comes after a spiritual high point. This was the case with Jesus. He’d just been baptised in the River Jordan, been owned by a voice from heaven, and experienced perfect communion with his heavenly Father.

After being especially aware of God’s presence in our lives is often the time when we are thrown into a wilderness experience: when doubts, fears and temptations can come flooding in. What was true for Jesus is true for us.

The third thing to learn is that it’s not the Spirit who tempts. The Spirit led Jesus into the desert, but it wasn’t the Spirit who tempted. God may allow us to be tempted, but he never tempts. The fact that Jesus was tempted alerts us to the fact that it can serve a useful purpose.

Someone has said that our character is not usually developed by drifting along in the calm waters of tranquillity.

Speaking of trials and temptations, Peter writes: These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. 1 Peter 1:7

Our trials and temptations are God’s opportunities. Opportunities to be filled with the same Holy Spirit that descended on Jesus. The dove that made him gentle also made him strong.

In conclusion, Jesus was tempted to turn from the way of the cross, but he was victorious for us. His Kingdom was established and his mission fulfilled. This is perfectly expressed in Song 74 of the Salvation Army Songbook, based on Philippians 2:5-11 that I’ve written about recently.

At the name of Jesus
Every knee shall bow,
Every tongue confess him
King of Glory now;
’Tis the Father’s pleasure
We should call him Lord,
Who from the beginning
Was the mighty Word.

At his voice creation
Sprang at once to sight,
All the angel faces,
All the hosts of light,
Thrones and dominations,
Stars upon their way,
All the heavenly orders
In their great array.

Humbled for a season,
To receive a name
From the lips of sinners
Unto whom he came,
Faithfully he bore it
Spotless to the last,
Brought it back victorious
When from death he passed.

Bore it up triumphant
With its human light,
Through all ranks of creatures
To the central height,
To the throne of Godhead,
To the Father’s breast;
Filled it with the glory
Of that perfect rest.

In your hearts enthrone him;
There let him subdue
All that is not holy,
All that is not true;
Crown him as your captain
In temptation’s hour;
Let his will enfold you
In its light and power.

See also: The Essence of Lent

Temptation 1 (Lent 2)

Lent is a time of giving up things, and in the Salvation Army it’s a time when we think about our Self-Denial Altar Service. In the Christian year it’s associated with the time Jesus spent being tempted in the desert.

Lent is traditionally a time of fasting, but spiritually it might better be considered a time to feast. A time to feed our souls by reflecting on the events leading up to Good Friday and Easter.

Bible Readings: Mark 1:9-13 and Matthew 4:1-11

The time of temptation in the desert comes at the start of the earthly ministry of Jesus, and it was a time of real challenge to him. Had Jesus been diverted from his task at such an early stage, Satan would have won a great victory. Jesus would have fallen at the first hurdle.

He faced three very specific temptations, three very real challenges, and three very desirable shortcuts to popularity and power. What was common to each of these challenges was the temptation to doubt, If you are the Son of God…

Jesus was reflecting and agonising on the direction of his ministry, and these three shortcuts to popularity and power came in the form of economic, religious and political challenges.

  • When Jesus was tempted to use his power to turn stones into bread, it wasn’t merely for his own physical need. He was being shown one way that he might achieve popularity, by meeting people’s economic needs.
  • When Jesus was tempted to throw himself off the Temple, it wasn’t merely a test of his divine status. It was another way of gaining recognition, by proving to the religious leaders that he was God’s Son, by satisfying a religious need.
  • When Jesus was tempted with all the kingdoms of the world, Satan was not merely appealing to his ego. Satan was dangling before him the carrot of political power, the opportunity of using dubious methods to exercise power over people.

So three temptations, three shortcuts to popularity and power: economic, religious and political.

  • The first was resisted because it was the wrong way to recruit followers and the wrong approach to human need: It was a way that avoided the cross.
  • The second was resisted because recognition that came by flaunting divine power would be shallow: It was contrary to God’s character.
  • The third was resisted because Jesus could never rule by force: It was contrary to God’s will.

These were real challenges, different – yet not so different from the ones we face every day of our lives.

Temptations are actually about ways of satisfying our own needs inappropriately, masking our true selves by showing off and making ourselves look better than we really are, or forcing ourselves onto other people against their will. They’re much deeper than just craving chocolate!

As the writer to the Hebrews says:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to feel sympathy for our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin. Hebrews 4:15

Use this week in Lent to reflect on the Bible readings above, and on Christ’s experience in the desert.

Continued here.

See also: The Essence of Lent

The Woman at the Well (Lent 1)

Whataboutery annoys me. It’s when someone responds to criticism, or an opposing view, by accusing someone else of similar or worse faults. Whataboutery is a shallow way of diverting attention away from yourself (often, but not always) when criticised. Irritating in children and pathetic in adults. You find it everywhere, in Facebook conversations, in politics, and in media interviews etc.

Often it’s simply trying to change the subject, at other times it’s trying to start a diversionary argument when the truth becomes too hot to handle. I think sometimes it comes out of instinct, a learned response, especially since it’s so prevalent today, not least in news media.

Equally, whataboutery is nothing new, it’s been around as long as humans have. In the third chapter of the first book of the Bible, Adam blames Eve and Eve blames the snake! Genesis 3

When the Risen Jesus challenged Peter to follow him despite all the challenges, Peter pointed to another disciple and said, ‘Lord, what about him?’ John 21:21

But the Bible passage I have in mind is John 4:1-42, read it now and look for examples of whataboutery.

In this reading from John’s Gospel we see an act of kindness with enormous consequences, the fact that Jesus and the Samaritan woman even began a conversation. For centuries Jews and Samaritans had been hostile to one another. The safest way to live together was to keep their distance, live in their own little world and not notice the other’s presence.

Most people would have considered Jesus to have been very brave, or very foolish, to have been in Samaritan territory at all. And to stop at a well was double trouble, because that was where the women came to draw water, and in a society where the sexes were carefully separated it wasn’t the place for a man and woman to be found on their own.

The modern equivalent of a well is the water cooler, an opportunity for conversation. But far from getting off to a good start, it looks like the conversation will get bogged down in whataboutery, misunderstanding, and cross purposes.

I’m not going to go over what you can read for yourself, but a careful reading and re-reading of the passage will pay dividends.

You’ll notice how Jesus wisely refuses to become engaged in an argument, and how often we fail in this respect when we want to score points on social media, for example. He doesn’t take the opportunity to reinforce a partisan position, but rather he proposes that the true worship that God desires is worship in spirit and truth, not dependent on any particular place or shrine. He keeps a level head.

The story is about evangelism, and how it can start with a simple encounter and a conversation that broke down prejudices, and allowing entry into a new world shaped by God.

“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?” Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:11-14

Here is the universal longing of the human condition, that our spiritually emptiness might be filled, and this thirst is something Jesus satisfies. Here is God’s continuing presence with his people, and he nourishes us day by day in our journey of faith.

Jesus said, Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled (Matthew 5:6), but he also demonstrated the perfect example in his response to whataboutery.

Note: This Sunday (21 February 2021) is the first Sunday in Lent. I’ve not mentioned Lent in this devotional, but you can click here for one of today’s Lectionary readings and find out more here.

Ash Wednesday (Start of Lent)

Ash Wednesday is a Christian day of prayer and fasting marking the start of Lent, the second period of reflection in the Christian year, the first being Advent. More specifically, it’s an opportunity for self-examination, fasting, confession, and repentance – a time to grow spiritually before Palm SundayHoly WeekGood Friday, and Easter.

Ash Wednesday (the day after Shrove Tuesday) derives its name from the placing of ashes on the forehead to either the words ‘Repent, and believe in the Gospel’ or ‘Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return’. The ashes are prepared by burning palm leaves (from the previous Palm Sunday) on Shrove Tuesday.

See also: Shrove Tuesday (Pancake Day)

Note: You can find out more (along with an Ash Wednesday poem) by clicking here.

Shrove Tuesday (Pancake Day)

Shrove Tuesday (more commonly known as Pancake Day) is the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent in the Christian year. Lent is associated with the time Jesus spent in the wilderness after his baptism. The date of Shrove Tuesday is determined by the date of Easter each year, but always falls on a Tuesday (obviously) as Easter always falls on a Sunday. The name comes from the word shrive, meaning absolve.

Lent is the second period of reflection in the Christian year, the first being Advent. More specifically, it’s an opportunity for self-examination, fasting, confession, and repentance – a time to grow spiritually before Palm Sunday, Holy Week, Good Friday, and Easter.

Making pancakes was one way to use up food before fasting. Traditionally, many different types of food would be given up including meat, fish, eggs and dairy-based foods. These foods were cooked and eaten on Shrove Tuesday so they wouldn’t be wasted during the period of Lent.

As this is the last day of the Christian liturgical season historically known as Shrovetide, before the penitential season of Lent, related popular practices, such as indulging in food that one might give up as their Lenten sacrifice for the upcoming forty days, are associated with Shrove Tuesday celebrations. The term Mardi Gras is French for “Fat Tuesday”, referring to the practice of the last night of eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season, which begins on Ash Wednesday. Many Christian congregations thus observe the day through the holding of pancake breakfasts, as well as the ringing of church bells to remind people to repent of their sins before the start of Lent. On Shrove Tuesday, churches also burn the palms distributed during the previous year’s Palm Sunday liturgies to make the ashes used during the services held on the very next day, Ash Wednesday. Wikipedia

Today, making pancakes on Shrove Tuesday can be simply a cultural thing, and (for retailers) a marketing opportunity. So, whatever the meaning, or combination of meanings, for you – will you be making and tossing pancakes? If so, let me know how you get on. As for me, I’m quite proud of my pancake tossing skills.

See also: Ash Wednesday (Start of Lent)

Advent 4 Devotional Candle

Today is the Fourth Sunday in Advent. The season of Advent is the first period of reflection in the Christian year, the second being Lent.

The first candle in the Advent wreath symbolises HOPE and is known as the Prophet’s Candle. The second candle represents FAITH and is called Bethlehem’s Candle. The third candle symbolises JOY and is called the Shepherd’s Candle. The fourth candle represents PEACE and is called the Angel’s Candle. The prophet Isaiah spoke of the coming Prince of Peace. The angels announced that Jesus came to bring peace, to bring people closer to God and to each other.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and for ever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. Isaiah 9:6-7

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.’ Luke 2:13-14

When Jesus came he taught people the importance of being peacemakers. He said that those who make peace shall be called the children of God. When Christ comes he brings us peace, and everlasting peace when he comes again. We light the candle of peace to remind us that Jesus is the Prince of Peace and that through him peace is found.

Peace is like a light shining in a dark place. As we reflect on the light from this candle, we celebrate the peace we have in Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, Light of the World, the prophets said you would bring peace and save your people from trouble. Give peace in our hearts this Christmas. We ask this as we wait for you to come again, that you would remain present with us. Help us today, and every day to worship you, to hear your word, and to do your will by sharing your peace with each other. We ask this in the name of the one who was born in Bethlehem. Amen.

See also: Misunderstanding Palm Sunday

Advent 3 Devotional Candle

Today is the Third Sunday in Advent. The season of Advent is the first period of reflection in the Christian year, the second being Lent.

The first candle in the Advent wreath symbolises HOPE and is known as the Prophet’s Candle. The second candle represents FAITH and is called Bethlehem’s Candle. The third candle symbolises JOY and is called the Shepherd’s Candle. To their great joy, the angels announced that Jesus came for humble, unimportant people like them, too. We light the candle of joy to remind us that when Jesus is born in us we have joy, and that through him there can be eternal joy in our hearts and lives.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields near by, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.’ When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’ So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. Luke 2:8-20

Joy is like a light shining in a dark place. As we reflect on the light from this candle, we celebrate the joy we have in Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Thank you God for the joy you give us. We ask that as we wait for all your promises to come true, and for Christ to come again, that you would remain present with us. Help us today, and every day, to worship you, to hear your word, and to do your will by sharing your joy with each other. We ask this in the name of the one who was born in Bethlehem. Amen.

Advent 2 Devotional Candle

Today is the Second Sunday in Advent. The season of Advent is the first period of reflection in the Christian year, the second being Lent.

The first candle in the Advent wreath symbolises HOPE and is known as the Prophet’s Candle. The second candle represents FAITH and is called Bethlehem’s Candle. Micah foretold that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, which was also the birthplace of King David.

Marshal your troops now, city of troops, for a siege is laid against us. They will strike Israel’s ruler on the cheek with a rod. “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” Micah 5:1-2

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. Luke 2:1-7

Faith is like a light shining in a dark place. As we reflect on the light from this candle, we celebrate the faith we have in Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we remember the prophets who spoke of the coming of Christ, of how a Saviour would be born, a king in the line of King David. We remember all those who have been faithful through the centuries. At this busy time, help us to focus on what you are doing, and what you want to accomplish in and through our lives. Give us the faith to follow you every day of our lives and put you first. We ask this in the name of the one who was born in Bethlehem. Amen.

Transfiguration (Malcolm Guite)

transfiguration-lewis-bowman

In worship this morning at Wallsend Salvation Army we considered the Transfiguration of Jesus in Matthew 17:1-9. I used an audio daily devotional from Our Daily Bread entitled Live Wire and the following poem by Malcolm Guite.

For that one moment, ‘in and out of time’,
On that one mountain where all moments meet,
The daily veil that covers the sublime
In darkling glass fell dazzled at his feet.

There were no angels full of eyes and wings
Just living glory full of truth and grace.
The Love that dances at the heart of things
Shone out upon us from a human face

And to that light the light in us leaped up,
We felt it quicken somewhere deep within,
A sudden blaze of long-extinguished hope
Trembled and tingled through the tender skin.

Nor can this blackened sky, this darkened scar
Eclipse that glimpse of how things really are.

I discovered the poetry and prose of Malcolm Guite a few years ago and I turn to these regularly for private devotions and public worship. Click on the painting by Lewis Bowman for more information.

The Essence of Lent

lent

We’re now in the period of the Christian year known as Lent, on the start of a journey towards Palm Sunday, Holy Week, Good Friday and Easter. It’s a time when we consider the tremendous challenge Jesus experienced in the desert. Forty days when he prepared himself physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually for the task he would accomplish on Good Friday; the victory of love over hate, good over evil, peace over violence, life over death.

In essence, the temptations Jesus faced were the same as we face:

  • The temptation to put physical needs or desires before the things of God.
  • The temptation to use power and influence for our own selfish ends, rather than for the things of God.
  • The temptation to show off, to imagine that we are better (even spiritually) than others, rather than living a humble life that allows God the glory.

In the desert, Jesus showed us the way of obedience to God.
On the cross, he paid the price that we might know life in its fullness.

So often, we choose the way of imperfection, fuelled by self-interest and pride. How often do we crown our desires as the sovereign of our lives?

Yet Jesus didn’t come into the world to condemn us, but to offer us the prospect of salvation and the restored dignity of humankind, a sacred gift of true life.

Once we accept the truth about ourselves and, in humility, reject material goals for spiritual ones, we are walking the way Christ walked for us; and one which, because of the resurrection, he is walking with us today.

Note: You can read the story in the Bible here: Luke 4:1-13