Thursday, January 7, 2021

The Lure of Certainty

What really tempts you? Recognition, wealth, health, power?

Reading about the temptation of Jesus in Matthew (4:1-11) this morning, I noticed something. There are three temptations. First, Satan tempts Jesus to turn stones to bread. This temptation makes sense. Jesus had been fasting for 40 days. Obviously he was hungry. There's no reason for the Son of God to be hungry, now, is there? We easily understand the temptation of food, even when we aren't hungry.

The third temptation in Matthew is also easy to understand. Who would not want all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor? Satan offered this to Jesus, if only Jesus would worship the devil. That's a big payoff for a mere gesture of worship. 

But the second temptation is curious. Satan told Jesus to throw himself off the highest point of the temple mount in Jerusalem. Why would he be tempted to do this? Most of us have little difficulty avoiding throwing ourselves off tall buildings. What could Jesus possibly gain from this stunt? Worst case, Jesus would be dead, from apparent suicide. But Satan assures Jesus that God will command his angels to save Jesus. So the best case is that Jesus is swept up from the fall by angels and safely placed on solid ground. This would certainly boost Jesus' fame, and potentially spread his message faster. But maybe the real temptation was something else.

Maybe Satan was tempting Jesus to gain certainty. If he jumped off and splatted on the ground, it would all be over. But if he were saved miraculously, then Jesus would know for certain that he really was the Son of God. There's proof positive. Notice that Satan's temptation begins with "If you are the Son of God..." The payoff, the temptation here, may not be fame but certainty.

Jesus was willing to find his certainty in his trust of the Father. He did not need a stunt to prove anything. His certainty came from relationship.

Many of us want certainty now. We want to know that we can take that vacation this summer. We want to know that we will have a job again in three months or that we will still have a job next week.

I don't know what stunt we could devise to be sure about the future. But I do know that God calls us to trust him. Living by faith is trusting God, especially in times of uncertainty.

Jesus told his followers that he would be with us until the end of the age. Let's live like we believe it.

The Western Wall of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
The pile of stones in the distance is the rubble
of the Temple building, thrown down from the Mount
in A.D. 70 by Roman soldiers.


Wednesday, January 6, 2021

An Epiphany to Remember

January 6 is the feast of Epiphany on the Christian calendar. It marks the visit of the Magi to baby Jesus in Bethlehem. The word means "manifestation," and the Magi's visit marks the Lord's first manifestation to the Gentiles.

Epiphany also means "a sudden...perception of the essential nature or meaning of something." I wonder if Americans suddenly realize how precious is our republic. We take for granted that our votes matter, and that our democratically elected representatives will defend the U.S. Constitution and stand for the rule of law.

When a new administration moves into the White House, news commentators always note that in America there is a peaceful transition of power, regardless of the party going in or out of power. Since 1789 we have had peaceful transitions of power. Even at the brink of the Civil War, no one stormed the Capitol. 

We must not take our republic for granted, as Benjamin Franklin famously implied. We need to uphold the Constitution, even when we disagree with the outcomes of elections. There will always another election. Or at least there always has been.

Christians in America also need another epiphany: the governments of humans will always be flawed and can never bring in the kingdom of God. As Jesus said, his kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). He reigns in the hearts of his followers, transforming our lives from the inside out. When his love rules in our hearts, this world really becomes a better place. It takes time, centuries, apparently. And one day he will return to rule on earth.

Until then, we must let his love rule our lives and work to make these earthly governments as just and peaceful as possible.



Monday, December 7, 2020

Tyranny of the To-Do List

This time of year can be overwhelming. We try to get Christmas shopping done early. We have extra responsibilities with work, school, family, church. And this year we have to reinvent so many traditional activities. It never feels like we get finished.

My to-do list feels like a constant nag, reminding me that there is more to do. I don't feel like I deserve to rest until everything is done. And it never is. So I feel guilty when I rest. 

Finally I realize that I will truly never finish my to-do list. Ever. There will always be another chore to do, obligation to fulfill, task to complete. (And I have to admit that there is genuine joy in accomplishing things.) But I miss out on so much joy because something else needs to be done.

I'm trying to reframe my thinking so that I can be comfortable with a never-ending list of responsibilities. I need to rest, at least one day out of seven. Yes, maybe I don't deserve to rest, but God is all about giving us what we don't deserve. It's called grace.

I think about the people I know who really live in the joy of Christ. They are fun to be around. They are encouraging. They laugh a lot. They see the best in me and in circumstances. And...they have things that they haven't yet done. They don't let their responsibilities steal their joy. And most of them seem like productive people, not burdened people.

That's how I want to be when I grow up.



Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Veterans Day Reflections

Freedom is not free. In this broken world, broken people seek to harm and oppress others, and to take what is not theirs. Soldiers and sailors stand to defend the innocent from such aggressors.

Today we remember and thank all those who have served in the United States military. While we may long for a world in which the military is unnecessary, we owe our freedom to those who will stand with force to keep us free.

America has not always been right with foreign policy, but every citizen here has the right to express opposition. We can also look back at our history and recognize mistakes. We can even argue about the intention of those in our history.

This freedom--the freedom of property, thought, expression, religion--this freedom is worth defending. It is worth refining. It is worth debating. It is worth exploring. It is worth celebrating.

Thank you, veterans, for serving this great country, and giving us the freedom to keep on arguing, voting, creating, and reflecting. Without you, the broken powers of this world would crush us.



Monday, November 9, 2020

Why Politics Becomes Dirty Business

The world of politics looks like a mess these days. We constantly hear about corruption and scandal. One politician strikes a shady deal to line her pockets, while another cheats on his wife just because he can. 

People who seem to have good morals and noble character seem to go bad when they get to the Capital.

I met a former congressman from Oklahoma some time ago who had served in the U.S. Congress for 10 years. He told me something I have never forgotten. "People are elected and go to Washington," he said, "believing that it's a cesspool. When they've been there for a while, they start thinking that it's a Jacuzzi."

The ability to wield power changes people. We begin desiring to use power for good, and then we reframe what is actually good. Before long, we can do mental and ethical gymnastics to justify all sorts of behavior. We vote for bad legislation to get other people to vote for our good legislation. We hide shady deals behind a cloak of national security. We help out our friends in business because, obviously, when businesses succeed everybody wins.

 And politics is the art of compromise. We learn how to make deals to keep our campaign promises. It's a short leap to compromise morally, for the greater good, of course.

I say, "we" because every human is tempted by power. We may believe that we would never fall to corruption if we were elected to office. I suspect that nearly every elected official believes that when first elected. Yet so many cave to temptation. Maybe you would be the rare exception. But this corruption sneaks up on the unsuspecting.

We desperately need some statesmen and stateswomen who can respond to the call to leadership and stay grounded in humility and accountability.

The Constitutional system of checks and balances is a pretty good way of stopping corruption. But obviously we need honorable people to make it work.

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Holiday Season, COVID Style

Here we are, well into November, and the holiday season is fast approaching. We can't do the normal holiday stuff this year, or can we? Now we have to figure out whether it is safe to travel across the county or the country to gather in homes with family. Do we go or not? How many is too many, in the house, at the table, in the room... Do we wear masks? Do we hug?

How long should the Thanksgiving gathering last? Do we serve the food differently? Do we put a jug of hand sanitizer right next to the gravy?

Sigh.

I looked for the latest COVID-19 statistics on my phone's news app, where I have reliably found that info for months, but it was nowhere to be found. Seems suddenly that's not so important. While cases supposedly are surging, the election results seem to overshadow everything else.

I'm sure that we will get plenty of advice from politicians and physicians very soon, so we can make good decisions about safely gathering.

We did family Easter celebrating by Zoom. I am not a fan. We really need to be with each other. Maybe now more than ever.

Let's be careful and wise, not spread germs, but share love. That's not easy these days.



Friday, November 6, 2020

Waiting

I find that waiting is hard work. Right now we are waiting for the pandemic to end. Unfortunately today's new infections set a new record in the U.S. Waiting is especially hard when we don't know how long it will take. 

So, we find ourselves waiting for normal life to return, and now we are waiting to know who the president will be next year,

And there's another kind of waiting: waiting on the Lord. We wait for God's guidance, his assurance, his answers to our prayers. We don't know how long it will take for God to show up. In the meantime, he lets us grow through the waiting.

In this season of waiting, let's tune in to what's really important. Wait for it.