It’s tempting…

  • That lovely slice of pecan pie, the last one left in the pan, the one you’re supposed to be saving for somebody else.
  • That gorgeous outfit on sale “One Day Only,” so absolutely right for you but not for your budget, sale or no sale. Or those cute earrings, nobody’s watching, the store can afford it, it’s not all that bad to shoplift those cheap little things, is it?
  • That temper tantrum against your children or your spouse, the one you’ve been resisting but now feel absolutely justified in throwing, “I’ve had it, they’re really going to get it!”
  • Those ugly, fuming thoughts and words, turning into ugly, fuming deeds because after all you’re right and they’re wrong, people who had the audacity to question your – (fill in the blank, your truthfulness, your honesty, your integrity, your motives, your actions. Even your faith.)

We’ve all been tempted to think, say and act in ways (minor and major) we’ll be ashamed of later. Haven’t we? “You know better than that!” my mother would say. “You weren’t raised like that!”

Did you think such temptations would miraculously fade away and vanish as you grew older, more mature, more “Christ-like?” They don’t. They still come, more serious and sometimes more frequent.

Why? What is the purpose of temptations / trials? Think of it like strength training. Spiritual resistance training. Exercising our faith muscles, our trust muscles. Our prayer muscles.

Remember John 10:10? The enemy comes. His goal is to steal, kill and destroy, and one of his primary targets is our faith; to ruin it, nullify our testimony; hinder our prayers.

The enemy uses trials and temptations (same word in the original language, by the way) to discourage and distract us, to prevent us from living by faith or from praying in faith.

But God can and does use them to prove that our faith is real, strong, and supernatural, since it originates with Him. He uses them to make us stronger, more effective.

Matthew 4 and Luke 4 describe the temptation of Jesus in the Judean desert. Most of my life I had a mental image of that desert as being mostly sand dunes, rocks and lizards. One day, out of curiosity I decided to check out that wilderness, where it was, what was in it, what it was like at that time.

I wondered, what was there out there that could tempt Jesus? During the 40 days before Satan showed up, that is. Here’s some of what I learned:

East and south of Jerusalem, it’s one of the smallest deserts in the world, much of it lying adjacent and west of the Dead Sea. Craggy and rough, it’s hilly and mountainous with steep cliffs and deep ravines. It was difficult but not impossible to traverse on the well-used paths and trails that criss-crossed the area.

 

There are streams and many wadis, some containing pools of water in shaded areas; and also beautiful oases. The most famous oasis in the Judean Desert is in Ein Gedi near the northern part of the Dead Sea, called David’s Waterfall.

There are also many fruit trees and other vegetation (see the section on trees below).

Sparsely inhabited but not empty, the desert contained several small villages on its edges. Bethlehem was one, a place where many of Jesus’ relatives lived.

Bedouin encampments the size of small towns (the Bedouin were and still are very hospitable people to visitors) plus camels, sheep, goats, and donkeys.

Leopards and other wild animals also inhabited the area, although leopards are scarce today.

 

Herodium today seen from the side.

The spectacular Herod’s Palace (Herodium) south of Jerusalem may contain his burial site (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herodium and http://allaboutjerusalem.com/attraction/herodion-national-park).

This palace complex was atop an artificial hill built by Herod the Great, the site of several archeological digs through recent years. After his death this opulent summer “resort” was used by many Roman officials.

Also in the desert is the fortress of Masada which overlooks the Dead Sea, captured and built up by Herod the Great as a military base. Both Herodium and Masada were occupied by Roman officials and solders who regularly traveled to and from those sites. Both are Israeli National Parks and popular tourist attractions today.

Many fruit or nut trees occupy wadis and oases, including date palms, pistachios, wild figs, carob and acacia:

Carob / Locust trees bear fruit that is edible green or dried; the dried fruit is used in candy and other foods as a substitute for chocolate. The sweet, soft flesh of the green fruit is called “honey.”

Carob and acacia (below) are legumes, members of the pea and bean family.

Acacia is a “rain tree,” so-called because its leaves fold together in rain or high humidity. Edible and primarily used as animal fodder, it provides helpful gum and has many medical applications also. The Tabernacle and Ark were made of acacia wood.

Considering everything there was for him to see and do in that wilderness, what was Jesus tempted with?

Food, people, animals, a magnificent natural environment and impressive man-made structures — a better question might be, what wasn’t Jesus tempted with?

Anything and everything that human beings today are tempted with, including distractions, tempted Jesus in that desert. Think he doesn’t understand your situation? He does.

I Cor. 10:13 says, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” (NIV)

And Hebrews 4:15, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin.”

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Holy Spirit, Trail Guide

TrailGuideWho are you, Lord? I asked again recently, recalling other times I’d asked him that.

Trail guide, he answered. The Holy Spirit is your trail guide for the journey you’re taking.

Over the next few days, I thought about that. Now and then I asked him why he used that particular title – I don’t find it in the Bible anywhere, I said. At least, not in those words.

Here’s how our back-and-forth conversation and my meditations went, more or less.

About the trail…

A trail is not a paved road. It doesn’t lead through cities or towns. If you’re taking a trail, it’s because you’re not going through civilized country. It may meander, lead uphill sometimes and downhill sometimes.

A trail is for travel. It makes traveling easier through woods or wilderness. It doesn’t destroy the woods or wilderness, only disturbing them a little. More than a rough path and less than a dirt road, a trail is created by the movement of shod feet, assisted by pulling or cutting away brush that may hinder the going.

A trail is to get somewhere, from point A to point B. It has a purpose. It leads to a definite destination. It may not be the shortest way, but with the trail guide it is the surest way.

About the guide…

He has much experience. He is not an amateur. This work is his lifelong employment. He is well able to teach and train believers to prepare, to travel, and to help others along the way.

The trail guide knows the terrain. He knows the starting and ending points, the length of the trail and the time the journey will take. He is knowledgeable of the seasons, the surroundings, the flora and fauna, and what other travelers you may encounter.

The trail guide applies both facts and wisdom. He plans and prepares ahead of time, gathering appropriate clothing, weapons, tools and supplies. He doesn’t take unnecessary gear. He takes the essentials and knows how to make use of them.

He prepares for unforeseen circumstances with well-designed contingency plans. He is able to protect travelers from sickness or injury, warn against danger, fight off predators, and call for reinforcements if needed. He knows when and where to break the journey with times of rest and replenishment for body, soul and spirit.

After considering all that for a while, I asked another question.

How is the Holy Spirit a trail guide? Normal life is not lived in the wild. Normal people have jobs, routines, families, interests and habit patterns. They live in buildings, drive on paved streets and highways – at least here in America.

You’re only looking at the natural world, the Lord said. Your spirit lives in the supernatural. If you could see with your physical eyes what happens in the spiritual realm, it would make more sense to you. Try looking at the world from my vantage point.

Okay, I will try to do that, I answered. And I have been.

Of course the Holy Spirit is much more than the trail guide, I added to myself. I was thinking of Comforter, teacher, empowerer, the one who reminds us of what Jesus said, and who tells us of things to come. I recalled the scriptures in Genesis where the Holy Spirit was involved in creation of the world.

Yes, the Lord answered my unasked question, but everything he is to you can be wrapped up in this descriptive title – Trail Guide. Think some more about that.

And so I am thinking about it. And about just what sort of trail we’re traveling on these days.

As I meditated on all he described, I recalled how the Holy Spirit guided the apostle Paul in his life. Not just in his missionary work, but in every aspect of his life… the where and when of his birth, his family, Jewish and Roman culture, education as a Pharisee of the Pharisees. His zeal as a persecutor of the church.

The where and when of his encounter with Jesus.

His years of seeming inactivity where zeal had to be refocused, patience instilled and polished. Then his assignment as a church member, evangelist, missionary, pastor. Prisoner.

Not to mention his many travels.

Paul wanted to go places, see people, do things for Jesus. He planned out his own reasonable, logical itinerary. Sometimes his plans weren’t quite right – the Holy Spirit had his own itinerary, his own agenda. He led him to other places, other people, other things to do.

Thinking of all that these last few days, trail guide does seem an appropriate title.

See John 14:26, 16:13; Acts 16:6-10.

Which truth do you believe?

Grapes of the Promised Land, Nicholas Poussin, Louvre.God told Moses to send 12 men, leaders of their tribes, to spy out the land of Canaan. They traveled from the Wilderness of Zin south of the Negev desert and southwest of the Dead Sea, north to Rehob, northeast of the  Sea of Galilee. (Numbers 13)

Their instructions were simple:

And see the land, what it is; and the people that dwell therein, whether they be strong or weak, few or many; And what the land is that they dwell in, whether it be good or bad; and what cities they be that they dwell in, whether in tents, or in strong holds; And what the land is, whether it be fat or lean, whether there be wood therein, or not. And be ye of good courage, and bring of the fruit of the land. Now the time was the time of the first-ripe grapes. (13:18-20 KJV)

It took them 40 days. They collected a great branch of grapes that was so heavy it took two men to carry it, also pomegranates and figs. They returned to Moses with two separate reports:

  • And they (ten of them) told him, and said, We came unto the land whither thou sent us, and surely it flows with milk and honey; and this is the fruit of it. Nevertheless the people be strong that dwell in the land, and the cities are walled, and very great: and moreover we saw the children of Anak there. The Amalekites dwell in the land of the south: and the Hittites, and the Jebusites, and the Amorites, dwell in the mountains: and the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and by the coast of Jordan. (13:27-29)
  • And Caleb stilled the people before Moses, and said, Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it. (13:30)

But the men that went up with him said, We be not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we. And they brought up an evil report of the land which they had searched unto the children of Israel, saying, The land, through which we have gone to search it, is a land that eats up the inhabitants thereof; and all the people that we saw in it are men of a great stature. And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight. (13:31-33)

And Joshua the son of Nun, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, which were of them that searched the land, rent their clothes: And they spake unto all the company of the children of Israel, saying, The land, which we passed through to search it, is an exceeding good land. If the LORD delight in us, then he will bring us into this land, and give it us; a land which flows with milk and honey. Only rebel not ye against the LORD, neither fear ye the people of the land; for they are bread for us: their defense is departed from them, and the LORD is with us: fear them not. (14:6-9)

Remember the story? All twelve saw the same things. All twelve reported what they saw. All twelve told the truth. But they contradicted each other – natural truth contradicted supernatural truth.

(1) We can’t do it. The enemy is stronger than us.
(2) We can do it. God is stronger than the enemy.

Which truth did the rest of the people believe? Well, they demanded that Caleb and Joshua be stoned, so there’s your answer.

What happened next? The doubters all died, the ten doubting spies immediately, the rest of them during their ensuing 40 year trek in the wilderness. Turns out they got what they believed. They couldn’t do it.

But the believing spies, Joshua and Caleb, also got what they believed. After 40 years they crossed the Jordan River into the promised land, overcame and possessed it.

I’d much rather believe God in the beginning and not have to spend 40 years wandering around in a desert. Wouldn’t you?

Joshua, man of war and worship

A paragraph in yesterday’s Sunday School lesson (The Present Word) struck me as pretty inaccurate. It said that while artists depict angels as like little girl babies with wings, they are really tall and slim, non-gender and gentle creatures wearing flowing, shimmering robes — or some such nonsense as that. The Bible certainly doesn’t say that. In scriptural accounts angels looked pretty much like ordinary human men, except that they caused the people who saw them to be really frightened so usually the first thing they said was “Fear not.”

The lesson wasn’t about Joshua, by the way, it was about John the Baptist, and the paragraph was about his clothing. Made of animal skins, supposedly it was very different, peculiar, odd, strange, outlandish and weird. Not ordinary dress.

But he lived in the wilderness, what kind of clothes would you expect him to wear? The description of his usual work clothes seems perfectly appropriate for the environment to me.

Someone in the class commented that John the Baptist lived way off from civilization – but if that was true, then who did he preach to? No, he lived a few miles from any town but it wasn’t way off. He lived and preached near the busy north-south trade route that ran along the Jordan River, so there was always somebody to preach to.

As I thought about John the Baptist, I began thinking again about Joshua. He was no doubt a young man when Moses returned to Egypt, and along the way he became Moses’ assistant. He was one of those in charge of the fighters, and Moses took him along when he went up into the mountain to receive the commandments. (See Ex. 24:13) He is mentioned in quite a few interesting adventures, long before he was appointed as the successor to Moses.

But one particular verse struck me as particularly important, and illustrative of the character of Joshua. A little background — Moses had been speaking to God up in the mountain, but he needed a place to speak to God down on the flat ground also. So he went outside of the camp a ways and erected a tent (called a tabernacle in KJV, but tent of meeting in other translations) for this special purpose. Moses would go inside the tent, and God would come to the front of the tent, appearing as a pillar of cloud that could be seen a long way. Read Exodus 33 about this. Everyone back in the camp would watch all this happening, and they would worship God right in their own tent doors back in the camp.

The verse I mentioned is Ex. 33:11. The Lord spoke to Moses face to face, and afterward when Moses returned to the camp, his servant Joshua stayed in the tent of meeting. Hmmm. Why?

I think he had his priorities straight. Did he see God face to face, too? It doesn’t say, but I know he experienced something extraordinary, the presence of God. This puts everything else he did into perspective for me.