Wilderness Days

We come together this morning on the precipice of yet another Lent. Lent is a forty-day season of preparation for the celebration of Easter. During this time, we are called to reflect, repent, examine our souls, and take God’s call to discipleship very, very seriously.

If I’m honest, there have been seasons in my life where I have been wearied by Lent. The call to fast from things that distract me from God has sometimes felt like a call to abstain from joy. Even the music for Lent is written in a minor key! Of course Lent isn’t a call to abstain from joy, as we all know, but it still has a spirit of solemness and silence which needs to be respected. Lent appeals to the Eeyores among us. I, unfortunately, am a Tigger.

Lent is an invitation to return to the practices of worship, prayer, self-examination, repentance, fasting, Scripture study, and service. Each of these things are designed to draw us closer to Jesus’ heart, where our joy is made complete.

We start this journey on Ash Wednesday, and so today we get ready by remembering a forty-day period where Jesus experienced a wilderness of temptation as he was challenged by Satan:

Luke 4 (The Message)

1-2 Now Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wild. For forty wilderness days and nights he was tested by the Devil. He ate nothing during those days, and when the time was up he was hungry.

This is the difference between me and Jesus. I can guarantee that after forty days of not eating, I wouldn’t just be hungry … I would be hangry. I love how Peterson calls this time ”forty wilderness days and nights.” Just as Jesus was in a physical wilderness, he was in an emotional-support wilderness as well. There were no friends to listen to him, no disciples to offer comfort, no followers who would come along to mop his brow, and no one to bring him food. Have you ever been there? With no one nearby to console you, talk you through a rough time, hold your hand, or offer a tissue until you felt better? If you have experienced that, you know how Jesus felt. Just think of it: Jesus chose these wilderness days for our sake.

The Devil, playing on his hunger, gave the first test: “Since you’re God’s Son, command this stone to turn into a loaf of bread.”

Jesus answered by quoting Deuteronomy: “It takes more than bread to really live.”

This is a striking reminder of why we need to be in God’s word every day. Jesus rebuked the Devil with Scripture. You can, too … if you know it.

5-7 For the second test he led him up and spread out all the kingdoms of the earth on display at once. Then the Devil said, “They’re yours in all their splendor to serve your pleasure. I’m in charge of them all and can turn them over to whomever I wish. Worship me and they’re yours, the whole works.”

Jesus refused, again backing his refusal with Deuteronomy: “Worship the Lord your God and only the Lord your God. Serve him with absolute single-heartedness.”

If you could distill the purpose of Lent into one sentence, it might just be verse 8. Lent is a time to return to serving God with “absolute single-heartedness.”

9-11 For the third test the Devil took him to Jerusalem and put him on top of the Temple. He said, “If you are God’s Son, jump. It’s written, isn’t it, that ‘he has placed you in the care of angels to protect you; they will catch you; you won’t so much as stub your toe on a stone’?”

12 “Yes,” said Jesus, “and it’s also written, ‘Don’t you dare tempt the Lord your God.’”

13 That completed the testing. The Devil retreated temporarily, lying in wait for another opportunity.

And of course that opportunity came on the night that Jesus gathered his friends in the Upper Room and one of them betrayed him. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet. For now, may we commit to making this a holy, transformative, and significant Lent season by giving God our single-hearted attention, obedience, and love.

All Their Splendor by David Jones

In the Desert

Name something that tempts you….as in, REALLY tempts you. Something that causes you to go weak in the knees trying to resist. Money? Power? Fame? Immortality? Gossip? Drama? Chocolate-covered caramel bars? CHEEZE??

The Greek myth of King Midas comes to mind when I think of temptation. He loved and worshipped gold. Gold was his kryptonite. He was granted a wish that everything he touched might be turned into gold. What joy! What bliss! Until the very food that he needed to survive was turned into gold and he couldn’t consume it. He cursed his power then, and sought relief from that which had once tempted him so strongly.

Today we read about Christ’s forty days in the desert where he was tempted by Satan. This reading falls in the first week of Lent for a reason. We are challenged to face the things that tempt us and have the power to pull us away from observing a Holy Lent.

Mark 1 (Common English Bible)

About that time, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River. 10 While he was coming up out of the water, Jesus saw heaven splitting open and the Spirit, like a dove, coming down on him. 11 And there was a voice from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”

12 At once the Spirit forced Jesus out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among the wild animals, and the angels took care of him.

An oversimplification of this passage would point out that God finds happiness in all of his children at the moment of baptism. He experiences joy when we commit to a life of resisting evil in all of its forms and promise to walk a righteous path. Temptations don’t come from God. He is not trying to ensnare us, but rather will send angels to take care of us in those moments of weakness….if we allow it. Sometimes our addictions block us from receiving help.

These 40 days of Lent are an exercise against temptation…the temptation to give up on our Lenten disciplines. The temptation to step off the path of righteousness. The temptation to succumb to evil in the form of gossip, sin, anger, betrayal, and shutting out God. The temptation to withhold forgiveness.

14 After John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee announcing God’s good news, 15 saying, “Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!”

Jesus calls us to something better. He invites us to change our hearts and lives. We are encouraged to trust the good news of his life, death, and resurrection. Don’t be tempted to do anything less….that’s how Satan wins.

Wilderness Wonderland by Mary Anne Mong Cramer

More than Bread

Ahhhh, temptation. If you gave something up for Lent this year, you are probably in the fighting-temptation stage. A friend shared with me that she gave up Twitter. She felt she was spending too much time and emotional energy on Twitter, and is now trying to break the habit of constantly looking at it. Her need to scroll was challenging at the beginning, and she even contemplated changing her password to a computer-generated one, with the idea of saving it in a safe place for later, and thus by-passing the temptation to look.

I get it. Psychologists say it takes a full six weeks to develop a new habit and rid yourself of an old one. It is WORK.

Jesus gets it, too. In our passage today, we see Jesus in the wilderness, weak and starving, being tempted by the Tempter Extraordinaire:

Matthew 4 (The Message)

1-3 Next Jesus was taken into the wild by the Spirit for the Test. The Devil was ready to give it. Jesus prepared for the Test by fasting forty days and forty nights. That left him, of course, in a state of extreme hunger, which the Devil took advantage of in the first test: “Since you are God’s Son, speak the word that will turn these stones into loaves of bread.”

Jesus answered by quoting Deuteronomy: “It takes more than bread to stay alive. It takes a steady stream of words from God’s mouth.”

5-6 For the second test the Devil took him to the Holy City. He sat him on top of the Temple and said, “Since you are God’s Son, jump.” The Devil goaded him by quoting Psalm 91: “He has placed you in the care of angels. They will catch you so that you won’t so much as stub your toe on a stone.”

Jesus countered with another citation from Deuteronomy: “Don’t you dare test the Lord your God.”

Did you notice that Jesus answered each assault by quoting scripture? Could there be any better way to look temptation in the face? Of course that meant that he KNEW scripture….

Thus, the challenge for us. Bible Study leader Dick Murray once said that it was in a foxhole in World War II when he realized how little scripture he had actually memorized. After reciting the few big ones he knew (John 3:16 and Psalm 23,) he was at a loss. From that day on, he committed to memorizing scripture. Think about it: if your only Bible was the one in your head, how much use would it be to you?

8-9 For the third test, the Devil took him to the peak of a huge mountain. He gestured expansively, pointing out all the earth’s kingdoms, how glorious they all were. Then he said, “They’re yours—lock, stock, and barrel. Just go down on your knees and worship me, and they’re yours.”

10 Jesus’ refusal was curt: “Beat it, Satan!” He backed his rebuke with a third quotation from Deuteronomy: “Worship the Lord your God, and only him. Serve him with absolute single-heartedness.”

11 The Test was over. The Devil left. And in his place, angels! Angels came and took care of Jesus’ needs.

Beat it, Satan! You have to love The Message’s language. I imagine this scripture is one we can all memorize! And one that we all need on a daily basis. And again, Jesus backs up his rebuke with another quotation from scripture.

As you continue the discipline of giving something up this Lent, perhaps you might consider taking on the memorization of Bible passages. After all, it takes a steady stream of words from God’s mouth to keep temptation at bay. Let’s start today….repeat after me:

BEAT IT, SATAN!

“I will not eat these, I will not eat these…” Simba’s Temptation by Marta Young