Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Temptation of Me: I'm Melting!

We all remember her...hunched, crabbed, and cranky. And that hand, reaching out with dark malice, all the while saying, "My pretty....."
Yuck. (shiver)
That's me. And you.
Ego. Self-centeredness.

There's no denying it. It's always in there, looking for every chance to show itself, and there's only one way to keep it down. 
Make it melt. Starve it until it shrinks to nothing.

And Jesus showed us how:
Again, the devil took Him to a high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. "All of 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.'"--Matthew 4:8-10

Satan, unapologetically full of himself, thought he could impress Jesus.
He obviously didn't consider who he was dealing with.
And we are dealing with Him, too.

Jesus compared the devil to God, putting the old tempter firmly in his place.
We have to do the same with ourselves. 
How? We starve ourselves. We fast.
No, we don't stop eating, although self-control in this area might be called for.
But we all need to fast from something. and it's easy to identify where.
What do you like to do just a bit too much? What causes that slight nervous panic when you stay away a little too long?
TV? Sweets? Your cell phone? Coffee? A particular friend?
Me? I had to stop looking at my blog traffic...dumb, but true.
Be honest, and ruthless.
It is our egos we are starving, and we are doing it because we are not supposed to be looking at ourselves.
We are supposed to be looking at God, and we are getting in the way.

So, melt away, you wicked witch.
I am better off without you.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Temptation of Power: View from the Top

"Because I said so..."
Yes, I've said it, too.
Where does it come from? Frustration, impatience, busyness...but underneath all of those, it's a power play.  "Listen to me because you have to. I'm in charge."

Don't think you're tempted by power? Well, everybody is in charge of something. You are ahead of somebody in the pecking order somewhere. And, in that place, you will want to exercise your authority just because you can.
You can, but you shouldn't. Not that way.

God did institute authority, but not in the way we most often think He did:
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.'"--Matthew 4:5-7

God exampled authority in Jesus Christ by keeping His power under strict control. 
He could have smoked anyone anywhere with a word, a glance, a thought. But He didn't. Ever.
Instead, He served.
He was less concerned with who was in charge and more with His own position before His Father in heaven.
That is God's management style, and He expects it to be ours, too.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Tempation of Stuff, Thinking Past the Donut

"Communism doesn't work because people like to own stuff."--Frank Zappa
Well, he got that one right.
We do. I do, anyway.
And owning stuff isn't bad. Wealthy, and happy, and healthy people still go to heaven--people who have not materially suffered a day in their lives.
Stuff isn't the problem.
We are.

You know the feeling--the rush of wanting. That urgent feeling that says "I have to have this right now."
You know the name for it, too.
That's the problem. The desperate wanting. 
It doesn't matter what it focuses on--a donut, a pair of jeans, a car, a job, a date, a vacation, recognition, someone else's wife...

When he was a baby, my youngest son had a t-shirt that said "I don't know what I want, but I want it NOW!"
That's the problem.

And there's only one solution:
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting for 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 does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"--Matthew 4:1-4

So, how to fight lust? With every word that comes from the mouth of God.
Starting today. Storing it up in our heart. Because we will need it. Oh, yes, we will.
Will it make me stop wanting stuff? Heck, no.
But it will defend me against the day that I do.
It will help me remember what is really important, what lasts.
It will help me think past the donut.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Physics of God

We are going to study physics today.
Don't groan.
Physics has the most noble heritage of sciences--it is the system within which God made the world.
And He shows Himself through it.
All the time.
All around us.

Take energy, one of the most basic of physical phenomena.
It is physical expression of what the Bible calls strength, specifically God's strength.

God is our refuge and our strength, an ever-present help in times of trouble.--Psalm 46:1
Please note the reference to ever-present, then recall what you learned in seventh grade science:
Energy cannot be created or destroyed. It is ever-present.
It does, however, change forms.

Take our archer in the picture above.
He is demonstrating potential energy.  Nothing is happening, but he holds back great power in the tension of his bow.
When he releases the arrow, the energy becomes kinetic energy, the energy of motion and work.

God is the same at that archer and arrow.
Sometimes he sits back and waits.  Sometimes He acts.
But His power never changes. 

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart...Psalm 73:26

Think of that power the next time you get ready to throw a ball or prepare to jump.
You are about to demonstrate the physics of God.
Then let it fly.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Closed-circuit Love

God is love.
Yes, most of us have heard this already.
Whoever does not love does not know God because God is love.--John 4:8

So, what does God's love look like?
The Bible provides a whole list:
Love is patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, not proud, not rude or self-seeking, not easily angered.  --1 Corinthians 13:4-5 paraphrased
There's more, but you get the idea. 
Then, if I am all of those things, I am loving like God does.  Not really.
That's like saying that if I am brown and shaggy, bark and wag my tail, I am a dog.

The problem with looking at love this way is that we are doing so backwards.
Love does not come from anything we do. Nothing.  
We cannot manufacture love.
Love comes from God and only from God.
We contribute nothing other then receiving and exercising it.

I can love my husband and children because God gave me His love.
I can love my friends because God gave me His love.
I can love my enemies for the same reason.
It is all the same thing, from the same place, for the same purpose.

And how do we recognize it?
God's kind of love is completely free of self-interest.
In God's world, self-love doesn't exist.
God's love looks out, not in.
It comes from God and goes back to Him, a closed circuit.
And when we love like God, we are with Him.
We are His creation, part of His family.
Because of this, when we love, we enjoy heaven on earth.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Sacrifice: Why Bother?

We can make no sacrifice that is of use to God.

I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills...If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and everything in it.--Psalm 50: 9, 10, 12

He does not need anything we can give Him.
No service.
No prayer.
No fasting.
No giving.
No witnessing.
No singing.
He can do all of it better Himself.

God wants only one thing from us--to acknowledge Him, to affirm that we understand He is God, perpetually greater than we are.

If the performance of sacrifice serves that end, if it brings us to His feet in worship, if it changes our inmost, invisible heart, only then does it have value.
Our sacrifces must change us, make us more God's, or they are wasted exhibitions.

He who sacrifices thank offerings honors Me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God.--Psalm 50:23

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Danger of Knowing

God planted two trees in the Garden of Eden.
The Tree of Knowledge, by which men could know both good and evil, and in that way, be like God and
The Tree of Life, by whose fruit man could live forever.

Men would only be allowed to eat from one of them, and God told Adam which He recommended.
Adam and Eve, however, ignored God.
They chose the Tree of Knowledge.

It sounded good, the knowing, but it didn't work out very well.
The problem is this--only in innocence can we live forever with God.
And, once we have known evil, God must cast us out.
And so, He did.

Now, however, that we have taken from the first tree, we still long for the second. We were made, after all, for everlasting communion with God.
But flaming swords block our path, swords that only Jesus Christ, by His triumphal death, could part.
That is the punishment of Eden.

And it is still true.
The wrong knowledge leads me into sin and withholds life.
Do I need to learn, to know?
Yes, but as in so much else, I must be careful of what I learn.
I will have to live with it for the rest of my life.

...but God did say, "You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die."--Genesis 3:3

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Blood on our Hands

You bred it.
You birthed it.
You fed it.
And now you are going to have to kill it.
God says so.

When a Hebrew penitent came to the temple under the old sacficicial system, the priest prayed over the lamb he'd brought, but he handed the knife to the penitent. An obedient Hebrew cut the throat of his own animal  himself.

At the moment of the animal's death, two things happened.
First, the Hebrew did the deed.  He was full of blood from it. He knew the stench of it. He expended the effort to raise it, to bring it, and to kill it in the name of God.
Second, he was deprived of it. One of the best of his flock, that animal could have fed his family, but now it would not.

Today, even after Jesus' final blood sacrifice, we do not escape that God requires the same from us.

What we bring to the temple looks quite different, but is often no less messy or painful.
And it still has the same two components.

We bring the sacrifice of doing what we do not want to do.
And we bring the sacrifice of not doing what we desire.
They are not the same thing.
One does not substitute for the other.

The sacrifice of doing.
And the sacrifice of doing without.

When any of you brings an offering to the Lord, bring as your offering an animal from the herd or the flock... He is to lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him. He is to slaughter the young bull before the Lord...Leviticus 1:2-5

The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences for acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!--Hebrews 9:13-14