Lenten Reflections 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 30

Day 30, Tuesday, March 27, 2012

 You may have heard of the popular saying, “good is often the enemy of best” and some people add, “the best is the enemy of better!” This truly is a relevant saying if we apply it in the church and even in own our spiritual lives. We need to remember that the wilderness of Sinai stood in the midst of Israelites’ slavery in Egypt and the Promised Land of Canaan. And if you read the account of their experience in the wilderness as recorded in the book of Exodus, you would realize that, all through the journey, most Israelites were looking back instead of looking ahead! They complained about food and water and the so-called “comforts” of a life of slavery in Egypt than focusing their energies and imaginings on what was to come for them in the Promised Land. They ruminated on the past that was behind them, than envisaging about a better future that awaited them in Canaan. Therefore, many were ready to settle for the “good” that they had seen in Egypt, rather than moving ahead to claim the best of everything promised to them in land flowing with milk and honey.

 Jesus Christ, in contrast, endured the suffering, hunger, loneliness, and incessant temptations of the devil, even the cruelest death on the cross, “for the joy that was set before him.” He believed that the Resurrection—the-victory-over-death-forever—was just around the corner. So, let us heed the exhortation of the writer of Hebrews: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:1-3 NIV). You and I need to persevere in the wilderness until we reach our Promised Land and be Christ-like in our spiritual pilgrimage. There may be several things on the way that may seem good and adequate to us, but let us not be content with the mediocre Christian life. Our calling is higher and better than what most Christian seems to have settled in. Pray in the rest of these ten days of the Lenten season that God will help us keep on moving to the best and not be content with the good that we may have seen thus far. The best is yet to come! And we’ll not settle down for anything less than the best that God has in store for us. Amen.

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Lenten Reflections 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 29

Day 29, Monday, March 26, 2012

We have noted earlier on in our Lenten retreating into the wilderness with Jesus that His experience is like that of the Israelites in the wilderness of Mt. Sinai. Today, I’m reminded of their response to a bump in their journey as found in Numbers 21:4-9 (NIV): “They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

This is very often our reaction when the Lord leads us into the wilderness of wants and discipline. Most of us become too impatient too quickly without taking a moment to ponder the purposes of God for us. And yet, the Lord is gracious and long-suffering with us in our rebellion. When we think we are lost and lonely in the wilderness, as the Psalter often says, “God’s steadfast love endures forever” (see Psalm 118, 136). When we become ungrateful for God’s provisions, God’s love endures forever. When we only look at the negatives—the wild beasts, desert, lack of material comfort and entertainment that we have become so used to, even for a short period—God still continues to be gracious and forgiving to us for a long time. When our attitude is reflected only in murmuring and grouchy words in spite of God providing us with daily manna in a miraculous way, God overlooks it and constantly showers us with His mercies that are new every morning. God’s mercies are unfailing, His love is steadfast, and His provisions never wanting. That’s why the Psalmist declared, “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” (Psalm 34:8).

What is your response today to the difficulties, pains, privations, sicknesses, not getting your own way, and so on, as you may be experiencing them now? Are you able to see beyond these things and fix your eyes on the Savior and His experience in the wilderness? That’s what Lent is for—an opportunity to look within and beyond ourselves—to focus on Christ and His passion. And move forward with a new perspective on our life on earth. May the Spirit remind you today of God’s steadfast love that endures forever! Amen.

Lenten Reflections 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 28

Day 28, Saturday, March 24, 2012

 One of most significant thing the wilderness experience did to Jesus was that He became consumed with just one desire, that is, to fulfill God’s will, His mission, while on earth. He completely surrendered His will and dreams

King David in Prayer

King David in Prayer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

at the altar of God, and rose from there to do His will. This reminds us of the prayer of King David, as he penned Psalm 27: 4 – “One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.” In our pursuit of the will of God, the Holy Spirit should bring us to a point where we surrender our will to the Father’s  will and His will become our own will. We become consumed with a longing to be with Him and everything else becomes secondary in our lives. Like King David our hearts’ one passion is to be in a close relationship with God.

 There are three features of David’s pursuit of God: 1. To dwell in the house of God which means to be constantly in the presence of God “all the days of my life.” We know that God no longer resides in temples made with human hands. Jesus has made a perpetual and anytime access to the Father possible through His sacrifice on the cross. That’s why he assured that those who have seen Him have seen the Father as they both are in each other (John 14: 8-11).

 Secondly, David prayed that while in God’s presence, he wants to just “gaze upon the beauty of the Lord.” Wow! What a prayer! He doesn’t always come to God in prayer with a long wish list of bless me and give me this or give me that. He wants to be in Gods’ presence just to behold the beauty, glory, majesty, and goodness of the Lord…to soak in the experience of just who God is without seeking what He can do for me. If and when we’re able to come to this point in our spiritual journey, our lives will be transformed. That’s an amazing thought that needs to sink in us, today. When was the last time you went into prayer just for the experience of His joyous presence and to behold His beauty, leaving behind your shopping list?

 Thirdly, David prayed to seek God in His temple. That shows a passion to strive for God and His righteousness more than anything else. Such seeking after God is what Jesus had in mind when He asked His disciples “but seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). What is the intense longing of our heart as we draw near to Him in the Lenten season? Is it for more of the stuff or for the sake of just God, His presence, His glory, His beauty, and His righteousness? God is not against the “stuff” per se. He knows that we need it and promises that it shall be supplied, but are we longing with all our heart for His mission, glory, and righteousness? God bless!

Lenten Reflections 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 27

Day 27, Friday, March 23, 2012

 Jesus lived not only in the wilderness but also throughout His life time with just one motto—doing the will of God. There are many of us today who are facing uncertainties in life with regard to their marriage, jobs, future, children, and in so many other areas. In one sense, it seems that gone are the days of certainty and security of job and a peaceful life after retirement. It is not only for younger generation, but very much so for the older generation, too. The older people worked hard and saved a lot for their peaceful retirement. However, most of that investment has been wiped away in the economic recession and the meltdown of the Wall Street. Thus, most people today live in an uncertain world of anxiety. Dear friends, we think Jesus didn’t know what it means to live in today’s environment of fretfulness and qualms, but we are wrong in thinking that way. If we read the Gospels at a slow pace, we’ll find that Jesus’s life and circumstances were not much different from ours. He had no idea where His next meal would come from. When folks asked for his address, Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Luke 9:58 NIV; Matthew 8:20). The Jewish and Roman authorities were always after His life from the time he was born until they succeeded in hanging Him on the Tree. They always sought to arrest Him to put Him in prison or to kill Him because He was claiming to be God or challenging their hypocritical lives (see, e.g., John 7:1; 8:58-59; 10: 30-32; 11:53-54; Luke 4:28-30; Luke 20:19-26).

 Therefore, be encouraged that Jesus fully understands and sympathizes with what you’re going through today. And His counsel to us is that, like Him, we should desire God’s perfect will. Of course, we do not know for sure what that fully means. Don’t worry, keep seeking it, and God will show it to you. It may not be what you wish. But are you ready to accept that His perfect will may require loss for greater gain? It may require you stepping outside of what is comfortable to do the extraordinary? May be it will require you make a move to a new place, a new experience, or even a new calling to serve Him? Whatever it may be, we are not sure, but this much is certain that God’s will for you is good, perfect, and if accepted, it will make you happy for life. Are you passionate about seeking His best and perfect will for your life as Jesus was (see yesterday’s devotion)? Do you trust the Lord today to lead you in the center of His will, and to grant you the strength to walk in it? God bless!

Lenten Reflections 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 26

Day 26, Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Word of God stained glass window at St. Ma...

The Word of God stained glass window at St. Matthew's Lutheran Church in Charleston, SC. Franz Mayer & Co. of Munich, Germany. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Spending forty days without food is not easy. The question is often raised—where did Jesus find His strength to survive those difficult days of hunger and nights of solitude in the wilderness? Both accounts of His experience in Matthew 4 and Luke 4 show us that Jesus’ capability came from the Word of God. He constantly fed on the Word and the presence of God during His hard times. The Word of God became not only the indispensable part but also the source of His daily life. This is what also gave Jesus the power to fight His own inner urges as well as the outside temptations of the devil. As we have already seen in the past few days, He always fought back Satan’s various seductions with the Word of God and was ultimately able to come victoriously out of the wilderness to accomplish the mission He had come for on this earth.

There is a second source of Jesus’ ability to fight the tempter and his diverse deceptions and that is—doing God’s will always. The devil tempted Jesus to go against God’s plan and will for Jesus and to fulfill His own desires of eating bread, show off to the world that He truly was the Messiah, and to become the King of all the kingdoms of the world, as Satan had offered Him. However, in all of these, Jesus remained committed to only fulfilling the will of God for His life. That is why, later on, when evangelizing and teaching His disciples, “Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34 RSV). In fact, Jesus repeated this several times. For example, He said, “I can do nothing on my own authority; as I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me” (John 5:30 RSV). And again He said, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38 RSV). Thus, Jesus made His work—the mission of proclaiming the kingdom of God—His meat and his drink. He was always so consumed with doing His Father’s will that He didn’t worry much about the basic necessities of life such as food, drink, or clothing and shelter. Nevertheless, the Father did supply these for His Son. Today, if you’re in the wilderness, what is the place of God’s Word in your daily life? Is it a prominent place or just another task in the long to-do-list of your hectic life? Moreover, what place the will of God—the mission of God—has in your life? In what practical ways are you fulfilling it? God bless!

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Lenten Reflections 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 25

Day 25, Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Temptation of Jesus in desert. HOLE, WILLIAM: ...

Temptation of Jesus in desert. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 One of the ways believers can discern Satan’s temptation is by recognizing that he proposes an easy way out of the situation and/or a short-cut to achieve our goals. Satan was fully aware of Jesus’ mission and His goals to achieve that mission. Satan, therefore, proposed Jesus to reach his goals by doing a miracle of turning the bread into wine, by bowing in worship to Satan, or by just throwing himself off the cliff (See, Matthew 4:1-11). As you’ll notice, these actions would have helped Jesus to satisfy His hunger, and seemingly realize His kingdom on earth. The reason Jesus refused to accept all of Satan’s proposals is that none of them helped Him obey God’s will. They carried a very small price tag attached to them compared to the life of suffering and pain that was part and parcel of Jesus’ calling according to God’s plan. Satan often offers a huge prize for a little bowing of our heads before him, as he promised kingdoms of the world to Jesus. But Jesus knew the hidden cost of a small price tag of succumbing to Satan’s tricks—losing out on God’s plan for us.  Satan has a master’s degree in deception, as he often uses deception as a tool to lead people astray. He will always say: Look, God’s way of living in the world takes too long and requires too much effort. If you follow me, I could give the same stuff to you right now if you will just bow down to me. Satan will always encourage instant gratification. Thus his shortcuts can eventually cut short our very lives from attaining the eternal life.

If we suddenly come across an opportunity to satisfy our physical need of food, sex, power, or money, let us pause and think over it. What would have Jesus done in this situation? Would He take advantage of the situation or realize it as Satan’s plan to distract and lead us into sinning? Or may be today, some of us are going through hardships, long-term or terminal sickness in our bodies or someone we love and care about. And Satan comes along with an offer that sounds too good to be true. He provides a short-cut to success, healing, wealthy, and pleasant life at the cost of a mere bowing to his will instead of God Almighty. May we do what Jesus has taught us in the past few days—base our response to the temptations in the Word of God. God will give us victory. Amen.

Lenten Reflections 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 24

Day 24, Tuesday, March 20, 2012

the lure of "saving"

 

We may never be tempted in exactly the same way as Jesus was during the days He walked on this earth. However, temptations come to us in so many subtle and deceptive ways that many a times we do not even realize that we’re being tempted to take a certain course of action. One of these temptations we face today is through advertisements in the media that influence our shopping habits. Studies show that every day, we are exposed to over 3000 advertisements in the print and digital media, through social networking sites, and other outlets. Most of these ads promise us the moon and ultimately solicit us to buy their stuff. Our emotional impulses lead us to act irrationally and we eventually end up buying the product of the company that does the best job of tempting us through their subtle and yet creative tempting ads. That’s why all big corporations have multi-million dollar budgets just of the advertisements. Many of us go about buying stuff without ever thinking that we’re actually yielding to Satan’s temptations daily. We don’t realize that we may be bordering on the idolatry when material stuff becomes the center of our lives rather than God. Slowly, under the spell of Satan, instead of consuming to live, we start living to consume. Many of us start working ourselves to death in order to pay for everything they want to own. As a result, the stuff we possess starts giving us meaning, status, and even our identity. We often forget that it was a function assigned to our faith—our belief in Christ used to give us meaning and identity, which no more matters when we fall prey to the temptations of consumerism.

Therefore, what shall we do when we live in a culture that tempts us to buy and consume more and more and essentially encourages us to live beyond our means. Please read what Prophet Haggai 1:5-6 said because it is so relevant for our situation: “Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.” If you find yourself in that situation today, you need to “give careful thought to your ways” of spending money, your shopping habits, and your method of handling the resources God has entrusted with you. Are you being a good steward who has nothing to be ashamed of (2 Timothy 2:15)? We all will have to give an account to God of not only our sins and spiritual life, but also of our resources, finances, and spending habits. May God give us spiritual discernment to recognize the subtle temptations and power to overcome them today. Amen.

Lenten Reflections 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 23

Day 23, Monday, March 19, 2012

 For today’s devotional please read once again the passage on Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness from either Matthew’s or Luke’s chapter 4. As we have noted in the past, Satan continues to incessantly tempt God’s people. The devil is always subtle in his words and actions, as we’ve noticed from his dealings with Jesus. Therefore, in the daily course of our lives, it’s not always easy to discern God’s will and to perceive in advance the consequences of our words and actions. Believers often ask: how can we know if a particular proposition is a temptation from Satan. The simplest response is: ask yourself if the action proposed by Satan will result in fulfilling God’s righteousness. Will it produce righteousness or not? Satan will never promote righteousness or inspire people for righteous deeds. He may and does surely promote good works by deceiving people into believing that by virtue of doing good deeds they would find salvation. There are billions of people within the church and outside who fall prey to Satan’s deception.

 Nevertheless, Satan does act as though he is promoting righteousness. However, that righteousness is a counterfeit righteousness. He not only has “false prophets [and] deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ”, but as Apostle Paul says, “And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is not strange if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds” (2 Corinthians 11: 13-14 RSV). It is easy to recognize the difference between the righteousness of God and Satan. What Satan calls righteousness will always elevate our own performance and works thereby excluding God’s all-sufficient provision for making us righteousness by His grace in and through Jesus Christ. So, if we realize that we are living our Christian life in order to gain acceptance with God we have fallen prey to the deception of Satan. Moreover, even after doing the good deeds of “righteousness” sin is still reigning in our lives instead of making us righteous, holy, and pure vessels for His glory (2 Tim. 2:22), then, we need to come back to the true righteousness of God. This righteousness is imputed into us only through the grace of Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:22). Let us not let Satan entice, trick or deceive you with his counterfeit system of “righteousness.” Amen!

Lenten Reflections 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 22

Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness

Day 22, Saturday, March 17, 2012

We have several things to learn from the temptations of Jesus Christ. One of them is Jesus’ attitude during the temptations and the way He handled the situation. Jesus didn’t complain about being tempted, instead He showed a positive attitude. Jesus didn’t doubt His own identity, as the Son of God sent on a mission. Whenever Satan tried to raise doubts through his temptations, Jesus declined his offers by keeping His eyes fixed on His mission that was of higher good and spiritual nature than the material needs of his own or the stuff he was being offered. Therefore, when He was offered bread, power, or possessions, things that were material than spiritual in nature, Jesus thought in terms of the mission and the kingdom of God that was inaugurated by Him on earth. He evaluated the offers in light of His higher mission and the values of the Kingdom. He kept love as the supreme operating value of the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ kingdom would not be forced with power or compulsions upon people but attract them in by the force of His unceasing love.

 Satan continues to tempt His people today just as He did for all the saints in the history of humanity. However, our temptations are not unique, as Paul said In 1 Corinthians 10:13 “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. 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 that you can endure it.” Thus, whatever situation we may be in today it has already been faced by God’s people several times in the past. Jesus’ apostles, too, fought among themselves for power and positions and they often wanted Jesus to use force to defeat Satan (see Mark 9:33ff; Matthew 16:21ff; Luke 9:51-56). When we face the similar temptations in our personal and church life, Satan will try to divert our attention from our highest purpose and mission. He wishes that we forsake the kingdom values of love and take our eyes off God’s mission for petty things such as a position of authority over others. He wishes that keep ourselves busy with work, job, activities, programs, and look for ways to control others by our power and positions. Therefore, we need to adopt the positive attitude of Jesus and keep our eyes fixed upon our higher calling, our mission that God has sent us on, and practicing the most vital virtue of the kingdom of God—love. It is this attitude of love that will help us relinquish offers of power and positions and keep us focused on God, His mission, and His Kingdom on earth. Amen.

 


Lenten Reflections 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 21

Day 21, Friday, March 16, 2012

 Jesus calmly confronted Satan in the wilderness and was able to come triumphant out of this experience because of His dependence on God’s Word. In the last temptation, Jesus had to finally rebuke Satan and charged him to leave Him alone (see Matthew 4:10). Satan left Him, but Luke adds a very significant little detail that is not found in any other gospel. He writes: “And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13). You might recall that at the beginning of this Lenten devotional we saw that Jesus’ temptations were not limited to just three mentioned here. In fact, He was tempted throughout His earthly life and yet remained sinless. There is an absorbing theological debate about the issue whether Jesus could have sinned or not or whether he was capable of sinning. We don’t want to digress into this dispute now. I would rather leave it for some other day, God willing.

 Luke 4:13 is clear that Satan only temporarily departed from Jesus in the wilderness, but just because Jesus prevailed over him does not mean that Satan threw up his hands and quit forever. Jesus encountered the devil and His tricks all through His ministry in one form or the other. Sometimes the temptations came in the form of His enemies and occasionally in the form of His own disciples. For example, do you remember what Jesus once said to Peter, when he wished that Jesus would not die? – “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” (Matthew 16: 23 NIV). Temptation is not a sin, and in Jesus’ case God’s Spirit initiated and permitted Satan to tempt Jesus. Luke also tells us that temptation is not a once and for all event. No temptation is resisted permanently not to be tempted again by the same kinds of temptation or to fall into a similar one time and again. Luke says that Satan always looks for an opportunity to tempt us at the point when we may be in the most vulnerable situation. For example, at the point of Jesus’ most vulnerability in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asked his disciples to “pray that you may not enter into temptation.” However, he went further ahead of them and prayed for the removal of the cup of suffering that he knew He had to come to drink (Luke 22: 39-44). The book of Hebrews (4:15) tells that Jesus was tempted in every area and thus He is able to help us when Satan brings before us the temptation that we thought we had resisted one and for all. May we take refuge in Jesus when we are tempted and learn from His experience? Amen.

English: Christ is tempted by Satan. The engra...