Lessons From The Wilderness - Matthew 4:1-11

Lessons From The Wilderness – this new series focuses on what we learn from Jesus’ temptation in Matthew 4:1-11. I met with Cody and Tim this morning to discuss this passage and they both brought great insights for where we will go in this series. I want to leave you with a simple reflection this week as you prepare to gather together on Sunday. 

Before Jesus began his ministry, he took time to go to the wilderness to focus on his relationship with the Father through prayer and fasting. Tim had a great point in that we wait till we are absolutely exhausted from life before we take time to retreat and reconnect with God. I know many of my mistakes in ministry have been made out of places of exhaustion. I’ve said the wrong thing. I have had the wrong motives and focus. There are times where I simply have the wrong attitude about people and even my position. These mentalities and drives come from a place that is not centered in the peace that comes from God. So, Jesus begins his ministry with going out to the wilderness.

What is Jesus doing in the wilderness? In the passage leading up to our passage for Sunday, Jesus receives the Holy Spirit at his baptism. A voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Stop for a minute or two and repeat this to yourself: “I am a Child of God. I am loved by the Father and he is pleased with me.” What would be different about your life if you believed this? If you took time on a regular basis to retreat into the wilderness and find rest in your relationship with God, knowing that you are loved and he is pleased with you, how would life be different? I believe Jesus, who emptied himself from all advantages of being God (Phil 2:5-11), wrestled with this in the wilderness and what it would mean for his life and ministry. 

When the devil came to tempt him, he attacked this identity and tempted him to accomplish his ministry through worldly means. Jesus knew that the only way to conquer sin’s grip on the world would be to allow the world to do its worst to him. He knew that he would have to continually empty himself of all ego and worldly motivations and allow himself to be filled with the Holy Spirit if he was going to be the Messiah the Father has called him to be. We are called to be Christ’s ambassadors in this world. We are to be the presence of God and to bring reconciliation to the brokenness we see around us. The practice of Lent is a practice of submission where we empty ourselves of something that we might be filled with the Holy Spirit. This emptying prepares us for the temptation that is coming. We don’t fast so that God might notice us. We fast so that we will be filled more with God than anything else. 

How did Jesus combat temptation? He did so with the three things we have in our possession. First, he had the Holy Spirit, given at his baptism, as an identity marker. We are daughters and sons of God because we were given the same Spirit at our baptism. Second, Jesus knew and used scripture. He didn’t know scripture because it was divinely downloaded. He knew scripture because he memorized it as a child like every Jewish child. Finally, he submitted himself to the Father in prayer. Prayer is a powerful weapon. This is the place when we intentionally enter the presence of God, to be examined, and to be emptied of all that is not of God. When we live out of a place of prayer, we live in the assurance of our identity in and with God. 

Take time to reflect and re-reflect on Jesus’ time in the wilderness. What lessons do you learn? I’d love for you to share your reflections with me. Peace be with you in your journey through the wilderness.

Lent - Lessons From the Wilderness

This Sunday, we will wrap up our series on GROW. My hope has been that we have grown in our knowledge of the nature of God (Father, Son, Spirit) being a divine and eternal community that we are invited into. We experience God more fully when we experience God within a community of diverse believers. These relationships are not just being in proximity to one another but to engage in genuine relationships where everyone has something to receive and everyone has something to offer. Through knowing God more fully in genuine relationships with one another, worship naturally pours out of us. We are then changed by the presence of God and become more like the people God created us to be. We continue in this cycle of Gathering, Receiving, Offering, and Worshipping. It is never ending till the full presence of God becomes our reality in the Resurrection. 

This is why the resurrection is so foundational to Christian faith. We are not waiting for our souls to be released from our bodies to go sit in a “heavenly existence” (location of heaven). That was never God’s intention. That was Plato’s teaching. God created the world perfect, sin broke it, God is redeeming it through Jesus Christ. The resurrection of Jesus is the first taste of what is coming (1 Cor 15), not just for our redemption but also for the redemption of this whole creation (Rom 8). Throughout different parts of the NT, the writers talk about the Christian life being lived out as a resurrected life. This is often called living in the “already but not yet.” We already have the resurrection, but we don’t have it fully. This is what Paul is talking about in 1 Cor 13:8-13, “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

This brings me to the practice of Lent, which begins on March 6 with Ash Wednesday and ends with the celebration of Christ’s Resurrection on Easter, April 21. Lent begins with Ash Wednesday to remind us that we still live in the brokenness of a world in need of redemption. Lent ends with a celebration of the one who redeems the world through resurrection. Lent, as a practice, reminds us of who we are called to be as Christ’s ambassadors to bring redemption to a broken world (2 Cor. 5). We align our lives with the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.

Lent is focused on the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness after his baptism and before starting his ministry. These 40 days of fasting and praying helped center his focus on who he is as the Son of God and what his ministry is as the Messiah. Throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus continually going off to solitary places for the purpose of prayer. In short, prayer should shape our lives and center us in our reality of being daughters and sons of God. Lent isn’t just about giving something up as an act of repentance or sacrifice. Lent is about re-centering your life, reminding yourself of who you are and who God is. 

 If you ever stop to count how many days that is, you’ll see that there are more than 40 days. There are six Sundays in Lent before Easter Sunday. On these Sundays, it you partake of whatever it is that you chose to give up for Lent. The idea is that on Sunday, the day of resurrection, you taste that the Lord is good. The other six days, when you are neglecting what you have given up, you are reminded of the brokenness of the world around you. Sunday, you are reminded that you are to partner with Christ in bringing redemption to the world. How beautiful of a practice this is when it is connected to the continual reminder of who we are to be in the world as Christ’s ambassadors?! How much sweeter does chocolate taste when it is pointing to how good the resurrection will be when God makes everything perfect again in Jesus Christ?!

There is a longing inside each of us for redemption. Each day we are reminded that while we have the Holy Spirit inside of us, we still await fullness (2 Cor. 5). Because we are people who have been reconciled to God, and continue to be reconciled, we also participate with God in bringing about reconciliation to the world around us. The Season of Lent is a season of remembering what God is doing in this broken world through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.  

Through the season of Lent, our sermons will focus on lessons we learn from the wilderness. We will focus on Jesus’ time in the wilderness and how that connects with Israel’s time in the wilderness. Take some time to read Matthew 4:1-11 (along with the passages mentioned above) and reflect on what the temptations say about Jesus’ identity and our identity as the people of God. No matter how great you think this world, or even this country is, it pales in comparison of what God intends for it to be when the resurrection comes. Till that day comes, we will continually face temptations that threaten our identity as daughters and sons of God. 

 Further Study: Take some time to sit and reflect on Romans 5, 2 Corinthians 5, 1 Corinthians 15, and Revelation 21:1-8; 21:22-22:5. What do these passages say about the Resurrection? What will be resurrected? How will our resurrection be like Christ’s resurrection? How have we already received the resurrection? Have we received it fully? What is God’s end game? How does all of this matter for how we live today? 

GROW - Worship

Do you remember going to a big youth gathering where the worship was powerful because there were thousands of people singing in one voice? Some older gentleman (possibly someone named Jeff) walks out on stage after a long period of singing and says, “Isn’t this great! I know this is what heaven will be like!” I remember when this would happen when I was a youth minister, I’d look over at some of my teens who never connected with singing. They’d have a look on their faces that communicated very honestly that they would rather take their chances with the other place. I’m mostly exaggerating but I know a lot of people who share this sentiment when they hear people talk about “Worship.” 

Worship is mentioned over 8000 times in the Bible. But, what is the purpose? Why do we do it? Worship is sometimes presented, or at least thought about, as an act we do to appease god and keep him happy. Sometimes it is seen as part of our obligation to eventually receive our reward. These are poor views of what worship is and should accomplish in us. There are many other poor views, but I want to shift our focus to what worship is and does in community. 

In N.T. Wright’s book, Simply Christian he begins his chapter on worship with this short paragraph:

“When we begin to glimpse the reality of God, the natural reaction is to worship him. Not to have that reaction is a fairly sure sign that we haven’t yet really understood who he is or what he’s done.”

I read this over a decade ago and it is continually working on me. We experience God more deeply when we Gather with one another. The more diverse our interactions are, the more aspects of God we experience. The Holy Trinity is an eternal community in a continual dance of receiving and offering between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The more we experience this divine dance in our relationships with one another, the better we understand God. The natural outflow of this understanding is worship.

We are broken images of God looking to find fulness in His image again. Whenever we find ourselves worshiping something other than God, we are moving further than the image in which we were created to embody. 

“Those who worship money increasingly define themselves in terms of it and increasingly treat other people as creditors, debtors, partners, or customers rather than as human beings. Those who worship sex define themselves in terms of it (their preferences, their practices, their past histories) and increasingly treat other people as actual or potential sex objects.  Those who worship power define themselves in terms of it and treat other people as either collaborators, competitors, or pawns. These and many other forms of idolatry combine in a thousand ways, all of them damaging to the image-bearing quality of the people concerned and of those whose lives they touch.” – NT Wright, Surprised by Hope 

Joining others in worship should reorient our desires towards God. It should shape our identity as the image bearers of God. When we encounter worship on this level, we are reoriented for the mission God has called us to as His co-rulers in this world. 

There are lots of places we can go in Scripture to talk about Worship. The Psalms are filled with outpourings of praise. I want to direct your reflections to two passages as we prepare for Sunday:

Isaiah 6:1-8

  • When Isaiah enters the presence of God, he is shaken to his core because he is inadequate to even gaze upon God’s robe. He recognizes his broken image when he encounters the perfect image of God. In God’s presence, he is made clean. Out of this amazing encounter with the divine worship in the presence of God he then has the confidence to stand up and answer God’s call to carry his message.

  • If you knew you were in the presence of God when we all gathered to worship, what would change in how you worship?

Revelation 19:1-8

  • The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures falling down to worship God represent all of humanity and the rest of God’s living creation falling down to worship. All that has been created by God has a natural desire to worship its creator. It does not rest till it finds its fullness in God again. That’s why all of creation is longing for redemption (Romans 8). In Revelation 19, we catch a glimpse of what creation is crying out in praise. We don’t understand them here on earth but all of creation is crying out to God in praise, and we’re invited to join in song. 

  • When we worship, we do not do it as individuals, or even just as our congregation. We join the multitudes throughout heaven and earth. Take time this week to see how the creation around you praises God. What does this show you about worship? Spend some time reflecting on Matthew 6:26 with this in mind.

GROW - Offer pt 2

Offer.

We each are given gifts through the Holy Spirit. These gifts are from God and are meant to be shared with others. They are not gifts given for personal development in a personal walk with Jesus. We are all part of the Body of Christ (1 Cor 12). We all have a part to play. These gifts are given “for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:7). When it comes to giving gifts, there is only one way to give them: in love (1 Cor 13). There’s not much worse than for someone to show up to offer their help and do it with a bad attitude, from a position of superiority, or begrudged because they only want to offer their help in how they best see fit rather than offering their gifts for however they might be used. We let all kinds of things get in the way of offering our gifts for the common good. There are times when I know “the most excellent way” and it ends up not being the way of love. Let’s strive together to examine the gifts we have, offer them for the common good, and to bring them in love wrapped in grace and mercy.

Acts 2:42-47 depicts a beautiful picture of a community of believers receiving and offering in common relationship with one another. Each person in the community has something to offer for the common good of the community. This is how Family works. As we turn the pages of Acts, we see that this does not stay the reality for long. Prejudice seeps in. The Hellenistic widows were being overlooked by the Hebraic Jews in the distribution of food (Acts 6). The Apostles ask for seven men to be put forward to take on the role of servant leadership. They hold up the image of Acts 2:42-47 and look at their reality and work to reconcile it. The rest of the New Testament can more or less be laid out like this. When the church fails to be lived out as a faith community, the image of Acts 2:42-47 is held up and they work to bring it to reality. Another way of saying this is, develop the eyes of God to see what he desired his creation to be when he created it, and work to bring that reality into existence. This should never be about gaining power over one another but about bringing everyone together into harmony. 

The early church was filled with people who had the eyes of God to see what needed to happen to set the world right all around them. They saw the needs of others and offered what they had. The church was filled with women and men who didn’t let social norms get in the way of showing love to all who needed to receive it. We focus a lot on the big names in the Bible: Peter, Paul, Mary… But the New Testament is filled with names who don’t have stories other than, “They were generous,” or “They are hard workers in the faith.” These sentiments are far from the consumeristic mindset that has beset the western church today where most people are looking for a church that best meets their needs. 

Take some time to read the end of most of Paul’s letters. He often just lists off groups of people who send their greetings. Sit with these chapters and imagine what their stories must be like. We don’t have them but they were important to Paul and to the growth of the church. You’ll find names like Phoebe, a deacon in the church in Cenchreae (Rom. 16:1-2), Priscilla and Aquila (Rom. 16:3; Acts 18; 1 Cor 16:19; 2 Tim 4:19), Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Persis, three women who work hard in the Lord (Rom. 16:12), and many more in other books. 

The passage I want to focus on for Sunday is Acts 9:36-43. Read this story with Tabitha as the main focus while you read instead of Peter. Why was it important the she be raised from the dead? Don’t settle with your first answer to that question. Sit with the text for a bit and imagine who this Christian Sister of ours was to her community. 

What do you have to offer for the common good of our community?

GROW - Offer

Relationships are a divine dance of receiving and offering to one another. We hear the music for this dance through the Holy Spirit’s action in our lives. Relationships take a level of vulnerability where we are open to receiving from others. Receiving from others validates their humanity in that they have something worth offering. We see God allowing himself to be vulnerable in creating humanity to co-rule with him. This co-ruling is not with a sword in hand but with a shovel. The image used of this co-ruling relationship is one of co-gardening. If God is willing to make himself vulnerable for the sake of relationship with us, we should be willing to make ourselves vulnerable for the sake of relationships with one another (Phil 2:5-11). When we enter into this divine dance together, we cultivate the soil as gardeners for God’s new creation to grow (2 Cor 5:17).

We’ve talked over the last two weeks about being in a position to receive from others. For the next two weeks, I want to look at the other side of this relationship and talk about what it means to offer. Take time this week to read through 1 Corinthians 12 focusing on the God-given gifts we each have and what it means to be part of the Body of Christ. 

Paul addresses a lot of issues in 1 Corinthians but the major theme that runs through the entire letter is the theme of unity. There are divisions in the church. What are they divided on? Just about everything. Mostly, they are divided on socio-economic position and influence people have in society. The point Paul is trying to make is that all people, who come into the Kingdom through the grace of Christ, are equal in every way. All have received the Spirit. All have a gift to give. But if your gift is only used for self-gratification then it isn’t of God. All gifts are to be used “for the common good” (12:7). If you do not use your gift for the common good of the Body of Christ, then can you say that you are part of the Body? 

Being a Christian means entering into the messiness of community and relationships. As you read through 1 Corinthians 12, here are some questions to wrestle with: 

  • Does everyone have a gift to give? 

  • If someone has a God-given gift, should that gift be excluded from being used for the common good of the church? 

  • What does this passage say about the celebration of diversity that should be experienced within the church?  

  • If you never offer anything for the common good, are you a healthy part of the body? 

  • What gift do you have that you can use for the common good of the church? 

GROW - Receive pt 2

Christian Hospitality: Space created where people are affirmed in their worth and value through relationships because they each have something to offer and all are open to receiving. 

I made that definition up, but I think there is something deeply biblical behind it. In Acts 2:42-47, we see the early Christ followers sharing everything in common. I find this better to not think about this communal relationship as communistic but as family. Family still has Mothers and Fathers who lead those who are younger, but they do so with a different intention and focus. In a Family, each person is affirmed because they share the same name, and each have something to offer. Luke gives us the ideal look at the faith community who is centered on their identity in Christ. The receiving and offering between people in the community become the dance of life together which is wrapped up in worship. This is the Kingdom of Heaven.

This past Sunday, we focused on the fact that God allows himself to be vulnerable for the sake of relationship. He allows us to offer something in the relationship, affirming our place in relationship with God. If God is not above receiving from us, why would we be above receiving from one another? How are we affirming others in our faith community by creating space where they have something to offer?

As we continue to focus on this position of receiving, spend some time reflecting on the two parables Jesus gives in Matthew 13:44-46. “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…then he sold all he had and bought it.” There are a few things I want to point out to direct your meditation. The Kingdom of Heaven is here now. What does it mean to “sell everything” to then have it? If you sell everything, how will you provide for yourself? What does this tell us about what it means to “Receive” from others? Take time to evaluate your life. What are some securities you struggle to let go of in order to possess the Kingdom? How does this keep you from being in relationship with others in the faith community? 

Acts 2:42-47 is a beautiful picture of what it looks like to “sell everything” in order to have the Kingdom. When we think of the Kingdom as something we arrive in after we die, everything we do in this life becomes work to receive the reward. When we see the Kingdom as the community of believers we are brought into through Jesus Christ in baptism, we see our relationships as a means for living out the heavenly reality here and now. The deeper our diverse relationships go, the deeper our understanding and experience of the Kingdom of Heaven. We will fully realize the depths of the Kingdom when we come into the Resurrection after we die, but we are called to live it out here and now through our relationships with one another. This takes work. It takes commitment. It takes selling out completely.   

GROW - Receive

“My God is so big, so strong, and so mighty! There’s nothing my God cannot do!” We sing this song with our children. God is mighty! He is almighty! We like God to be big, mighty, and even a bit untouchable. The question I’ve been wrestling with for a few days (which is why this blog is late getting posted) is, “Is God vulnerable?” 

Paul says that the “weakness of God is stronger than human strength” in 1 Corinthians 1:25. We place a lot of emphasis on human strength found in the “self-made man,” in autonomy. We prize the person who needs no one. The rugged individual who can stand on their own two feet. When we look at God, we see three persons existing in mutuality. Where the self-made man desires control, the Threeness of God seems to love vulnerability. 

We have focused on why we Gather and now we shift to what happens when we Gather: We Receive, and we Offer. Relationships are founded in a dance of giving and receiving. If you are in a relationship where you only give and never receive, the relationship feels lopsided and it fails to feel mutual. What does it mean that when we come together, everyone has something they need to Receive, and everyone has something they can Offer? 

God places himself in a position to Receive from us. He places himself in a position of relationship where we are given value because he desires to receive from us and not just give to us. What harm do we cause in our relationships if we refuse to receive from others? How do we devalue people when we don’t allow them space to offer something to us?

In preparation for Sunday, read these passages and reflect on how God places himself in a position of vulnerability: 

-      Genesis 3:6-12

-      Exodus 6:7

-      Matthew 8:20

-      Mark 15:41

-      Luke 7:36-38

-      Luke 19:5

-      Philippians 2:5-8

-      Hebrews 2:17

Gather - Pt. 2, The Body of Christ

There are people who pass through this life too quickly but leave their mark so powerfully that they will never be forgotten. Their memory is so readily in our minds, even if we never knew them, that a mere mention of something they said or did opens the floodgates of memory. When you hear someone say, “I have a dream…” who do you think of? This iconic speech has left its mark on our society for generations to come. The reality is, Martin Luther King’s dream is far from realized and it is up to God’s people to carry the torch forward as a light to the nation to be the people who God has called us to be. We are a people who are free from the tyranny of ego that stems from our identity as any particular race, creed, party, or history. We are a people who have clothed ourselves with Christ in baptism (Galatians 3:26-29). Those who have received baptism, have died to any ego that divides us as people. Christ, who is our peace, has brought us all together as one people by destroying all barriers and making us one new humanity through the one Spirit (Ephesians 2:14-18). 

If you’ve never heard King’s full speech, you can listen to it HERE or read it HERE

King’s dream is rooted in God’s dream and intention for his creation. From the very beginning, God’s desire was that all people would be together as one people, empowered by presence, illuminated by his Spirit. Last week, Cody spoke about the need to gather because we are God’s Temple, the place where Israel came to receive forgiveness and to be transformed into the people God wanted them to be. From the Temple, they were to go out and be a light to the nations. God, giving us his Spirit, has made us his Temple that we might be a light to the nations offering grace and peace to all we encounter. This week, as we look at what it means to Gather, we will talk about being the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:15-16).

At the basis of God’s dream, and the dream of Dr. King, is love. God in his essence is love. Love expressed between Three persons, the Trinity. Love flowing from the Father to the Son, Son to the Father, flowing through and in the Holy Spirit which holds this eternal dance in place forever. This love danced its way down from heaven and became man. Love as a baby. Love to conquer hate. Love that would not be understood by those who keep their foot in the ego of this world. Love that allowed hate to do its worst to it. This love, this eternal love divinely dancing, conquered death and broke down the barriers of hate that keep people from dancing in love. This love illuminated humanity to properly dance again. This love brings humanity together into the divine dance of the Trinity, in community with Father, Son, and Spirit. 

Love manifested itself in the man, Jesus, and when he ascended back into heaven, he breathed his love on us (the Spirit) that we might dance to a new tune (Revelation 5:9-10; 14:3). We, together, are the body of Christ that we might show the world how to dance. We continue the ministry of Jesus to reconcile the world back to God, in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:16-21). We do this by Gathering together. We do this by recognizing our place in the body of Christ, and each part does its work to grow and build up the body (Ephesians 4:14-16; 1 Cor. 12-13; Romans 12).

If you are not connected to the Body of Christ, the church, how can you build the body up in love? Being in relationship with other Christians is where we learn to dance with God, Father-Son-Spirit, in Love. The dream must first be realized in the Church and then spread to the world.

Gather

 (Post by Cody Poinsett)

I’ve always considered myself to be an independent person. In fact, I’ve even been guilty of being proud of myself for refusing to ask for help. As I’m sure you can imagine, this has caused plenty of problems throughout my life. This shortcoming has never been more obvious to me than it was during my college years. My freshman, sophomore, and junior years were full of frustration and loneliness. My social life was mediocre, my mental health suffered, and my spiritual life was devoid of growth. That’s not to say that my life was in shambles or anything like that, but I was really just struggling to grow. It wasn’t until my senior year that I began to understand why I was having such a difficult time growing. Finally, after three years, I became invested in a community of men and women who knew me and were willing to push me. It just so happened that the vast majority of these people either came from the church that I began attending that year or from a community of people established through our Bible classes at school. These people began introducing me to new ideas and practices. They were asking me questions about why I believed what I believed. Ultimately, this led to me finding growth that would have been completely impossible in isolation.

This is one of the fundamental reasons that Christian community is so important. We are able to learn in grow in ways that become much more difficult to pursue in isolation. This is a big part of what is taking place in Acts 2. Luke writes about a community of believers who are deeply engaged in one another’s lives. Through these relationships, there came a community that was growing spiritually, serving the needs of those around them, and making a difference in the world. Things like this simply cannot be accomplished in isolation. This is the role of the church.

It took me a long time to realize that I can be incomplete because of another person. In fact, I’m not sure that I really, truly believe that now. Logically, I know it, but I’m not sure that I’ve accepted that in my heart. But, that’s the truth of the body of Christ. When we are missing one member, we’re lacking something important. When we gather together, we legitimately need every person to be with us. When we are missing people, we are incomplete because every person in the body of Christ has something to offer. Every single person in the body of Christ has a gift that can be shared. And, when we’re missing one person’s gift, we as a body are incomplete. This is why it is important for us to gather together regularly as a complete body. The more complete our body is, the more we will be able to grow. The more growth we experience, the greater our capacity to love will be.