Monday, February 27, 2012

Teaching Through Trials and Temptations, Psalm 25, Mark 1:12-15

The first Sunday of Lent is always a time when we remember the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. It is also a time we reflect on our own endeavors to resist temptation. Psalm 25 helps us with that this morning. Both in Greek and in Hebrew the same word is used for trials and temptations. The difference between the two meanings of the word is context. Temptation is enticing one to do evil. Trials are tests or difficulty in life that aren’t necessarily meant to entice to evil but may lead us to sin depending on our reaction to them. Both temptations and trials have the same results—we sin or we overcome. God uses both to teach us something about ourselves and about God.
Jesus’s own time of temptation in the wilderness was a time of learning for Jesus. Jesus was discovering who He was and what He was meant to do. Jesus was reminded both of His divinity and humanity. The temptations were set up to pit one part against the other. Would Jesus use His divine rights and powers to overcome the weaknesses of His humanity? No! Jesus never used His divinity in a way that would mar His humanness. Nor did His humanity overcome His divinity. In resisting temptation Jesus showed that He was the restorer of paradise; He is the last Adam. He resisted every temptation and resolved to do nothing but the will of the Father, living and preaching the kingdom. Jesus submits Himself to the control of the Holy Spirit.
Often we learn what God wants to teach us through our trails and temptations in retrospect. Currently in Celebrate Recovery we are working on Step 4. Any of you familiar with any 12 step program know Step 4—“We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” Our key verse for undergoing this step is Lamentations 3:40, “Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord.” Undergoing a searching and fearless moral inventory is a good Lenten exercise as well as a step for anyone recovering from their hurts, habits, and hang-ups. The key word step 4 is “fearless”. It takes courage to do a searching moral inventory. This is where David and I have seen many folks drop out of CR over the nearly 4 years that we’ve been running the program. This time around we have multiple folks for whom this won’t be a first inventory and others who are long timers finally ready to take this important step.
The reason people drop out of recovery programs at this point is because of fear. Much of the fear is based in shame. Shame keeps people from learning the things that God has to teach them through their pasts.
In Psalm 25 David uses the word “ashamed” four times. No one likes to feel shame. David doesn’t want to be shamed by his enemies, nor does David want to bring shame upon himself through his own actions, through succumbing to temptation. He doesn’t want to give his enemies any reason to gloat because of his failings morally and as a leader. David deals with the issue of shame by crying out to God in prayer. David knows that God is the defender of his integrity. David knows that he can take refuge in God. J. Clinton McCann Jr. in his book A Theological Introduction to the Book of Psalms says “To take refuge in God is to live in dependence of God alone—God is the only necessity of life! And this approach to life is founded on the fundamental conviction that God is in control.” This is the cure for our shame as well. When Jesus died on the cross, He died not only for our sins, but also for our shame. He removes our shame from us and gives us a new identity in Him. That’s why in CR we always introduce ourselves first as believers in or followers of Jesus Christ (if we are) before we name our hurts, habits, or hang-ups. For example, I’m LaVera, a believer in Jesus Christ recovering from depression and struggling with anxiety, vs. I’m John, I’m an alcoholic. Our true identity is in Christ, not in what we do. Knowing our true identity can give us courage, which allows us to learn from our trials and temptations. This is why Step 3 comes before Step 4. Step 3 is “We made a decision to turn our lives and our wills over to the care of God.” Romans 12:1 “I beseech you brothers and sisters by the mercies of God to present your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God which is your reasonable service or your highest act of worship.” We have to submit to God in order to learn from God, just as Jesus did in order to learn what He needed to know from His own time of temptation.
David also mentions “fear” twice in this psalm. Both times it refers to the fear of the Lord, which is the only legitimate and healthy fear for a believer to have. We are reminded that God is friend to those who fear God as well as God teaches those who fear God. If we fear God we have no room for any other fear. “God is love,” and “Perfect love casts out all fear”—the New Testament tells us. We can have the courage to examine our trials and temptations.
Remember that God teaches us through both trials and temptations, and so we make both of those part of our inventories and daily examinations. In Psalm 25 David recounts his present trials—physical enemies, and past temptations—the sins of his youth, as well as recognizing present temptations, and asks for God’s help and protection. David asks God to “remember not the sins of [his] youth.” David has been doing an inventory of sorts, and despite the years that have passed, these things are still bothering David. David’s present sins remind him of his past ones. He is now ready to move on to Steps 5, 6, and 7—“We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another person the exact nature of our wrongs. We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character. We humbly asked God to remove all our shortcomings.” David asks God to forgive all his sins. He humbles himself before God.
David also specifically asks God to teach him. He asks, “Show me Your ways; teach me Your paths.” David says, “To You, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.” The lifting of the soul is a sign of opening oneself to God’s teaching. It is an invitation for God to teach. And God does it. God promises to do it, and the promise applies to us as much as it did to David. David writes, “God instructs sinners in the way.” Notice that David did not write, “God instructs the righteous in the way.” When we are humble and admit our sinfulness then God can teach us something. If we think we’re right, God won’t teach us. If you know-it-all you have no room to learn. But David also writes, “All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness for those who keep His covenant and His decrees.” We practice righteousness as God instructs us, and we are able to continue on God’s paths through the righteousness we receive through Christ.
Learning from trials and temptations isn’t all gloom and doom. We don’t just focus on our failures and shortcomings. We don’t just learn from the bad stuff we’ve done or the bad things that have happened to us. We learn from our victories over trials and temptations. We remember and learn from the times that God has delivered us. We remember the blessings we have in Christ Jesus. We learn from the times we helped others in their times of trial and temptation. We remember our new identity in Jesus. The Lenten period of examination isn’t just about going way back in our pasts but an examination of the present. In Celebrate Recovery that’s step 10, “We continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.” I Cor. 10:12, “So if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall.” Sometimes doing a daily evaluation does remind us of something we missed back in Step 4. A couple of us that have been through all the steps were talking about this. But it’s good to keep a short account with God and with others. Reviewing our days allows God to continually teach us. It’s that steadfast path of love that David wrote about in Psalm 25:10. Frequent examination helps remind us of the blessings we might otherwise miss. It reminds us that God is alive and actively working in our lives, and that we have entered the kingdom of God. Again, J. Clinton McCann Jr. says, “Ethical behavior, every human choice and activity, is to be grounded in trusting God and in the reality of God’s reign.”
After His temptation experience, Jesus proclaims that the Kingdom of God has come near. Because the kingdom is near to us, we can endure the trials and temptations. We can live the kingdom now just as Jesus did and instructed because we are in Christ and Christ is in us. Like Jesus, we allow ourselves to be controlled by the Holy Spirit, attaining victory. When temptations come, let us seek to learn from them, allowing ourselves to be taught by God even as we resist those temptations. And even when we succumb to temptations, may we still learn from them the lessons that God desires to teach us.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Adulterous Idolatry, Isaiah 57:11-21

Ash Wed. sermon

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Shine the Light, Follow the Light, Live the Light, Shine the Light!

Transfuration of the Lord Sunday, 2012. Scriptures: Mark 9:1-10, Acts 19:8-10, II Cor. 4:1-6

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Investing in Others, II Kings 5:1-19, Acts 18:24-28

Monday, February 6, 2012

Haircuts and Promises, Numbers 6:1-21, Acts 18:18-23