Tag Archives: faith

Temptation

 

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Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
Romans 5:12-19
Matthew 4:1-11
Psalm 32

Sin is now the human condition.  It is fruitless to speculate about what life in the Garden would have been like had Adam and Eve not sinned.  We live in sin.

Because of the destructiveness of sin, it is imperative that we learn to control it.  History shows us the folly of our attempts.

A close look at Adam and Eve can help us.  When the sin occurred, they were away from God, not looking at Him, not paying attention to Him.  Rather, they saw what looked scrumptious and reached for it, they fell to temptation.

Solutions?  We can study the problem and learn ways to avoid many sins.  Often, that involves the approach of alcoholics, avoid that which tempts.   Pharisee men used to walk on the other side of the street if a woman was coming toward them.  Stay away from the Christmas fudge eating contest.

In the end, all we can ever hope is to reduce sin in our lives, never to eliminate it.  We must take the approach of King David and ask God to cover our sins.  My sins are too numerous for me to keep track, mostly because I sin without knowing it.  I meet a female friend and say, “You look nice today.”  She thinks I am flirting.  I meet a female friend and say nothing.  She thinks I am stuck up.  Sin on my part?  Perhaps, but not intended.

How does God cover over our sins?  We Christians are fond of saying, “Jesus.”  But God has a whole tool shed filled with ways to cover our sins, mercy being high on the list.  It is not for us to know all of the whats and ways, He just does it.

Jesus is the main tool in the shed.  He met the Evil One head on, but kept himself focused on his Father.  The account of his temptations is helpful for us in our own puny efforts to defend against the temptations of the Evil One, but we can also study how Jesus reacted throughout his ministry.

When he healed, he told them not to advertise.  When the crowds became too large, he went in hiding.  When temptation came on strongly, he went into prayer.  Jesus did everything he could do to avoid becoming impressed with himself.

When Jesus went back home, the people who had known him as a child could not believe all the talk about miracles and his being an extraordinary teacher.  He was too ordinary.  He looked just like his brothers.  Remember, he was such a sickly kid.  His brother James is the one to watch, he’s a go-getter.  Jesus is just a flash in the pan.

Jesus needed to hear all that.  It reminded him he was one of us.  He was capable of sin.  Do not give him too much Godly power in your thinking.  He was a human.  He was Adam.  Unlike Adam, Jesus made smart decisions.  He never did anything without consulting God.

That is the solution, but we are not up doing it.  So?  Ask God to cover your sin.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Matthew 6-10

Things to watch for as you read these chapters.

Monday, January 13, Chapter 6

A good Jew in Jesus’ day preformed three acts of righteousness : charity, prayer, and fasting.  Pharisees and many others did all three like theatre, only with an audience present.  The message from Jesus is to do these things from the heart.  Giving money in our time is easy, but it separates us from those in need and most of the time does not help them.  Only ten percent of charity dollars in the US actually help those in need.

When we pray, we should be listening to God.  Jesus gave us a sample prayer encouraging us to pray only for the basics of life, after that, we listen.

Fasting is not very popular in the US, we prefer feasting.  There are many ways to fast, but it should always be built around prayer.  The whole purpose is to give up something so we can concentrate on God for at least a day.  For modern Americans a gadget/electronic fast would be a good choice.  Try going a Sunday without TV (after the Super Bowl) and read or go for a long walk to talk with God.

We also like to feast on money and the things money can buy.  We are always on the lookout for whatever we especially like, cars, clothes, toys, what-nots.  Storing up treasures is not the same as a 401k or passbook account.  We live in a society where we expect to live 85 years without any help from our families, so we need to prepare for that.  Storing treasures is collecting beyond our needs and focusing on that instead of God.  Anything standing between me and God is darkness.

Jesus ends this section with a kind of summary.  If we trust in God, all those possessions we think we need fall away.  Living in trust makes life simple.  The only day we can live is today.

Tuesday, January 14, Chapter 7

Judging others is another hard teaching from Jesus, for we Americans especially. We are number 1 with the best way of life possible; everyone should follow our example.  As a Christian, I look at non-Christians, and fellow Christians, as not being as close to God as I am; exactly like the Pharisees.

We need  open fellowship with everyone, just the way Jesus did it.  Fellowship, not proselytizing or converting, until they knock on that door.

God will answer our knock at the door.  He will answer our questions and help us find what we seek.  Always remember that what we seek is Heaven.

Consider this passage from The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  The path of discipleship is narrow, and it is fatally easy to miss one’s way and stray from the path, even after years of discipleship.  And it is hard to find.  On either side of the narrow path deep chasms yawn.  To be called to a life of extraordinary quality, to live up to it, and yet to be unconscious of it is indeed a narrow way.

Again from Bonhoeffer:  There is someone standing by my side, who looks just like a member of the Church.  He is a prophet and a preacher.  He looks like a Christian, he talks and acts like one.  But dark powers are mysteriously at work; it was these who sent him into our midst.

We must be ever watchful for false prophets, they are not just in ancient times.  They are members of every church.  They misuse the Word to get us to follow them, not God.  Watch.

Jesus concludes the Sermon on the Mount by reminding us to build our Faith on the Solid Foundation of the Word of God.

Wednesday, January 15, Chapter 8

Now Matthew has Jesus move into a healing ministry, taking up all of chapter 8 and most of 9.  He begins with the healing of a leper, a task considered  as likely as raising the dead.  Note that the man knelt before Jesus, a word which often meant to worship.  The man knew that Jesus could heal him and Jesus did so.  The man’s faith was the important element.

Telling the man to say nothing indicates that this event did occur early in Jesus ministry.  Jesus was still trying to avoid conflict with the Temple authorities.  He had much to carry out before that last fateful encounter leading to the cross.  None-the-less, Jesus sent the man to the Temple to asked for cleansing by the priests, showing us that Jesus was no enemy of the Temple of God, only of those who corrupted it.

The centurion’s servant is an unsual healing in several ways.  Capernaum was Jesus headquarters, but was also a Greek/Roman city.  This centurion commanded a cohort or century of about 80 men, one of six in a legion.  The legion stationed in Capernaum was not Roman.  It was working for Herod Antipas, though trained by the Romans.  A centurion would equal a captain in the US Army.

He had wealth and power, but he came to Jesus in much the way the leper had, in a state of faith.  While none of the men in the legion in Capernaum were Jewish, this centurion, a gentile, believed.

With the healing of Peter’s mother, we again see Jesus touching her, but nothing else. He spoke no words, made no reference to faith.  Three different types of healing: a man of faith healed with a touch, a gentile’s request for another healed from a great distance, and Mary simply touched.

In verses 18-22, Jesus is again telling us to keep our full attention on God.  We cannot use excuses when God asks us to do something for him.  We must always do God’s work first.

Jesus gives us a great example of how to live that last section of chapter 6.  He knew God was taking care of him, so he slept through the storm.  The storms in our own lives continue to upset us because we are not willing to put our complete trust in God.

The demonic men on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee (really a lake) present a strange picture as the demons fly into pigs.  We can see that the story is more about the reaction than about the men being healed of possession.  The region of Gadarenes was not Jewish, so we wonder why Jesus went there.  In this account, Jesus spoke only the word, go.  He traveled some distance through a storm for that one brief encounter.

Mark and Luke include the story as well and show more about the men, but for Matthew, the reaction of the people was important.  They told Jesus to get out of Dodge, he had messed with their livelihoods.

Note that the disciples had just questioned among themselves who this Jesus was, but the demons knew at once and announced it loudly.

Finally, note that the death of the pigs did not mean the death of the demons, that comes at the end of time.  But we do see the power of Jesus the Messiah over them.

Thursday, January 16, Chapter 9

Jesus sails back to the western shore, to Capernaum, where he meets a paralyzed man.  It is reasonable to assume the man was well-known and since Capernaum was the hometown of Andrew, Peter, James, and John, it is reasonable to assume they knew him personally.  In other words, he was not a plant, he could not walk.  On this occasion, Jesus teaches a different lesson.  He tells the man his sins are forgiven.

Only God can forgive sins, so the learned rabbis and scribes were fuming.  Jesus cleared it up by healing the man.  Since only God could do that, Jesus is God.

Jewish society of the day had an informal ranking of occupations, with priests and rabbis at the top of respectability and tax collectors near the bottom; hide tanners were lower and shepherds were only a little above the tax men.  For Jesus to call such a sinful man to follow him was a sure way of getting kicked off the social A-list.

Jesus did fast and maybe the disciples did as well, but Jesus kept it private.  There is no sign that John himself questioned Jesus.  It was some of his followers.

The raising of the dead girl becomes more dramatic by having the woman stop Jesus’ progress to save her first.  Back with the girl, Jesus does not make any claim to raising the dead.  He insists that she is asleep.  The flute players and the noisy crowd tells us that the house was already in mourning for the girl.  They believed she was dead.

The woman,  bleeding for 12 years, healed by touching the tassel of Jesus’ prayer shawl.  Jews used the words for tassels and hem interchangeably in regard to the prayer shawl.  There were four tassels representing connection with the priest and with God.

None-the-less, it was her faith that healed her.

The blind, also by their faith.

Driving out demons was becoming so common that Matthew does not bother to describe the event.

With 7 billion people in the world, we followers of Jesus have much to do.

Friday, January 17. Chapter 10

In verse 1, the 12 are disciples, and in verse 2, they are apostles.  The Greek word apostolos means messenger.  Jesus chose 12 for special duties from a group of a hundred or more disciples.  Here, for the first time,  Matthew calls them apostles and has them sent into the harvest field and be  messengers of the Good News.

The rest of the chapter is a lengthy set of instructions.

Jesus’ ministry was always to Israel.  After his resurrection, the 12 would be commissioned to go to the rest of the world.

On this journey, depend on the people to support you. Do not even take a change of clothes.  If a town rejects you, move on.

Try to avoid trouble with the legal authorities.  For Jesus, having his apostles arrested could encourage the authorities to arrest him as well.

Remember that you are my students.  Do what I do, do not go your own way.  Do not be afraid.

Back in Matthew 5:9, we read, Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.  Here, he says he has come to bring a sword.  It is a figure of speech.  Jesus is about Peace, but that gets people upset, so they think he and his followers are dangerous.  The stories in the New Testament tell us what happens; families are split, people attacked, beaten, jailed, killed.  Jesus does not wield a sword, but he has brought one into play.

Our families are important, but Jesus comes first. Nothing in this life is greater than Jesus.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Faith is Work

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
Psalm 119:137-144
2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12
Luke 19:1-10

I want to share a passage from a book written in 1966 by Langdon Gilkey.  As a young man just before the war, he journeyed to Peking (Beijing) China to teach English and was caught there when the Japanese army took over the city.  In February, 1943 he and some 1,600 other foreign civilians were taken to camp to live out the war.  There, they were expected to organize themselves and run the camp within the walls.  The Japanese gave them small food allotments, but generally left them on their own.  The section I will quote comes from the chapter Saints, Priests, and Preachers and begins on page 163 of my first edition.

A community needs ethical people, but does the secular world need religious people?  Are the saints really good, is religious piety a requisite for communal virtue, do we need God in order to love our fellow man?  ….

I had to admit to myself that no easy answer to these questions could be found merely by noting the way in which different types of people, religious and irreligious, behaved….

The most important lesson I learned is that there are no cut-and-dried categories in human life, no easily recognizable brand names by which we can estimate our fellows.  Over and over “respectable people,” one of the commonest labels applied in social intercourse, turned out to be uncooperative, irritable, and worse, dishonest.  Conversely, many who were neither respectable nor pious were in fact, valiant.  At the same time, many obvious bums were just plain bums.  It was the mystery, the richness, and the surprise of human beings that struck me the most when I looked round at my fellows.

Perhaps the most surprising of all was Clair Richards.  She was a handsome, strong, self-sufficient, and possibly to some tastes hard-looking British woman in her thirties.  As she swirled around the camp in her tight skirts and low-cut blouses, you knew the moment you saw her that she enjoyed boing to bed with men.  But I must say, the frank and competent stare that met you when you spoke to her, plus her booming voice and rollicking laugh, tended to make a man, at least a young man, wonder more about his own capacities than about her obvious attractions.  Inevitably, stories of a lurid past in Peking and Tientsin [Tiajin], of her having been the intimate of leading industrialists and diplomats, followed in her wake.  How true or untrue these were, I shall never know.

[In 1944 a new director of Kitchen II, Row, was elected to stop theft and sloppy work.]

I was even more surprised when I found that it was Clair to whom he had given charge of women’s labor in the kitchen….  Despite her well-advertised labels, Clair had these virtues and to spare.  Clair, with Row, completely changed both the morale and efficiency of that kitchen force.  Looked upon by most of the pious as so wicked they were embarrassed to be seen talking with her she had in fact a higher moral character than they did.

Shantung Compound  Harper & Row  1966  New additions are still being sold.

 

Exposition

Habakkuk’s short prophetic work could almost be called the Reader’s Digest version of Jeremiah.  While that would be a disservice to Jeremiah, they did deliver the same basic message to the same people in the same general time period, along with Nahum and Zephaniah.  Put simply, you have sinned, you will be taken into captivity by Babylon, God still loves you and he will return you.

The big message for us is in the last words of today’s reading: the righteous will live by his faith.  The thing about faith that has always been so difficult for we humans to get is, we live it, we don’t just have it.  We always talk about having faith in the same way we talk about having a car.  We don’t have faith, we act in faith.

Habakkuk was not complaining about improper sacrifices at the Temple or about drinking milk with a roast beef sandwich.  He was after what was truly faith living.  Avigayil down the street lost her husband and has three kids to support.  What have you done to help her?  Natan‘el broke his leg and can’t work.  Have you taken care of the work for him?

In some ways, it was easier 3,000 years ago because they literally knew almost everyone they came into contact with and could easily know their needs.  Today, we have to work at getting to know the people next door.  How can I know what they need if I don’t even know who they are?

The answer from Habakkuk is: find a way.  Faith goes into the unknown, the dark places we are afraid of and seeks out those who are hiding there.  Faith does not concern itself with the surface trappings of our lives.  We cannot hide behind our own ignorance.  With the Psalmist we must say, give me understanding that I may live.

I wrote in an earlier exposition that faith either exist or it does not exist.  The disciples had just asked Jesus to increase their faith and he gave the example of the mustard seed.  Here in 2 Thessalonians, Paul says, your faith is growing more and more.  Both statements are true, like so many theological concepts.  What Jesus wanted his disciples to understand was that they and we cannot measure how much faith we have, we can only act on the faith we have.  Paul adds that by acting on faith we receive more understanding so that we can live faith even more fully.

Zacchaeus is very much like Claire in the account from Gilkey above.  He was a social outcast because he, a Jew, worked for the hated Romans and collected taxes two, three, ten times what the Romans required, keeping the extra for himself.  He was wealthy beyond the dreams of working people, then or now.

We are not told much else about him.  He met Jesus and gave away half of his fortune.  (Don’t get distracted by asking why not all.)  Jesus said, today salvation has come to this house.  Zacchaeus acted.  He could not allow himself to simply say, I love you Jesus.  Not only did he give away more money than most people would make in a lifetime, he reformed.  From then on he would only collect the taxes plus enough for him to live on.  Greed no longer ruled his live.  What happened to him after that is lost to us.

But what is not lost is the next verses just after today’s Gospel reading.  While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once.  When the Kingdom of God comes, salvation will come with it.  Look back a paragraph to the statement Jesus made about salvation.

If Zacchaeus received salvation, a dirty, disgusting, money-grubbing, scumbag, surely salvation has also come to the rest of us.  To read ahead even more, the answer is, it depends on what we do with our faith, love, devotion to God.  God has entrusted me with a precious gift.  Will I use it, wear it out, and bring it back dinged up and dusty from meeting the needs of others?

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Second Chances

Jeremiah 1:4-10
Psalm 71:1-6
Hebrews 12:18-29
Luke 13:10-17

Luke has done something very interesting by placing this event immediately after the fig tree parable which starts in verse 6.  Farmers understand the idea that a fig tree, or any other plant, that does not yield fruit has to be eliminated to make room for those that do yield.  Yet, in the parable, the tree was given another chance.  The main point being that God gives Israel and each of us second chances.
Now Luke places Jesus in a synagogue on the Sabbath with a woman.  Picture a room perhaps the size of the average Seven-Eleven.  There are benches along the sides, but most of the men are standing or sitting on the floor.  The elders use the benches.  At the very back, or if it is a well-to-do synagogue, in the balcony are the women.  Jesus, as a visiting rabbi, has been invited to read the scripture and comment on it, so he is near the front of the room where the ark is positioned.  The ark is the cabinet containing the Holy Scrolls.
So, Jesus is teaching and people are either enthralled or repealed by his words, when he spots the woman who can barely lift her eyes high enough to see him.  Jesus did the unthinkable.  No other Jewish man on earth that day would have done what he did.  His Twelve Apostles probably gasped out loud.  He asked the woman to come forward.
You have to understand that in the synagogue on Saturday, a man would not even look at his wife, even if she went into labor.  The other women would take care of her.  He probably wouldn’t even turn around for fear of catching a glimpse of her or any other woman.  And that was not just the Pharisees.  Even Jews who seldom went to synagogue would have known the rule.
I’m sure men were suddenly interested in the floor.  Let’s hope it has a beautiful mosaic to help them focus their attention away from the woman.  We wouldn’t want them to be defiled. Jesus, on the other hand, ignored all decorum.  He first spoke to her, then touched her.  I imagine some men hurried away at that point.  This was not a small infraction.  Jesus chose to do something that hit people between the eyes. He worked on the Sabbath by healing the woman.  He brought a woman to the front of the synagogue.  He spoke to a woman in the synagogue.  He touched a woman in the synagogue.  Tisk, tisk.
What was going on?  Why did Jesus make such a public display?  He had the power to heal the woman without even pausing in his teaching.  No one would have known the woman could now walk upright because of Jesus.
Which is the point; the people needed to know that Jesus had that power.  Psalms reads, “Rescue me and deliver me in your righteousness.”  In Jeremiah, a pre-Messiah, God says, “I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”  The author of Hebrews writes of God saying, “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God.” The Messiah is the power of God on earth to heal and fulfill.  The Messiah can take a bent, unfruitful fig tree and nourish it until it is as good as new.  He can un-bend a woman and give her new life.  He can untie her and lead her to living water.
The word “set free” in the NIV literally means “untie” which is instructive in verse 15 where the animals are untied to be watered. Two more notes about the healing.  Even the synagogue ruler believed that Jesus could heal the woman.  He simply wanted him to do it tomorrow, and not in his synagogue, thank you.  Which brings us to the last point I will make here; nothing is said about faith.  Many of the healing accounts have Jesus mentioning that faith healed the person, but not here.
Why?  I think the woman’s response tells us.  The woman already understood what had happened.  She praised God.  Not Jesus.  Healing comes from God as she knew.  We Christians sometimes forget God in our passion for Jesus.  Jesus never did.  He always gave God the credit, even when he hinted at or accepted the possibility that he might be God or the Son of God.  God is the source of all, period.
Be righteous and do good.
Mike Lawrence