Lent Devotions 2015: Surrender, but not to your temptations!

Photo courtesy: https://flic.kr/p/7mB8oF

Photo courtesy: https://flic.kr/p/7mB8oF

One of the most subtle temptations that followers of Christ and particularly ministers of the gospel face is to think that their life and ministry are for their own self-aggrandizement. Even Jesus Christ faced such temptations throughout his life and ministry on earth. For example, before he began his earthly ministry, Jesus spent forty days and forty nights in the wilderness fasting and praying. During this time of loneliness, Satan tempted him with various offers of which one was his suggestion for Jesus to use his vocation for his own selfish purposes. Satan wanted Jesus to exalt himself and to use the power and authority at his disposal for his personal glorification. We know that Jesus fiercely resisted such temptations because he knew that his life was not his own. Jesus knew that he was sent for a purpose and he had to accomplish the mission for which God had sent him to earth.

Such temptations did not end with the forty-day period of fasting in the wilderness. In fact, they continued throughout his life and did not leave him alone until his death on the cross. People impressed with Jesus’ life, teaching, and ministry often surrounded him and wished to make him their leader and even king. In all these situations, Jesus withdrew himself from such people and circumstances. At times, even his disciples did not know where he was going to escape such temptations of aggrandizement by spending time alone with God.

How was Jesus able to resist such temptations that many Christian leaders and ministers easily succumb to, today? The answer is simple: Jesus always surrendered his will to the will of his Father. This continued even in the Garden of Gethsemane where, again, Jesus was found praying alone to the Father. Notice that Jesus concludes his prayer by surrendering to the will of God:

“Then he said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.’ 39 And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.’ 40 Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, ‘So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? 41 Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial;[e] the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ 42 Again he went away for the second time and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done” (Matthew 26: 38-42)

This life of surrender was finally completed only with his death on the cross, when Jesus said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit!” Therefore, if God’s Son had to surrender to the will of God in order to overcome temptations, we have no other way. I know that surrendering is not easy. In fact, it is one of the most difficult things due to our sinful human nature. However, if we do not want to succumb to the daily temptations of using our life, ministry, church, our finances and resources, for self-aggrandizement, we need to learn to live like Jesus by daily surrendering to the will of God. When we learn to live in surrender, God brings out something beautiful from a surrendered life, which become a blessing even for others. I close with what E. Stanley Jones wrote on self-surrender:

“With self-surrender, Christ asks us to take the one thing that we own (the self) and give it back to God. Self-surrender is the only remedy. I cannot go down any road on anything with anybody who has problems without running straight into the necessity of self-surrender. All else is marginal; this is central. I only have one remedy, for I find only one disease – self at the center; self trying to be God” (E. Stanley Jones: Victory Through Surrender. Exact quote cited from: http://www.estanleyjonesfoundation.com/about-esj/theology/victory-through-self-surrender/)

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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 Reflection 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 17.

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

Jesus in the wilderness

Day 17, Monday, March 12, 2012

 Matthew 4:1-4 tells us that Jesus was hungry and Satan made it a point of temptation by asking Him to make bread out of stones. Satan fully knew that Jesus was the Son of God and yet he wanted Jesus to doubt His identity in the face of hunger. For the Son of God, there was nothing wrong in being hungry and even with turning the stones into bread to satisfy His hunger. However, Jesus refused to obey Satan because He was on a mission. Jesus knew that He was led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit and that it was the will of His father for Him to go hungry at this time. Jesus was fasting and praying for a spiritual work that was according to the will of His heavenly Father and Jesus had learned to do nothing outside the will of His Father. The very discipline of fasting is for the purpose of taking one’s eyes and dependency off the material necessities and to focus on God, His purpose of sending Jesus on earth, and how that would be fulfilled in the coming days as Jesus obeyed Him. Thus, any acceptance of Satan’s suggestion would have taken Jesus’ eyes off God and if He had done what Satan wanted Him to do, Jesus would have done the will of the devil instead of continuing in the perfect will of His Father.

 Jesus also didn’t fall for the temptation to prove his divinity because by His refusal to obey him, He wanted to tell the devil and thereby to all of us that to remain hungry is better than to be fed by the bread outside the will of God for our lives. The essence of being divine or, for that matter, the essence of anyone being a follower of Christ is our obedience to the Father by doing His will and not to prove who we are. Our identity is found in doing the will of God rather than in seeking or performing miracles.

 You and I may be in a place of hunger today, which means a place of need and lacking the basic necessities of life, such as food, shelter and clothing for our family. It’s in such points of need that Satan’s temptations become severe in our lives. We may even feel justified by fulfilling those pressing needs by any means for the sake of our family. The temptation may come in any form and at times may not even seem like a temptation at all. However, in such a situation, we need to remind ourselves that perhaps we’re in the wilderness and in privation under the will of God who has led us into this situation. He may have a better purpose for leading us through all this. Like Jesus, may we continue to seek to be in the will of God and choose to go hungry rather than feed upon the goodies that are independent of the will of God? Amen!

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Lenten Reflection 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 14.

Day 14, Thursday, March 8, 2012

 Matthew 4 states, “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4:1 RSV, also see Mark 1:13, Luke 4:1-2). Exploring the temptations of Jesus Christ in the wilderness is very rewarding. The three most trusted tools with which Jesus confronted the temptations were fasting, prayer, and the Word of God. The Lenten season helps us grow in all three of these disciplines. But the nature of Jesus’ temptations also teaches us strategies to resist the temptations in our wilderness experience.

 In the first two temptations (see Matthew 4: 3, 5-6; Luke 4:3, 6-7), the devil provoked Jesus to prove to him and to the world that He indeed was the “Son of God.” In the first temptation, the challenge was: “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread,” and in the second one: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down…” If Jesus was the Son of God then He didn’t need bread to survive and if He threw Himself down, He will not be physically injured. The gospels remind us Jesus’ full humanity by stating that He indeed was very hungry. But the devil asked Him to prove His divinity. Jesus didn’t fall for this trick but instead reminded the devil of His humanity. Just before Jesus was led into the wilderness, He had heard the affirming words of His Father about His divinity. He has been growing in intimacy with His Father during His solitary time of prayer and fasting. Thus, Jesus was sure of His divine identity when the devil tempted Him to doubt it. He tried to bring thoughts of distrust at one of the most vulnerable times in Jesus’ life. When the devil tried to bring doubts about the voice of God, Jesus simply replied by the certainty of the Word of God: “It is written.” It meant that whatever you may say, devil, I am sure of the finality of the Word of God and of the assurance of my Father.

As followers of Christ, we too, are many times led into similar situations where the devil creeps in with doubts at our vulnerable moments. He tries to raise doubts about the authenticity of God’s Word and His promises. He may tempt us to prove something to him and/or to the world around us. In such situations, we too need to respond with “It is written.” However, we can do so only when we have read, learned, and tested the Word of God to be true in our own lives. Remember, the devil also knows the Word of God, and he knows it better than most Christians! We cannot fool him, but we certainly can defeat him by saying and doing things that show our trust in God, His Word, and in His promises made for us. Amen. 

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