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Posts Tagged ‘temptation’

dream and forgivenessIt’s not like Joseph had one God dream after another. He had a couple of foretelling dreams as a teen and no other dreams of his are shared through his time in Egypt. Instead, he turned to dream interpretation, but again, only a few. He known for being an honorable man, but not necessarily a diviner. Yet, God used him in this way at a point of need.

[Joseph said:] And now let Pharaoh look for a discerning and wise man and put him in charge of the land of Egypt . . . Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you.” . . .  Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt.  [Genesis 41:33, 39-40, 46a; NIV]

After twelve years of servitude, Joseph is raised up to one of the highest positions in that world, second only to Pharaoh at the age of thirty, all because of a dream, an interpretation, a vision, and twelve years of leading in lower positions. Every year of his captivity was actually a year of practice and preparation for the big leap. He had no way of knowing that such a day would come.

What we don’t see is any record of built up resentments toward his half-brothers. The only hint that memories cause him pain comes in the naming of his sons: Manasseh (which appears to mean “forget” and Joseph writes that his son has been born to help him forget his father’s household) and Ephraim (which seems to mean “twice fruitful,” and Joseph writes that this birth symbolizes a new life of fruitfulness in the place of suffering). Suffering? Interesting.

By the time the brothers finally come from Canaan to ask Egypt for grain, Joseph has been away at least twenty years. He has a new name, a new life, and his own family. And yet, the moment of reckoning arrives–the moment of payback, the moment when he could, at a word, destroy all ten of his brothers for their betrayal. During this first visit, he is tempted but there is also his integrity fighting against it.

Resentments build fast in my world. I know it. I see it. I feel it. People will say, “oh, I forgave, but I will never forget.” I think it was my old friend, Mma Precious Ramotswe, from the mystery series The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, who said (more or less), “If we don’t choose to forget as well, the memory may very well erase the forgiveness.”

I can choose drama or I can choose dream. I can choose to forgive and forget. I can allow God’s dream to build a life or I can fight the way. I can complain of the time and the disappointments or I can trust in the preparation.

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seed-germinatingOf course, we all have our temptations. But each one starts as a little seed, a glimmer of an idea. And it’s in that moment that we can either flick it away while it is still small and manageable, or we can pour nutrients on it and cultivate it. Sin only has the power we give it. That’s why James calls it a conception: takes two.

“. . . 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.”  [James 1:14-15]

Joyce Meyer teaches eloquently about temptation and sin in her book, Battlefield of the Mind. For most sins present themselves in relatively innocuous or unoffending ways.  A person doesn’t wallow in pornography the first day; instead, it might be a mistaken hit on the computer, a magazine casually opened, a movie at a party, an invitation by a friend, and so on. The images then are planted in the brain and if they are viewed and viewed within, they gain capacity and potentiality for more. And where the brain goes, the body will follow. The battle begins in our thoughts and how they handle what we see, touch, smell or hear.

If, like me, a person has an addictive personality, a bent toward repeating and embracing habits, then it’s even more critical to avoid the first exposure to that element. But, the trick is recognizing it when it appears.

Whether it’s food or alcohol or drugs or pornography or violence or abuse, all of the helping organizations and systems start with fasting. If you are addicted to sweets, why are there cookies in your house? If addicted to alcohol, why would you stock up on vodka or beer.

So often, we open those doors with our mind’s ability to justify the exposure: “I’m just buying this for my friends; it’s a social thing; I can handle it,” and so on. This is the area when an idea is truly conceived and can give birth to the actual sin. Like a small baby that sin might begin, kind of cute and manageable. But it does grow up and like all children, develops an intolerance to your objections.

James is giving us a clear formula for the path that temptation takes within.

Once the seed has burrowed in, roots deep, it’s another process all together. But today, Lord, give me eyes to see (hear, feel) the scattering of seed temptations in my life. I give you permission to be the great vacuum cleaner and carry them away.

Let me, instead, put my mind here:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. [Philippians 4:8]

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distanthomeI will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ [Luke 5:18-19]

Before the “prodigal” son could return home, he had to see himself and his situation. This is that epiphany moment when everything that has been fuzzy is clear, when the justifications no longer work, when the excuses are exposed as lame, when truth wins. And in that moment, there is a choice, to continue along the same path or turn around.

It’s hard to turn around because that journey may mean going over the same ground traveled once before: in essence, a review of those older choices. The road appears even longer on the way back. Did I really do that? Did I really say that? Did I really come this far?

And that is the question, isn’t it? Did I really?

It’s too easy to lose sight of what is happening on that “road to perdition.” What might have appalled the first time becomes common place. The shock wears off and soon, circumstances become the norm.

Like the story of the frog who drowns in the pot of water, slowly heating up.

Of course, not every return is from the pit of hell (although sometimes, it’s clearer, what needs to happen next). Some returns are closer at hand. Sometimes, it’s just a prayer life that has gotten bland and superficial, where more time is spent at a meal prayer than at the feet of Christ. Sometimes, it’s a type of laziness, a depression that is not clinical, but woos all the same: to lie there in the curve of the sheets or the indent of the couch, to cuddle into the hollow of the chair.

Home in Christ is not passive by nature. When it is, something is amiss. Why have I allowed it to become so wishy-washy? Why has my faith become so tame, so compliant? So lacking in joy and transformative power? It’s not bad or evil, my situation. I mean, I’m not wallowing in pig slime or sin. I’m boring today.

I’m a boring believer. Sluggish. It’s my own miniature of the “dark night of the soul.” I don’t believe God or the Presence is missing. Of course. It is I who have gone somewhat AWOL. Perhaps it was the busy few days, the travel, the change in schedule that has plunged me into this lassitude. Or, it’s the pesky virus that hangs on to my head and sinuses, who drives me to sleep. In any case, I feel prodigal and dissipated by it.

So, what to do?

Call it for what it is. That’s first. Then I can turn around. Maybe tomorrow.

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Michelangelo's Pieta

Since the Sundays in Lent are generally excluded from most Lenten rituals, I decided to do something a little different on Sundays as well. I looked up the Lectionary for today, Year B. A Lectionary (a list of scripture readings appointed for a given day or occasion) is generally used by denominations that follow the church calendar such as Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, or Episcopalians. Judaism also has a lectionary of Torah readings.

Today, the readings are from Genesis 9:8-17 (Old Testament); Psalm 25:1-10 (Psalm, usually read responsively); I Peter 3:18-22 (New Testament); and Mark 1:9-15 (One of the Gospels).

The phrase that captured my imagination is from I Peter 3:18b “He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.”

It is through the transformation that Jesus endured from his 40 days in the desert to his death and resurrection that his Christ-ness is revealed to Human and the Holy Spirit is given to Earth to dwell with us and in us. It is the ultimate integration of the covenant God made with Noah for the sake of all life on earth which he signed with a rainbow. Jesus began his three year ministry after his trial in the desert; his first message was straightforward: “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” [Mark 1:15] Christ=Kingdom of God.

And lastly, I had a secondary serendipitous experience. For the last 6 months or so, I have started my morning devotion time with a single scripture, to prepare my heart and mind. This is what I wrote on the top of every page: “Guide me in your truth and teach me for you are my God and Savior and my trust is You.” [Psalm 25:5] To find the same passage in today’s Lectionary confirmed the rightness of choice and serene presence, as though, I too was being made alive in the Spirit.

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If I am supposed to have more confidence in the Christ, who acts in the role of high priest for me (whatever that means), and who supposedly has bona fide empathy with my temptations, then I’d better be clear on what they are.

Hebrews 4:15
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.

Secretly, I’m pretty sure I don’t really believe Jesus experienced all of my temptations and I’m guessing I’m not alone in that deep, dark truth.

Do I really believe that Jesus was tempted by anything like a Dunkin’ Donut or Creme Brulee? Did he worry about the number of calories consumed in a day or the sense of body betrayal when my favorite clothes no longer fit? Was Jesus ever tempted to give up and become a beached whale on the couch because nothing seemed to work?

Was Jesus tempted to run away from all of his responsibilities? Did he consider suicide? Was he tempted to get drunk and stay drunk because life was too overwhelming? And what about all the plights and dangers of love relationships, broken relationships, or marriages built on lies and convenience?

Or what about getting old? Did he look in the mirror and pull up on the crows’ feet around his eyes or stretch the skin around his mouth and consider plastic surgery? Did he stare at old people being helped out of cars with walkers and wheelchairs and contemplate such a future for himself?

I know I’m being ridiculous and yet, am I the only one who chafes, even just a little, at the idea that Jesus, Human for 33 years, could sympathize or empathize with the details of my life’s temptations?

The answer is right there of course. It’s not in the detailed temptations at all, but in the one big temptation that encapsulates them all: being in charge. The temptation is to do it “all myself” and to solve all my problems alone. It’s “kicking against the goads” [Acts 26:14]. It’s following the Eve and Adam story line.

How am I tempted? I am tempted to be a god and manipulate my environment and I am regularly disappointed in the results. And so, yes, it is this person who is asked to come to the Throne of Grace and ask for mercy and help. And the courage to surrender.

Each day.

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Do I do this? Do I participate, even unknowingly, in the rituals of the demonic? In the same way that idols are temptations, then couldn’t the foods that fuel evil be equally prevalent. It’s a type of consumerism and an attitude of entitlement.

I Corinthians 10:20-21a
. . . the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too . . .

I am not alone. We live in a culture of wanting it all.

The other day, I heard a talk show on WYPR Baltimore about the world’s dependence on oil (these conversations abound in the shadow of the BP gulf oil disaster). In this interview with Robert Bryce, author of Power Hungry, they talked about the unwillingness of the world’s consumers to stop using oil, which is comparatively cheap, relatively plentiful, and has the best energy density.

There are alternative energy sources, but none of them are as easy to glean from the earth. There would be a huge sacrifice to make this change and basically, the world’s population is unwilling to do it. Even with the new “green” initiatives, the transition will always be a painful one and most will not make the change willingly.

This is a drink we take every day. We drive fuel-hungry cars, we use plastics without a thought, we consume oil like candy. This drink has crept steadily into our lives and many can’t even see it.

Over the years, many people have pointed out how missionaries of the past have ruined cultures by imposing their belief systems on various native people around the world. And I cannot disagree. But I say, culturally, we are doing the same thing. We are introducing consumerism and dependence on oil. We are teaching them to “be like us.”

Oh yes, there is a price to pay when drinking with the demons of today.

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Matthew 4:1
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.

The only desert temptations we hear about are the ones Jesus must have told to the disciples. We will never know if there were more. But Matthew’s report is that there were at least three and they are recorded as happening after his 40 days of fasting in the desert. The three temptations were 1) turning stones into bread for food; 2) throwing himself off a parapet (of the temple) to be saved, “hopefully,” by angels; and 3) earthly power and authority in exchange for worshiping Satan.

I believe these three temptations are specific to Jesus and what He could expect to encounter again and again in his ministry: the challenges of the body, challenges of faith, and challenges of power (or simply put, temptations of the body, soul & mind). I think it’s foolish to think that this was the only time Jesus encountered temptations. And the same is for us.

We are confronted in these same areas, but the temptations may look slightly different. In my own body, I struggle with body image, food, and aging. In my soul, I struggle with my faith in the face of difficult circumstances, self-condemnation, and hardness of heart (secret places of the heart). In my mind, I struggle with control, judgments of others, and disappointment. My “enemy” is more than happy to provide specific, customized temptations in each of these areas. It is one reason God calls us to daily prayer to prepare our bodies, souls & minds for the assaults of the day.

Keep me mindful this day, Lord, that you alone are worthy of worship. I trust your love. I give thanks for your Word.

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