1510) Now or Later?

Image result for 2 corinthians 4:18 images

By Rick Warren, at his Daily Hope blog, May 28, 2017 (www.pastorrick.com/devotional)

—————————

     We rarely evaluate our values or question our perceptions until we have a crisis.  Once we’re in deep pain, we begin to examine what we’re basing our lives upon.  Whether it’s materialism, feeling good, or looking good, we instinctively realize there has to be more.

     That’s why it’s so critical that we ask ourselves — before we’re mired in pain — what is going to last?

     Our culture encourages us to do just the opposite.  Our society values the here and now.  Tomorrow doesn’t matter.  Next year doesn’t matter.  A thousand years from today doesn’t matter.  Eternity and Heaven don’t matter.  Live for today.

     But the Bible says something different in 1 John 2:17: “The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.”

     Consider what happens when we’re tempted.  Temptation is not just a battle between good and bad, or, what’s best and what’s not best.

     Temptation is always a battle between now or later.  Will I do what God says and enjoy the benefits later, or will I do what I want and enjoy the benefits now?

     The Bible teaches us to “fix our attention, not on things that are seen, but on things that are unseen.  What can be seen lasts only for a time, but what cannot be seen lasts forever” (2 Corinthians 4:18).

********************************************

II Corinthians 4:16-18  —  Therefore we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

I John 2:17  —  The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.

I John 5:11b-13  —  God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.  Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.  I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.

********************************************

IN THE HOUR OF TRIAL

Hymn by James Montgomery, English poet, hymnwriter, journalist (1771-1854)

In the hour of trial,
Jesus, plead for me
Lest by base denial
I depart from thee.
When thou see’st me waver,
With a look recall
Nor for fear or favor
Suffer me to fall.

With forbidden pleasures
Should this vain world charm
Or its tempting treasures
Spread to work me harm,
Bring to my remembrance
Sad Gethsemane
Or, in darker semblance,
Cross-crowned Calvary.

Should thy mercy send me
Sorrow, toil, and woe,
Or should pain attend me
On my path below,
Grant that I may never
Fail thy hand to see;
Grant that I may ever
Cast my care on thee.

When my last hour cometh,
Fraught with strife and pain,
When my dust returneth
To the dust again,
On thy truth relying,
Through that mortal strife,
Jesus, take me, dying,
To eternal life.

1275) The Temptations of Middle-age

Image result for screwtape images

Screwtape

————-

C. S. Lewis’s classic book The Screwtape Letters is an imaginative and powerful look at temptation.  Lewis creates two characters, Screwtape and Wormwood, who are demons in the service of Satan.  Their job it is to tempt a certain Englishman so they can corrupt him, destroy his faith, and win his soul for the devil.  Screwtape is an old and experienced tempter, and the ‘author’ of these thirty-one letters.  He is writing to his nephew, Wormwood, a younger and inexperienced tempter, on how to get this Englishman away from God and into hell.  Everything is reversed in this book– the “Enemy” is God and “Our Father Below” is the devil.  The “Patient” is a typical human being, facing the kinds of temptations we are all familiar with, discussed from the viewpoint of the tempter.  In this brief piece, Screwtape advises Wormwood on using the passage of time to wear down a soul.

—————————-

     The Enemy has guarded him from you through the first great wave of temptations.  But, if only he can be kept alive, you have time itself for your ally.  The long, dull, monotonous years of middle-aged prosperity, or, middle-aged adversity, are excellent campaigning weather.  You see, it is so hard for these creatures to persevere.  The routine of adversity, the gradual decay of youthful loves and youthful hopes, the quiet despair of ever overcoming the chronic temptations with which we have again and again defeated them, the drabness which we create in their lives and the inarticulate resentment with which we teach them to respond to it— all this provides admirable opportunities of wearing out a soul.  

     If, on the other hand, the middle years prove prosperous, our position is even stronger.  Prosperity knits a man to the world.  He feels that he is ‘finding his place in it’, while really it is finding its place in him.  His increasing reputation, his widening circle of acquaintances, his sense of importance, the growing pressure of absorbing and agreeable work, build up in him a sense of being really at home in earth, which is just what we want.

********************************************

I Peter 5:8  —  Be alert and of sober mind.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

Mark 14:38  —  (Jesus said), “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.  The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Psalm 90:12  —  Teach us to number our days, so that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

********************************************

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

–Jesus, Matthew 6:13

1170) Resisting Temptation

C. S. Lewis on resisting temptation in Mere Christianity:

     You may remember I said that the first step towards humility was to realize that one is proud.  I want to add now that the next step is to make some serious attempt to practice the Christian virtues.  A week is not enough.  Things often go swimmingly for the first week.  Try six weeks.  By that time, having, as far as one can see, fallen back completely or even fallen lower than the point one began from, one will have discovered some truths about oneself.  No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good.  A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means.  This is an obvious lie.  Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is.  After all, you find out the strength of an army by fighting against it, not by giving in.  You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down.  A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later.  That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness.  They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in.  We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it:  and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means— the only complete realist.

*********************************************

Galatians 5:22-23a  —   But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Philippians 2:12-13  —   Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed— not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence— continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

Mark 14:38  —  (Jesus said), “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.  The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

James 1:12-15  —  Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.  When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.”  For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.  Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

Hebrews 2:18  —  Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

*********************************************

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

–Jesus, Matthew 6:13

983) Advice From the Devil

One of the great Christian classics of the 20th century is The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis (1942).  Published over seventy years ago, it continues to sell well and has even been turned into an off-Broadway play.  The book consists of thirty-one letters from a veteran demon, Screwtape, to his nephew, Wormwood, on learning the art of temptation.  Screwtape is trying to help Wormwood who has been given the task of securing the damnation of a British man referred to as “the Patient.”  Everything is written from the perspective of hell, so the “Enemy” is God, and the devil is referred to in the letters as “Our Father.”  Many Christian theological issues are addressed in this creative format, primarily focusing on temptation and resistance to it.  In the brief sample below, Screwtape instructs Wormwood in the art of twisting “the Enemy’s” good gift of pleasure into an opportunity for sin.

————————–

     Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s ground.  I know we have won many a soul through pleasure.  All the same, it is His invention, not ours.  He made the pleasures; all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one.  All we can do is to encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden.  Hence we always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure to that in which it is least natural, least redolent of its Maker, and least pleasurable.  An ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula.  It is more certain; and it’s better style.  To get the man’s soul and give him nothing in return—that is what really gladdens Our Father’s heart.

*********************************************

James 1:17  —  Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

I Peter 5:8-9  —  Be alert and of sober mind.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

Ephesians 6:10-12  —  Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

I Corinthians 10:12-13  —  So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!  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.

*********************************************

O heavenly Father, subdue in me whatever is contrary to your will and command.  Grant that I may ever know your will, so that I may know how to please you.  Grant, O God, that I may never yield to those temptations which, in my prayers, I desire to avoid.  Lord, never permit my trials to be above my strength.  Amen.

–Thomas Wilson, Anglican Bishop  (1663-1755)

870) Church Ladies Learn About Temptation

————–

From The Last Word, by William Willimon, pages 119-121.

     In one of my congregations, we decided that we needed to grow.  We voted to launch a program of evangelism.  We studied a program from our denomination telling us how to get new members.  Among other things, the church-growth program advocated a system of door-to-door visitation.  So we organized ourselves into groups of two and, on an appointed Sunday afternoon, we set out to visit, to invite people to our church.  The teams went out, armed with packets of pamphlets describing our congregation, pamphlets telling about our denomination, fliers portraying me, the smiling pastor, inviting people to our church.  Each team was given a map with the teams assigned street.

     Helen and Gladys were given a map.  They were clearly told to go down Summit Drive and to turn right.  That’s what they were told.  I heard the team leader tell them, “You go down Summit Drive and turn right.  Do you hear me, Helen?  That’s down Summit Drive and turn right?”

     But Helen and Gladys, both approaching eighty, after lifetimes of teaching elementary school, were better at giving than receiving directions.  They turned left, venturing down into the housing projects to the west of Summit Drive.  Which meant that Helen and Gladys proceeded to evangelize the wrong neighborhood and thereby ran the risk of evangelizing the wrong people.

   Late that afternoon, each team returned to the church to make its report.  Helen and Gladys had only one interested person to report to us, a woman named Verleen.  Nobody on their spurious route was interested in visiting our church, nobody but Verleen.  She lived with her two children in a three-room apartment in the projects, we were told.  Although she had never been to a church in her life, Verleen wanted to visit ours.

     This is what you get, I said to myself, when you don’t follow directions, when you won’t do what the pastor tells you to do; this is what you get, a woman from the projects named Verleen.

     The next Sunday, Helen and Gladys proudly presented Verleen at the eleven o’clock service, Verleen along with two feral-looking children.  Verleen liked the service so much, she said, that she wanted to attend the women’s Thursday morning Bible study.  Helen and Gladys said they would pick her up.

      On Thursday, Verleen appeared, proudly clutching her new Bible, a gift of Helen’s circle, the first Bible Verleen had ever seen, much less owned.

     I was leading the study that morning on Luke 4, the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness.  “Have any of you ever been faced with temptation and, with Jesus’ help, resisted?”  I asked the group after presenting my material.  “Have any of you refused some temptation because of your Christian commitment?”

      One of the women told about how, just the week before, there was some confusion in the supermarket checkout line and, before she knew it, she was standing in the supermarket parking lot with a loaf of bread that she had not paid for.

     “At first I thought,” she confessed, “Why should I pay for it?  They have enough money here as it is.  But then I thought, ‘No, you are a Christian.’  So I went back in the store and paid them for that loaf of bread.”

     I made some approving comment.

     It was then that Verleen spoke.  “A couple of years ago I was into cocaine really big.  You know what that’s like!  You know how that stuff makes you crazy.  Well, anyway, my boyfriend, not the one I’ve got now, the one who was the daddy of my first child, that one; well, we robbed a gas station one night– got two hundred dollars out of it.  It was as simple as taking candy from a baby.  Well, my boyfriend, he says to me, ‘Let’s knock off that 7-Eleven down on the corner.’  And something in me, it says, ‘No, I’ve held up that gas station with you, but I ain’t going to hold up no convenience store.’  He beat the hell out of me, but I still said no.  It felt great to say no, ‘cause that’s the only time in my life I ever said no to anything.  Made me feel like I was somebody.”

     Through the stunned silence I managed to mutter, “Well, er, uh, that’s resisting temptation.  That’s sort of what this text is about.  And now it’s time for our closing prayer.”

     After I stumbled out of the church parlor and was standing out in the parking lot helping Helen into her car, she said to me, “You know, I can’t wait to get home and get on the phone and invite people to come next Thursday!  Your Bible studies used to be dull, but I think I can get a good crowd for this!”

     I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.  But the church, by the grace of God, grew.

——————————————————-

MORAL OF THE STORY:  We usually think it is yielding to temptation that will make us feel good.  What we want to do might be wrong, someone might get hurt, we might hurt ourselves in the long run– but at least it feels good for the moment.  But Verleen, who had always given in to temptation, found out that resisting temptation made her feel great.  It made her feel ‘like I was somebody;’ somebody who was strong enough and smart enough to say no.   

*********************

Luke 4:1-2a  —  Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil…

James 1:12  —  Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

Luke 5:30-32  —  …The Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”  Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

*********************

Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought us in safety to this new day:  Preserve us with your mighty power, that we may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.   

Book of Common Prayer

719) “Fencing In” Our Sins

——————————-

Matthew 5:21-22a…27-30  —  (Jesus said), “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’  But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment…  You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away.  It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.  And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away.  It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”  (From the Sermon on the Mount)

—————

From Sitting at the Feet of the Rabbi Jesus, by Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg, pages 169-170:

     Imagine for a moment that you are packed into the hillside along with the rest of the crowd, above the glittering waters of the Sea of Galilee.  The longer you listen, the more uncomfortable you become.  The crowd is hushed, as though everyone is holding their breath, listening as Jesus compares lustful thoughts to adultery and anger to murder.  His examples are hitting a little too close to home.  Then it dawns on you that Jesus is himself employing the rabbinic method of “fencing in” the Torah by telling the crowd that small sins lead to greater sins, advocating that you set up boundaries against great evils by avoiding small ones.

     This idea of linking small sins to greater ones was common among the rabbis.  Listen to a rabbinic comment on laws in Leviticus:  “He who violates, “Love you neighbor as yourself,’ will ultimately violate, “You shall not hate your brother in your heart,’ and ‘You shall not take vengeance nor bear any grudge,’ until in the end he will come to shedding blood.”  The rabbis wisely noted that the consequences of sin slope ever downward: not loving your neighbor deteriorates to hating him in your heart declines further to taking revenge on him and finally falls to taking your neighbor’s life.

     Both Jesus and the rabbis were preaching that the time to avoid sin is when it is small, before we slip any further down the slope…  Later rabbis also preached about sin by comparing small sins to greater ones.  Listen to what they had to say about gossip:  

To which is gossip more similar, robbery or murder?

Murder, because robbers can always give back what they’ve stolen, but gossips can never repair the damage they’ve done.

     Such comments remind us of Jesus’ striking exhortations to cut off your hand or pluck out your eye should they cause you to sin.  The rabbis knew the great damage that even tiny sins can do.  A little bit of gossip can ruin a reputation.  One sharp retort can ignite a war.  The goal of their exaggerations was to impress upon their listeners the dire consequences of sins.  Jesus, too, was urging his listeners to avoid evil at all costs.  His strong warnings express his anguish at the destruction that ensues when we do not resist temptation at the very beginning.

———————–

Martin Luther on resisting temptation:  “You cannot keep birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair”

————————

In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches us to pray for the forgiveness of our ‘trespasses.’  The use of that word gives the image of sin not as breaking the rules, but as going beyond the boundaries God has set for us.  God does not want to restrict our every move with an endless list of rules.  Rather, God gives us only a few rules (ten), and a wide range of area in which we may live and move about freely; while still, for our own good, setting boundaries and commanding that we stay within those boundaries set for us.  As the old rabbis taught, God’s Law ‘fences in’ our destructive behavior.

—————————

*****************************************

Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

–Jesus

689) I Don’t Know What Got Into Me!

MARK 1:21-28:

They went to Capernaum; and when the Sabbath came, Jesus entered the synagogue and taught.  They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.  Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”  But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!”  And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.  They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching; and with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”  At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

———————————–

      Have you ever been possessed by an unclean spirit like the man in the story above?  No?  How do you know?  Did you ever do something foolish and wrong, something that hurt someone else, something that you regretted, and then said to yourself or to them, “I don’t know why I did it; I don’t know what got into me.”  What got into you?  What do you mean by that?  Are you saying you did not really do it on your own, but something, or someone, else got into you and made you do it?  What might that something or someone else be?  Well, you might say, that is just a figure of speech.  But I would say it is an accurate figure of speech that is pointing to something very real.

     They are only a few people in the Bible who are fully and completely ‘possessed,’ as this man in the text.  But we read in many Bible verses that everyone is tempted again and again by Satan and his helpers.  The book of Ephesians tells us that we fight our biggest battles in life not against flesh and blood, but against the unseen powers and spiritual forces of this dark world.  There are probably not very many people who are completely possessed by an unclean spirit or a demon, but all of us are tempted by these ‘unseen powers and spiritual forces.’  So you sometimes don’t know what got into you?  Well, perhaps it was the voice of the Tempter that got into you, and you said ‘yes’ to that temptation.  Yes, something does get into us, make no mistake about it; and for that reason, life is a battle, a battle within yourself, and, a battle with others when they yield to the Evil One and wrong you.

     We read in this story from the first chapter of Mark that Jesus has power and authority in this area, as he casts the spirit out of that unfortunate man.  I have never seen anything like that, though I believe it happens yet today.  What I have seen is people changed by the love of God, changed by the hope that God brings, and changed by the life that he offers.  I have seen people decide to resist whatever had gotten into them, and change their lives.   And I have seen people die not with fear and trembling, but with the hope and confidence that they are just falling asleep and will wake up in a better place.  When we first read this story about Jesus casting an unclean spirit out of that man long ago, we might wonder what that has to do with us.  But just change ‘unclean spirit’ to ‘unwelcome temptations’ and the relevance to your own life will be clear.  We, like the man in the story, need Jesus to help us when those wicked ‘powers of darkness’ get into us.

***********************************************

Ephesians 6:12-13a  —  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground…

James 4:7  —  Submit yourselves, then, to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

***********************************************

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

–Jesus, Matthew 6:13

685) Led by the Spirit… To Be Tempted (part two)

          (…continued)  The devil will probably not be appearing to you to make the kind of all or nothing offer that he made to Dr. Faust.  But that doesn’t mean the devil is not tempting you in other ways.  I Peter 5:8 says that the devils prowls about the earth like a lion, seeking whom he may devour.  We will most certainly find ourselves being tempted in smaller, subtler ways than Jesus in the wilderness or Dr. Faust.

     A while back someone said to me, “My grandma always told me that if I don’t go to church every week I am going to go to hell.  Is that right?”

     I replied, “There is a short answer and a long answer to that question.  Let me give the short answer first, and that is NO, that is not right.  We are saved by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and his death on the cross for us.  We are not saved by going to church.  That’s the short answer.”     

     “But,” I added, “more needs to be said– so here is the long answer.  God does say in one of the commandments ‘Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it Holy.’  Most Christians, in most times and places, have found going to church each week an important way to do that.  If you choose not to do that, you need to ask yourself what else you are doing on that day, or any other day, to keep it holy.  And if there is nothing you are doing that day to keep it holy, then what does that do to your faith to disobey so basic a command by God each and every week?”

     I went on to say, “I am not going to get into how often you have to go to church, or which excuses are valid and which are not, or anything like that.  As I said, we are not saved by going to church, but by faith in Jesus.  But going to church is one very basic thing that can strengthen and sustain faith, whereas when one decides not to go to church and not pay attention to God in any other way, faith can weaken and die, and the Bible says you have to have faith.  Even faith is a gift, but the Bible says faith comes by hearing the Word, so you have to keep yourself within hearing distance of where that Word is spoken– or faith will die.”

     This goes not only for going to church, but in all the ways we may obey or disobey God:  in telling the truth or telling a lie, in loving or in hating, in forgiving or in bearing a grudge, in being generous or being selfish, in being thankful or being jealous, in keeping our promises or in not being faithful to your commitments, in being honest or in being dishonest, in choosing to be kind or choosing to be mean, in trying to be understanding or in being quick to criticize, and so on.  Every act of obedience draws us closer to God, and every act of disobedience can draw us away from God.  

     Faust, in selling his soul to the devil, said to God, “I am not indebted to you for the life you gave me, so I want to forget you, God, and live for myself.”  In one big move, he then abandoned God and followed the devil.  The Bible cautions us to guard against temptation, because sin can, in a million smaller steps, lead us away from God just as sure and certain as Faust was led away in one big step.  God can forgive every sin, no matter how great.  But God will not force himself on someone who, because of sin after sin, is led farther and farther from God until they no longer look to or believe in God at all.  Grace is not automatically smeared over everything that moves.  One can turn their back on God.  One can be led away.  

      It was a bad deal Faust made with the devil, but at least he made a deal, and got something in this life for abandoning God.  But Satan gets all kinds of people to abandon God for nothing at all, as they lose their eternal hope because of a blind and foolish indifference.  

     So we pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” or, may we not be led astray.  The Bible tells us that while God may test us, he does not tempt us to sin, so this prayer is a prayer for help in the midst of the temptations that are a part of every life.  In the wilderness Jesus resisted all temptations and defeated the power of the devil, and in the resurrection, Jesus defeated the power of death.  On our own, we can not defeat those powers as Jesus did, but God has promised that as we continue to look to Jesus in faith, his victories can become our victories.  Keep your eyes on Jesus, and you‘ll be all right.

***********************************************

Romans 10:17  —  Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.

I Peter 5:8,9a  —  Be alert and of sober mind.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, standing firm in the faith

John 16:1  —  (Jesus said),  ““All this I have told you so that you will not fall away.”

I Corinthians 16:13  —  Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.

James 5:8  —  Be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.

***********************************************

AN OLD HYMN:

In the hour of trial, Jesus, plead for me,
Lest by base denial I depart from Thee.
When Thou seest me waver, with a look recall,
Nor for fear or favor, suffer me to fall.

With forbidden pleasures should this vain world charm,
Or its sordid treasures spread to work me harm,
Bring to my remembrance sad Gethsemane,
Or, in darker semblance, cross-crowned Calvary.

Should Thy mercy send me sorrow, toil and woe,
Or should pain attend me on my path below,
Grant that I may never fail Thy hand to see;
Grant that I may ever cast my care on Thee.

–James Montgomery, 1834

684) Led by the Spirit… To Be Tempted (part one)

     

     Faust considering the offer of Mephistopheles (the devil)

——————-

     One of the greatest works in the history of German literature is the play Faust, written by Johann Wolfgang Goethe.  Goethe worked on this play on and off for 56 years.  He started writing it as a young man of 27 years old, and did not finish it until just before he died in 1832 at the age of 83.  It is a long and complex work, getting into deep discussions of science, religion, psychology, philosophy, history, and more.  It is not easy reading.  But the play’s setting for all those deep discussions is a simple and thought-provoking old German legend about a man who was tempted.

     The story begins with a conversation in heaven between God and the devil, much like in the story of Job.  The devil makes a wager with God, betting that he can steal away from God the soul of a good man, a brilliant scientist named Dr. Faust.  Determined to win the bet, the devil goes to work on Dr. Faust.  The devil knows what Faust loves, what he wants in life, and what his frustrations are.  After a lengthy discussion of all this, the devil makes his move.  The devil offers to serve Faust, giving him everything he wants for his entire life, on the condition that when Faust’s life is over the devil may have his soul in hell for all eternity.  Dr. Faust, desperate to have everything he wants, and to achieve all his goals, agrees to the offer.  After all, he was just a young man, and old age and death were a long ways off.

     God agreed to this testing of Dr. Faust’s faith and goodness.  I do not know what originally inspired the telling of this old German legend, but it could have been inspired by story of the temptation of Jesus by the devil in Matthew 4:1-11.  There is no talk of a wager there, but verse one says, “Then Jesus was led by the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”  Led by the spirit, to be tempted by the devil. Then, the devil tempted Jesus three times, each time offering Jesus what he would want and need most of all– on the condition that Jesus would serve and obey the devil and not God.  The story continues (verses 2-11):

After fasting forty days and forty nights, Jesus 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.’”  Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple.  “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down.  For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”  Jesus answered him, “It is also written:  ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”  Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.  “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”  Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan!  For it is written:  ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”  Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

     Jesus had been fasting in the wilderness for 40 days, so he would have been hungry; and the first temptation was to turn stones into bread.  Jesus could have done this.  He would in a few months miraculously feed 5,000 people with just a couple loaves of bread and a few fish.  But Jesus refused to do this at the devil’s command, saying, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

     In the second temptation, you need to imagine the human side of Jesus.  Jesus is just beginning his ministry and might be wondering about this call by heavenly Father into this work.   The devil told Jesus to jump off the temple and let the angels take care of him.  It is as if the devil were saying, “Maybe you ought give this religion business a little test.  Go ahead and jump, and make sure that God will be taking care of you.”  Again Jesus refused, saying “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”  As with Faust, there is a test going on here.  But the human Jesus knows that he is the one being tested, and it is not for him to decide to switch roles and start testing God the Father.

     Then came the biggest temptation of all.  Jesus was here to save the world, and the devil offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world, if only Jesus would fall down and worship him; or, sell his soul, just like what was offered to Dr. Faust.  Again Jesus refused, saying that the Lord God alone should be worshiped and served.  The devil then left Jesus.

     This story not only teaches us about Jesus, but also about ourselves; we who also face tests and temptations every day.  And one of the things we learn here is that we must not give in to the temptation to allow the little things in life draw us away from what is most important.  Jesus did not allow even the temptation to take charge of the whole world draw him away from God.  Later on he would say to his disciples, “What good is it if you gain the whole world and lose your own soul?”

     Goethe made this clear in his play when Dr. Faust was nearing the end of his life.  Life has indeed been full and good.  The devil has fulfilled his promise and given Faust everything.  But now, life will soon be over and Faust had long ago signed away his eternal hope, and he is in deep despair.  The deal he made as a young man was a bad one.

     There is a caution here for everyone.  The Bible’s emphasis on God’s love and forgiveness and grace is wonderful,  but it must not blind us to the fact that the Bible also speaks of life as a test and a challenge and filled with many temptations.  Even Jesus faced such temptation.  And although the Bible says God’s compassion and grace is boundless, it does not say that grace is automatic.  The Bible says we must resist the devil, fight against temptation, stand firm, and not fall away.  Surely, as Faust learned too late, there is no greater loss than to lose one’s eternal salvation.  Goethe’s long story shows that nothing in life, nothing in the whole world, is worth trading in for that.  Any reader will, at the end of the story, see that Dr. Faust made a very bad bargain indeed.  We must not make that mistake.  (continued…)

********************************************

Lord God, our strength, the battle of good and evil rages within and around us, and our ancient foe tempts us with his deceits and empty promises.  Keep us steadfast in your Word, and, when we fall, raise us again, and restore us through your Son, Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship  (#25)

439) False Security

By Johann Gerhard (1582-1637), a German Lutheran pastor and professor of theology.  He wrote dozens of books, including Sacred Meditations, a collection of 51 meditations published in 1606.  This piece was taken from the chapter 29 of that book. 

     An angel fell even in the presence of God.  Adam and Eve fell into sin even in that delightful home in which God placed them.  Solomon was the wisest of men (I Kings 3:12), yet he was led away from the Lord through the enticements of the flesh (I Kings 11:3).  Judas belonged to the very circle of Christ’s disciples (Luke 22:3), and was under the daily instruction of that greatest of all teachers, and yet he was not safe from the snares of the devil.   David was a man after God’s own heart (I Samuel 13:14), and was as a most precious son, but through the awful sins of adultery and murder, he made himself a son of death (II Samuel 12:5).  

     Where then in this life is there real security against falling into sin?  Cling to the promises of God, and you shall be safe from the assaults of the devil.  There can be no security in this life, except that afforded by the sure promises of God’s word to those who believe and walk in the way of the Lord.  When we finally attain the blessedness of heaven, then we shall enjoy perfect security.  But in this life, fear and religion have a close connection, and there ought not be one without the other…

     Happy you are, indeed, if you take all care to avoid a careless indifference, that cause of so many evils.  God will not forsake you, but take good heed lest you forsake God.  God has bestowed his grace upon you, pray that he may also give you perseverance unto the end.  God so orders the economy of grace that we may have assurance of our salvation, and yet not in such a way that one may indulge in false self-security.  You must fight the good fight of faith bravely, that in time you may triumph gloriously. 

     Your own flesh within you fights against you, and is a formidable enemy because of it being so much nearer to you than the others.  The world around you fights against you, and that is a formidable enemy to you because it is so much more abundant in its allurements.  And the devil above you fights against you, and is a more formidable enemy than any other because he is so much more powerful.

     In the strength of God you need not fear to engage with all these enemies, and by that strength you shall gain the victory.  But such enemies as these you will never conquer by a mere sense of security, but by waging an incessant warfare against them.  Life is the time to fight this fight of faith; and when you are apparently unconscious of the conflict, you are in more peril from the assaults of these foes; for when they seem to be observing a truce, then they are really massing their forces for a more powerful attack on your soul.  They are vigilant, and are you sleeping?  They are preparing to do you harm, and will you not prepare to resist them?

***************************************

Matthew 26:41  —  (Jesus said), “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.  The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”

1 Corinthians 10:12  —  If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 

 1 Peter 5:8-11  —  Be self-controlled and alert.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.  And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast.  To him be the power for ever and ever.  Amen.

2 Timothy 4:7  —  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

****************************************
We are weak and weary, O God, and the temptations of the devil and the world are great and many.  We pray that you keep us strong and faithful, so that we do not fall into temptation and sin.  Give us the grace to remain steadfast and fight bravely to our end; for without your grace and help we can do nothing.  Amen.

 –Martin Luther