in the midst of temptations and testings

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted[a] by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’[b]

Matthew 4:1-4

These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation[c] has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful;he will not let you be tempted[d] beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted,[e] he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

1 Corinthians 10:11-13

Interestingly the Greek word translated tempted can also mean tested. What we can take out of just this simple thought is that what could be harmful to us could also be for our good.

Israel’s response in the wilderness wasn’t good. They faced a trial no doubt. But instead of trusting in the God who had delivered them and was providing for all of their needs, they grumbled and sinned against God. God’s judgment fell on them. One might say that due to their sin they fell out of God’s protection. These certainly failed the test.

Jesus entered the wilderness, led there by God just as Israel had been. But in his case he overcame. Unlike Israel, he was without food, yet he did not give into the tempter’s suggestion to make bread from stones, but rather submitted himself fully to his Father, citing Scripture.

The whole question for us is whether or not we’re going to trust God fully. And to do so means to believe not only in God, but in his word. Yes, the Word, Jesus, but also the written word, just as Jesus did. This means that no matter what our experience or even what we’re facing, we seek to live according to God’s word, and not by our own impulses or even deliberations.

How can we even know we’re in such a place? It’s when we consider our situation or something we’re facing a trial, and find ourselves prone to panic so that we take up our own devices rather than trusting in God. So we either will give into the temptation, or else we’ll find God’s help. One of the two.

In the end Israel was judged. Jesus was helped. The difference? Jesus of course trusted the Father, whereas Israel did not.

Jesus in the wilderness succeeded where Israel failed. We’re to learn from what he did. But we’re also to rest in the truth that what he did even there was for us. He succeeded where we fail so that he can help us live in the same way he did amidst trials. In complete trust in the Father. In and through him.

pressing on in the word no matter what

There are many ways of being entirely discouraged and simply wanting to give up. Or when one basically thinks they’ve given up and are just trying to get through the rest of the day or days left to them.

I write here from experience. Maybe somehow my expectations have been amiss, but I’ve thrown in the towel, and I’m trying to hold on and do what I think God is calling me to do- well to the very end.

And for me that means continuing in the gospel through the church and through the word, the latter probably being the most prominent and pronounced throughout my days.

I force myself into the word when I don’t feel like it, although ordinarily I do feel like it, or at least by habit am moved to continue in scripture. Yesterday was one of those days when I had to pick myself up by force to do it. And when I did, it seemed like I was simply reading words, the truth not really sinking much if at all into me. I tried to make sure that the way I was reading remained the same, slowly and thoughtfully, hopefully prayerfully as well- as in listening to God and trying to understand the life in God through Jesus better.

Today will likely be more back to normal for me. But everyday needs to be a day when we are in the word in whatever way we can do so. As we are in God’s word, God can shape us and make us according to his will for us in Jesus. That is where I hope to be day after day to the end.

real life

There are times when I think, so to speak, I won’t make it through the day. Or that my life is essentially over. I start imagining my tombstone. Life can seem humdrum, boring and dry. Simply the same old, same old. I am much helped by my wife, and that helps keep me afloat during such times. And I can mark it down that I am rebelling against a dry time in my life, rather than by faith seeking God in it.

Of course I know the answer in my head, but too often that answer doesn’t get to my heart, and into my life. I know quite well how to manage and do what needs to be done, since I’ve experienced this malaise for years. But over time when life has taken its toll in a number of ways, one begins to think that they’re reaching the end of their rope.

The question for the follower of Christ is simple. Are we really following Christ? Are we endeavoring not to be anxious about anything, but to commit everything to God? Are we really seeking to live a life in him with all that means? If that’s the case, we won’t be on our own. It’s not like we’ll be the ones doing it.

That will have different results for different people, but there will (or should) be some things held in common in varying ways by all. There will be a concern for the poor shown in practical down to earth good works. There will be a commitment to Christ’s body, the church. There will be a desire to share and live out the good news in King Jesus. And there will be a passion to see God’s will done on earth, as it is in heaven.

What this all adds up to is a life in God through Jesus by the Spirit in the fellowship of the church in mission in Jesus to the world. In that through Jesus we find find real life.

tested and tried

It’s interesting how often I am tested on a certain matter the same day I post about it on this blog. Somehow I see the devil in those details, yet I also can learn to see the Lord. The devil of course tempts us, wanting us to fall. Out of love the Lord tests us, to refine us and make us holy.

Early church desert fathers and mothers from what I understand, spent extended time in solitude and experienced much of the temptation of the devil, there. Just as our Lord did when he was tempted forty days and nights in the wilderness. Such times were times of drawing near to God, and hearing God’s voice. Followed by rich blessing for many when they returned to society. I think especially of Anthony of Egypt.

I want to finagle my way out of such times. Instead of resisting the devil and drawing near to God, I want to complain. Alright, if I pour out my complaints to God as in the psalms.

Shouldn’t I develop a new attitude toward trials? I think so. I should see them as necessary in a process of my becoming like Jesus. I need to resist the devil in all of his schemes. Learning discernment in that. And I need to draw near to God, to hear God’s voice, and learn to see his heart and hand in everything.

Tested, tried and in the end found true. For all of us, in and through Jesus, that we might become more and more like him, together for the world.

reticent

There are those days, and Monday is a good candidate for them, when I am reticent to get on. We find those small places of rest from all the world, perhaps from all that has plagued and plundered us. Or just seems overwhelming. At least a couple things in my life right now I look at with some fear and trepidation.

Those are the days when we realize afresh and anew that life really is beyond us. That we need Jesus to walk with us by the Spirit as we indeed endeavor to follow him. That we are in need of all God has for us in Jesus: his inscripturated word, the church, Holy Communion, fellowship with God’s people. God’s very Presence in a sense of gifting and call. As well as in the realization of changed life.

Being reticent can be good. If it means that we no longer are depending on ourselves, but looking to God’s help in Jesus, through the Spirit who does so directly and indirectly or more precisely directly through others and other means. When we’re reticent, maybe that means we need to be especially cautious and ready to stop and seek to listen, and hear the voice of the Good Shepherd.

We don’t want to be asleep, or complacent, or drifting. Being reticent can be a telltale sign in a bad direction as well. We need discernment from God, regularly praying the prayer of examen, that God would search us and reveal to us any sin or offensive way in us.

But this can be a good time. To humble ourselves in holding back, believing that God may want to do a work in us in Jesus which in a sense is new. A kind of desert experience, akin to the desert fathers and mothers of the early centuries of Christianity. If we see such times in this light, and seek to explore the meaning of this in scripture, we can find God’s way for us in Jesus. In a deeper and more pronounced way on us, changing us.

That is what I wait for this morning and today in Jesus. As we face another week with the normal challenges, as well as difficulties that await us. That others may see Jesus more and more in us. That they may think of him when they see us and rub shoulders with us from day to day. That we may see Jesus in each other. And that the world may see Jesus in us.

talking to God

Brother Lawrence in The Practice of the Presence of God shares about the importance of talking to God, as in conversing. In Jesus we live in God’s Presence all the time, no matter what we are doing. We should take all we are doing and turn it back to God in prayer, thanksgiving and praise, as well as petitions.

Yesterday, including much of the weekend minus Sunday morning church and the nursing home later, I seemed not only dry and rather downcast, but even toward a kind of despair. But by and by I remembered the words of Brother Lawrence and began to turn the day over to God through prayers.

What a difference that made! Like night and day. I should say what a difference that came to make, because it did take some time. But it was like the sun breaking through the clouds after a most cloudy and rather dark and dreary day. The sky clearing and a sense that all is well, after all. Even in the midst of all the brokenness and difficulty life brings.

Of course the clouds and even darkness will come and go. Good times and bad, as well as all the seemingly mundane. But we can continue to talk to God through Jesus. To seek to listen to God, to pour out our hearts to him.

As we do so, we learn through the Spirit that while we want and need to come just as we are to God, we also want to please him. Through this, God will teach us in his grace how to please him in what we think, desire and pray for. As well as bringing all of our true needs to him.

Hopefully I’ll grow in this grace. And if you haven’t read The Practice of the Presence of God, join me in reading it. It is long remembered and a Christian classic for good reason.

God will see us through

There are times and situations in which there seems no way out. Or God’s favor seems somehow lost or absent, as if that depends on us when it is found only in Jesus. As we approach Advent season we need to ever remember one truth that stands out for us at that time: in Jesus by the Incarnation God is with us, Immanuel. And in Jesus God will see us through.

We like easy ways, ways which we know we can navigate. Oh yes, with God through Jesus of course. But those places where we know by experience that the Lord will see us through. We are less inclined, indeed we tend to shun any path which is breaking new ground. In which we can see no good or easy way out. But in such places we can end up cast on God more than ever, which in itself is good.

We in Jesus need to set our hearts and minds and wills to be bent on living in and following God through Jesus no matter what we may face. That is one thing life, no matter what it may bring, can’t take from us. But that choice and stand is up to us. Yes, God is faithful in his grace in Jesus to work in us, so that we will both will/desire and do his good pleasure, his good will in Jesus. So we are dependent on God to be sure, and not on ourselves. Just the same we need to see these dark, difficult places as part of our way in Jesus, the path we are to walk faithfully in, even when darkness and despair threaten to overwhelm us at times.

The desert is a place no Christian should shun. It is prominent in the Holy Land, and in the narratives of scripture. It is the place where God meets us through a deep inner work of emptying and cleansing, prior to filling us for his good works for us in Jesus. In the desert we run into the world (paradoxically), the flesh and the devil. We are sifted, so that the chaff/weeds can be separated from the wheat in our lives. We are emptied so that we might be filled. Though there may be a special time for this early on in our Christian lives, I believe this is ongoing, off and on for us along the way in Jesus. The wilderness temptations Jesus experienced just after he was baptized by John the Baptizer were not the end of the road for our Lord in his being tempted by the devil, nor the end of a struggle in him, as we see clearly in the Garden of Gethsemane. So it will be for us who are his followers. We too by the Spirit will partake of all that his life entails in this life, if we go on with him. We can expect that.

But God through Jesus will see us through. Through his Spirit and his word. Through his community in Jesus. Even through Holy Communion. And for the world, that others might see not us, but God through Jesus.