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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.

 


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Lenten Reflections 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 20

Day 20, Thursday, March 15, 2012

In the third temptation of Jesus (please read Matthew 4:8-10 and Luke 4:5-8), the devil showed Him the glory and splendor ofThe Temptation of Christ (detail 6) the kingdoms of the world and then revealed his inmost desire—to be worshiped as God or to become God. From the beginning, the Bible describes Satan telling lies to humanity about God and about becoming God. He wants to be God and falsely promises others to make them into gods. Satan also offers shortcuts and easy options in life.

In the Garden of Eden, he told Adam and Eve subtle lies that they “will not die” and that they “will be like God” (Genesis 3:4-5, RSV). Satan knew that Jesus was on earth in order to establish His kingdom and to be the King. So, he offered Him a shortcut saying something like this, “Look, you don’t have to really go through all this suffering, you don’t have to really die a cruel death on the cross to establish your kingdom and to be recognized as the King of the world. I’ll offer you all that if only you would bow down and worship me!” However, as we have seen earlier, Jesus knew Satan’s lies and knew that His kingdom was not of this world. He preached about the Kingdom of Heaven. That’s why, later on, Jesus reminded His disciples the true nature of Satan who “has nothing to do with truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44 RSV). Unfortunately, throughout history far too many people have fallen prey to the devil’s lies and deception. Adam and Eve surely did thus leading humanity into sin. However, Jesus Christ commanded Satan to leave by quoting the first of the Ten Commandments from the Word of God (Matthew 4:10, see Deuteronomy 6:13; Exodus 20:3-4). And the devil left him.

 But now, there are so many lies and deceptions that Satan still continues to spread even in the church and through the so-called Christian preachers. There are millions of Christians today that live believing his lies and being deceived continuously. He continuous to promise the worldly stuff, power, and positions to people and many fall for it. So, how can you and I stand firm in our faith in the midst of lies, deception, and deceit being persistently projected into our homes through all kinds of media, including the Christian ones? If there is one thing we can take home from Jesus’ temptation, it is this: be well-grounded in the Word of God. Study the Word, properly, systematically, and thoroughly. There is no dearth of biblical resources and tools at our disposal these days, but there is no replacement for a personal time spent in the Word of God for ourselves. And then complement it with prayer asking the help of the Holy Spirit to live daily by Word . Amen.

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Lenten Reflections 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 19

Day 19, Wednesday, March 14, 2012

 Through the second temptation, the devil asked Jesus to take a leap of faith (Matthew 4: 5-7) to prove that He indeed was the Messiah. In reality, devil’s agenda was to kill Jesus before His perfect time so that he could thwart God’s mission in and through Jesus Christ. In refusing to comply with Satan’s deception, Jesus showed us that He would not put the Father to test by jumping off the pinnacle of the temple, but He would rather obey the Father by going to the cross.

Via Dolorosa, Jerusalem.
Via Dolorosa, Jerusalem

 Jesus knew that He had come to die for the salvation of humanity. He was also fully aware that the way of the cross was not an easy one. But He also trusted His Father completely in that He would not keep Him in the grave forever, but He would deliver Him through death, by raising Him from the dead. Here, Jesus was presented an opportunity to choose an easy way out, to get away from the impending life of misery, insult, rejection, capture by His own people, being led as a worst kind of criminal on the way to Golgotha, and finally to be brutally crucified by the Romans. In this temptation, once again, Satan wished Jesus to act independently of God’s will for Him, which was the way of the cross. Thank God for Jesus who chose that path of suffering and death so that you and I could be free from sin today. However, we need to remember that perhaps God’s desire for us may also be that we go through pain and suffering in our lives during our wilderness experience. Satan will certainly show us other options and easy way out of God’s will. There are many false prosperity-gospel preachers that will confidently teach that God’s will for you is to only prosper in every possible way. There are many who believe that Christianity is the easiest religion of just grace and forgiveness. But when faced with such temptations, we need to recall how Jesus acted and chose the way of the cross. And after He came out victoriously from His temptations, He warned us: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7: 13-14 NIV). May we choose to the narrow way—the Jesus’ way—and find eternal life. Amen.


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Lenten Reflection 2012: Retreating into the wildernss with Jesus, Day 9.

Day 9, Friday, March 2, 2012

In His wilderness experience, Jesus spent most of his time praying. From this exceptional prayer time, He learned total dependence on God the Father. This is such an important aspect of the whole wilderness experience, which God wanted to teach the people of Israel, too. That’s why instead of supplying plenty of food for all their journey, God gave them fresh manna daily that was only enough for the day. Through this experience, God wanted the Israelites to learn to cultivate not just dependence, but a daily, habitual, and utter dependence on God. Through Jesus’ wilderness, He learned this lesson well, and afterwards, He was able to teach His disciples the most important prayer. This is known as the Lord’s Prayer, but in reality, it’s’ the “disciples’ prayer” (read Matthew 6: 7-13; Luke 11: 2-4). Therefore, it is yours and mine for us to pray daily.

One of the most significant prayers in the “disciples’ prayer” is: “Give us this day our daily bread.” In this prayer, Jesus is asking us to learn to recognize that the source of everything in our lives is God and He wants us to ask Him everything we need for our daily sustenance. However, in the wilderness of our lives, the stress of our greatest needs leads us to depend upon our own strength. When our own strength diminishes, we often look elsewhere and seek the help of our friends and relatives. God usually comes only as the last resort. But when we do finally come to God asking His help and provisions, He embraces us lovingly and answers our prayers. But, Jesus wanted us to learn that we need to daily and habitually depend upon God for everything. When we fail to learn that, God may teach us again by bringing us into the wilderness. It is in the wilderness experience we find ourselves at the end of our own strength and resources. Any other sources that we had learned to be dependent on have also been depleted. This makes us pray the “disciple’s prayer” in the most meaningful way and then learn to be dependent on God. When we do so, God has promised us to renew our strength in such a way that Isaiah (40:31) wrote:

“But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;

            they shall mount up with wings like eagles;

they shall run and not be weary;

            they shall walk and not faint.”

May God help us to learn utter dependence on Him sooner than later, so that we may be able to not just walk but soar in His strength daily. Amen.

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Lenten Reflections 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 8

Day 8, Thursday, March 1, 2012

 Jesus’ wilderness gave him plenty of time in solitude. He made the best of this solitude by fasting and praying. Now prayer is a discipline that Jesus practiced all His life even in the midst of His very hectic ministry schedule. At times, He spent whole night in prayer seeking the will of God (see Luke 6:12-16; Matthew 14:23). His last night on earth, before Jews crucified Him, was spent in prayer in Gethsemane (see Matthew 26: 36-46; Mark 14: 32-42; Luke 22:40-46). Even when His chosen disciples could not stay awake, He continued to pray.

Prayer teaches us complete dependence on God. Prayer is not just asking what we want from God because Jesus said, “for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8). Rather, prayer is a precious time of communion with our Creator. Prayer is cultivating an intimate relationship and a meaningful conversation with God. More than asking, it is focusing on Him and listening from God about what He has to say to us. Every time we pray, we’ll find God is always new and different and yet the same who does not change in His essential nature. However, we will realize that prayer can move God—even an unchanging God can be moved by our prayers to show mercy and compassion and to give us what we’re seeking. Therefore, in every prayer, God calls us to be renewed, to take our fears and anxieties away, and to trust in Him completely. However, in every prayer God is also asking us to respond to the call of serving His people around us. Prayer doesn’t necessarily mean that we spend time with God instead of spending time with our fellow beings. “Rather, it means to think and live in the presence of God. As soon as we begin to divide our thoughts into thoughts about God and thoughts about people and events, we remove God from our daily life and put him in a pious little niche where we can think pious thoughts and experience pious feelings” (Henry Nouwen). So instead of coming to God in prayer, it should become an unceasing way of living a Christian life.

 Let’s pray and confess today: Lord, most of our life I spent time in prayer begging for gifts I want. Forgive me Lord, and teach to focus on you, the Giver of gifts and to pray unceasingly. Amen.

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Lenten Reflection 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus

Day 7, Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012

In the wilderness experience of Jesus, only Mark narrates in his gospel that there were “wild beasts” in the wilderness with Jesus (please read Mark 1: 9-13). It is not unusual for the wild beasts to be present in the wilderness. However, what is most remarkable is that Jesus was among the wild beasts for over a month, and yet, none of them touched Him, as He came out unscathed from the wilderness. This reminds us of Adam at the beginning of the creation in the book of Genesis. Before the fall, Adam, too, was in the Garden of Eden surrounded by all sorts of wild beasts and yet unharmed. Daniel was also unhurt in the lions’ den. So also, the second or last Adam, as Apostle Paul referred to Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:45-47), remained unharmed in the midst of wild beasts. He knew that those wild animals were gentler with Him than His own fellow Jews among whom he dwelt! It must have revealed to Him the vicious inhumanity of the people of that generation in whose midst He was to live and minister. He learned that they could be worse than the wild beasts in the wilderness when swayed by the sins.

We have seen from the Scriptures that wilderness experience is a must for the followers of Christ. Today, we realize that wilderness times have their wild beasts! The wild beasts represent the temptations and problems we often face as we try to draw closer to God. The wild beasts of aridity, despair, distractions, doubt, fear, loneliness, sickness, temptation, and so on, raise their ugly heads, and are just waiting for the opportunity to pounce and strike us. They will try their best to dissuade and discourage us from walking with Jesus. These wild beasts each present us with seemingly insurmountable challenges in our spiritual walk. However, when we find ourselves surrounded by such wild beasts we need to remember that Jesus’ innocence regarding sin, holiness, as well as the favor of God upon Him during this time helped Him overcome these wild beasts. He not only walked out unscathed from the wilderness but, afterwards, He also became a channel of blessings to many. Just as the heavenly Father cared for Jesus, protected, and preserved Him from the wild beasts, God will be with us when the wild beasts taunt us. God’s protection and security are ours when we completely trust Him and his provisions. Aren’t your wildernesses times complete with wild beasts? Take them as challenges to be overcome by your holy living and complete dependence on the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Let God slay each one of these beasts and make you and me a blessing to others when we have come out of our wilderness times. As Apostle Paul writes, “We often suffer, but we are never crushed. Even when we don’t know what to do, we never give up. In times of trouble, God is with us, and when we are knocked down, we get up again” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9 Contemp. Eng. Ver.). Amen.

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Lenten reflections 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 6.

Day 6, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2012

Jesus’s time in the wilderness afforded Him a period of solitude that is so vital to one’s spiritual growth. Jesus knew He was soon to embark upon a very busy and demanding schedule of ministry. Particularly in the gospel according to Mark, Jesus is portrayed as a very busy person moving rapidly from one place to the other. In Mark, Jesus is almost always involved in urgent action, which is obvious in the very frequent use of the terms such as “immediately,” “right away,” “at once,” and as soon as,” at least 42 times in the gospel (read a few passages in Mark to get the feel of it). Therefore, Jesus made the best use of the solitude He found in the wilderness by conversing with His Father. His time alone with God made Him completely depend on Him for everything in His life. The Father became the only and constant source of His might, ministry, and miracles in the coming days. The power of silence and solitude also equipped Jesus to face the temptations Satan brought before Him, to resist him, and ultimately to overcome and defeat Satan. Later on, Jesus cherished the time of solitude in the wilderness. In fact, seeking solitude became one of His spiritual disciplines. He sought time alone with God just before making significant decisions for ministry, such as choosing the Twelve Apostles (see Luke 6:12-16). Whenever He was grieved and troubled, Jesus withdrew to spend time in solitude with God, such as when He heard the beheading of John the Baptist by Herod (see Matthew14:10-13). Even when he felt the pressure of fame, Jesus immediately withdrew to spend time alone with God in prayer (see Matthew 14:23) because that is what he sought more than popularity.

Solitude and silence, therefore, is one of the best disciplines that you and I could cultivate this Lent. This is actually essential if we want to draw near to God in our busy, busy world of activities and programs. In the midst of myriads of responsibilities and doings in our fast paced world, the Lenten season offers us an opportunity to seek tranquil times of quiet to be just with God. It will certainly help deepen our intimate, personal relationship with God. Solitude will also help us get rid of the illusion of our possessiveness. It will help us look within and then to look up to God for everything, as we learn dependence on Him rather than on our material possessions. As Henri Nouwen, one of my favorite authors, says:

It is in solitude that we discover being is more important than having, and that we are worth more than the result of our efforts. In solitude we discover that our life is not a possession to be defended, but a gift to be shared. It’s there we recognize that the healing words we speak are not just our own, but are given to us; that the love we can express is part of a greater love; and that the new life we bring forth is not a property to cling to, but a gift to be received (Renewed For Life, p5).

Lord, help us, therefore, to seek solitude and silence with you in the rest of our retreat with you. Amen.

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Lenten reflections 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, day 2

#2. Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012

As we continue our retreat with Jesus into the wilderness, please read the Gospel of Luke 3:21-22 and 4:1-2. When Jesus was baptized at the Jordan River, Luke says, he was “full of the Holy Spirit.” And then, it was the Holy Spirit that led Jesus in to the wilderness (4:1). Once there, the devil tempted Jesus for forty days. It’s not that the devil tempted Jesus only at the end of His fast; rather, it was a relentless temptation from the devil throughout this period of lent. And towards the end of the fast, the devil intensified his temptations as he wished to break Jesus during his frailest point in life and thus thwart the plan of God for humanity if he could. It seems quite odd here. How could Satan tempt Jesus, the Son of God, who has just been baptized thus fulfilling “all righteousness,” on whom the Holy Spirit has just descended, and whom God has declared publicly as his “beloved son” and with whom He is “well pleased” (Matthew 3: 15-17, Luke 3:22)? How could God let that happen, we ask.

Most of us feel that if we draw near to God during Lent, if we grow spiritually, and if we fulfill all the external things during the Lenten season, then, we would not face any temptation or suffering. We assume that God should not let problems and pains come in our lives. Many prosperity preachers also tell people today that just believing in Jesus will solve all their problems and heal all their diseases. Friends, it doesn’t work that way! As we just saw, none of us have done or can ever do what Jesus did and yet, the Holy Spirit led Him into the wilderness by  to be tempted by the devil!

Beloved child of God, if today you find yourself in the wilderness of pain, suffering, disease, loneliness, lack of financial resources, marital discord, or any other trouble, please ask the help of the Holy Spirit. Even if we draw near to God, we will still face problems and temptations in our life on earth. But the good news is that God has given us a helper and even an advocate called the Holy Spirit (see John 14:16-17). God has promised His Spirit to those who ask, as it is written: “As bad as you are, you still know how to give good gifts to your children. But your heavenly Father is even more ready to give the Holy Spirit to anyone who asks” (Luke 11:13 Contemporary English Version). So, the Spirit will help us in our walk with God and help us overcome our troubles and temptations. Therefore, let us travel with Jesus in the rest of this season with the confidence that the Spirit is with you to the will of God. Amen!

VJ

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Lenten reflections 2012: Retreating Into the Wilderness with Jesus (Matthew 4:1-11)

Ash Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012.

The English word “lent” comes from some European roots that simply mean “spring” because of the season of the year in which observance of the Lent falls. However, in the original Latin and Greek languages, “lent” meant “fortieth” day before Easter. Lent is observed from the early days of Christianity for six weeks or forty days excluding Sundays. It begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday (the day before Easter Sunday). The Sundays are excluded because each Sunday is a mini-Easter that reminds us to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. These forty days remind the believers of their Lord’s forty days spent in the wilderness of Israel just before he began His earthly ministry. Therefore, the theme of our Lenten devotionals will be “Retreating into the Wilderness with Jesus.”

The church has historically set aside the Lenten season for a time of soul-searching and repentance. It is a season for reflection and taking stock of lives. It’s a preparatory time for the celebration of Easter, when the faithful rededicated themselves and when converts were instructed in the faith and prepared for baptism. By observing the forty days of Lent, believers try to follow Jesus’ withdrawal into the wilderness to spend time in solitude with fasting for forty days (Read: Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13).

Thus, Lent helps us take Jesus’ life and death more seriously, and celebrate his resurrection more fully. Let us resolve, therefore, that with the help of the Holy Spirit we will set aside some time in our clogged schedules to read the Scriptures, meditate on it, and pray. Spending time in the Word of God is significant for Lent because you will notice in the passages above that in every instance of temptation Jesus fought back Satan by saying: “It is written!” As we journey together with Jesus during this solemn season, let us begin by asking ourselves a few questions today, such as: When I wake up on Resurrection Sunday morning, April 8, 2012, how will I be different? Is there sin in my life that gets in the way of loving God with my whole heart? What am I going to do about that sin in the next forty days? Is there anyone in my life from whom I need to ask forgiveness or pursue reconciliation? What are some things in my life that I can give up for Lent that will help me draw near to God? How does giving it up draw me closer to God and prepare me for Easter?
May God be with you in your forty days spiritual journey! Amen.

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