Today I woke up and the pain hit me all over again—not emotional pain—physical pain. It is the physical pain that defeats me and makes me angry and frustrated.
*I consider that my present suffering are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in me. Romans 8:18. (I change the pronouns all the time to make it more personal).
It’s morning and I go to the Lord. Everyone’s morning God time is different, I’m sure. When I was teaching high school, my time with the Lord was a quick reading of My Utmost for His Highest while I dried my hair, and then listening to a good word from a favorite podcast while driving to school. During the twenty-minute drive I practiced developing a prayerful attitude. For me, a prayerful attitude means calming myself and centering my mind on the truth and presence of God. That He was my creator God. A God that cared for me with all my idiosyncrasies and past, present and future failures. I centered my mind on the truth that I was NOT going to teach the kids by myself. I didn’t have the intelligence or quickness of mind it took to teach. I had to keep God in my pocket, so to speak, so I could reach down in that pocket and feel his hand grasp mine as reassurance of presence and love. Sometimes I have a stone cross in my pocket or a rock with “strength” engraved on it (given to me by a wonderful young woman).
*Many times, I don’t know what to pray anymore. I’m find I’m repeating myself. I have a list and it’s the same list. How and why? How and why, Lord? Help Lord! Please, Lord! And then I remember my access to the Spirit. Why do I forget that? His indwelling in me. Oh Holy Spirit—I pray—moans and groans too deeply implanted to be verbalized. The Spirit translates.He gets it.
And then comes verse 28. God works all the yucky, painful stuff for good—His good. His good in me. Shaping and forming me to be more like Jesus, but oh what a stiff, cold piece of clay I can be.
So today, in pain, I read these words and reflect and write. Looking at red and gold and brown trees reflecting the morning sun. Wishing I had another cup of coffee and could sit a while longer until my hands quite shaking. And the pain passes.
Slowly, slowly it does. The shaking becomes a vibration. I run the dishwasher. I eat my oatmeal. I take a shower, and even though I know I will be working on my computer today and may not even leave the house, I put on red lipstick. Red lipstick is brave. I will be brave in my hope today. I will be brave in my trust.
“So what do you think? With God on our (my) side like this, how can we (I) lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us (me), embracing our (my) condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us (me)?” Romans 8:31-32 The Message Bible
A Poem by Wendell Berry—for my daughter-in-love, Renee
As I was plodding and plowing through the spoken words of Jesus in Matthew, I came to the Wilderness. You remember–the 40 days and 40 nights wilderness where Jesus was tempted by the evil one? As a graduate of Sunbeams, Girls in Action, and years of Sunday School and Training Union, I am very familiar with the story. It seemed like a myth. Jesus’ rite of passage.
Reading it again and again through my adult years, it still remained mythical. . .almost. I listened to sermons on it, all reminding me that in order to fight the devil, I must use God’s sword–His Word. I got that. I understood. But the person of Jesus stayed hazy and distant. A god/man able to defeat the evil one because he conveniently already knew the outcome? Isn’t that always problematic? The duality of Christ? Fully human and fully divine. One member of the Trinity. My puny brain can’t wrap itself around that truth. But I accept it as truth. I trust it as truth. And this time when I read Matthew 4 and the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness, I saw the human Jesus rejecting the alluring words of Satan and choosing holiness and single-minded devotion to his Father (and our Father).
No Horns or Sulfur-yStink
It’s funny–well, maybe not funny–but typically human of us to reduce Satan to an ugly, demonic, perverse-looking creeper. Whoa, I would run so fast if I was approached by this creature. Lucifer (i.e. Satan or “the tempter”) was an angel of light. He was beautiful in Heaven and I believe he is still beautiful. A Dorian Gray beauty. Alluring, sensual, gorgeous and completely evil. No longer an angel of light, but a demon of darkness who rejected “the Light.”
I’m not a theologian, but I am a teacher of literature and I can say that literarilly, John Milton got it right in Paradise Lost–Satan was (and is) beautiful. He’d have to be if people were going to listen to him and believe him and trust him. It is human nature to run from ugliness, thus the Dorian Gray allusion. Satan stays beautiful outwardly, but his inward nature is twisted, distorted, deformed and evil. Do not be deceived; he doesn’t like people.
Onward to Our Hero
Now we’re ready to look at the temptations. Immediately following his baptism, Jesus is “led by the Spirit” into the wilderness. It’s important to note that the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness. Spirit-led isolation and not an escape from the world. No running away for isolation. Jesus followed the urging of the Spirit to go into the wild desert of Judea. He spent 40 days and nights there. Fasting. Communicating with His Father. I wonder what those conversations were like? I try to imagine and come up short. God the Father talking with God the Son. What I do know is that Jesus came out of the desert and immediately began his three-year ministry. But…before He left the desert, he had to face what we face everyday–temptation to reject holiness and give in to need and desire.
Three of the gospels cover the temptation of Christ. John doesn’t. Mark barely does. Matthew is the most detailed, followed by Luke. I did some studying and discovered the obvious. All four gospels addressed different audiences, thus their purposes were different. It’s not a contradiction. It’s reality. If you have to relate important information to varied audiences, you have to tailor your writing to engage the needs of your audience. It’s not something an English major discovered; it’s something God–the creator of the universe–already knew. Duh.
So, we’ve established that the devil is beautiful, alluring and sensual–Jesus went to the desert because the Holy Spirit told Him to–Jesus left the desert after 40 days and immediately began his ministry. There. The stage is semi-set.
The temptations come after the 40 days are almost complete. Jesus is in a weakened physical state. I can’t wrap my mind around how hungry he must have been. Starving. I’m a terrible “faster.” I’ll start a fast and I’ll have great intentions. Hunger pains remind me that God is sufficient and I don’t need food–I need God. Concentrate, Cindy. Or as my mentor, Winnie the Pooh, says: “Think, think, think.” I get through a day and cave. Then I try again. And cave. Too much food around and too little self-discipline. Not a lot of food in the wilderness for Jesus. Apparently there were some wild animals (Mark did note that in his gospel). Jesus could have had some wild Judean rabbit or some such edible wild thing. But he didn’t. And of course the “tempter” addresses Jesus’ physical hunger first.
“Hey Jesus. Bet you are really hungry. IF you are really the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God, prove it. Turn these stones to bread. Satisfy your hunger. Satisfy your physical need. No one will see. Shoot, you deserve it. You’ve been fasting a long time. What difference will it make if you just do a little of your Jesus miracle stuff and show your God-self to me. Shhhh…I won’t tell.“
Big question: would it have made any difference if Jesus had nibbled a little stone bread and proved himself to the perversely beautiful and convincing tempter? Let that roll around in your brain a bit.
Jesus doesn’t cave. He quotes scripture to Satan (who he knew quite well since Jesus is part of the Trinity and was and has been and ever will be present with God). Satan was not a stranger (and nor was he Jesus’ brother). He had been an angel. Only an angel. Not a god and not a son of God. He was a servant of God. He didn’t like it. He got tossed out. Back to the Truth: Jesus was fully aware of what Satan was doing, AND Satan was fully aware of who Jesus was. He didn’t need Jesus to prove his divinity. There was another purpose here. He was playing on Jesus’ human need. No surprises. Jesus–fully human and fully divine–doesn’t cave. I would.
Think about what you need physically. Food. Shelter. Job. Love. Security. Health. Family. As humans, when we are weakened by a lack of any of these things, we become vulnerable. On a diet? Vulnerable to bread? Cheetoes? Chocolate? Gummy bears? I’ve been on a low-carb diet (health reasons) for a month. I could eat an entire loaf of fresh bread right now.
How about shelter? Living small? Wanting large? Avoid HGTV or all of a sudden your completely sufficient home seems really lame. What? No jetted tub or walk-in closet? ( Oh, we are a spoiled nation!)
Lack of love? Wow. This one creates all sorts of problems. I can speak for women–we fall hard for the wrong person when we are looking for a man to satisfy our love deficiency. We become loser magnets. Someone comes along and assuages our need to be told we are beautiful or sexy or adorable or perfect and WHAM. Down we go. Didn’t I say the tempter was beautiful and alluring and sensual?
The point is this: when we have a hole in our place of physical need, we become vulnerable. Vulnerability leads us to question God’s sufficiency. We get scared. We doubt God even cares or hears or is really God (the one who spoke the universe into being). Weak weak weak. What Jesus told Satan when he was confronted in his weakened and vulnerable condition? God is sufficient. Go away.
How I Hang On to Jesus by a Tiny Rope
My vulnerability? Oh dear. Too many. But right now it’s my health. I have a disease that is affecting my quality of life. It is so easy to start feeling helpless and hopeless until I get my eyes off of “me” and on Jesus. It sounds like a cliché or a t-shirt or a coffee mug from Cafe Press, but it’s not. And it’s not easy. It isn’t a feeling. It requires a deliberate effort from me. Mental discipline.
I have to surround myself with God. For me, that means putting down the novel, turning off the television AND putting work aside. I use work as a justification for not spending more than a few minutes in the Bible. I excuse myself by listening to sermons from my favorite podcasters on my way to work or grocery store (only places I go anymore). And I go down. Emotionally and physically. I doubt God’s sufficiency and become vulnerable to temptation by the one who is great at exploiting weakness.
Psoriatic arthritis is my disease but it won’t kill me. It just knocks me around a bit (or the medicine to combat it knocks me around a bit). But it also reminds me that life is fragile and so many people are suffering from things that are infinitely more painful and terminal. I read a few posts from 24-7 prayer or Imago Dei or “She is Safe” and immediately the “I” starts to fade. I’m drawn to contemplation and prayer and my Bible and journal.
Priorities shift around and I see life through my God lens. When I’m looking through that lens, I can’t see the huge “me” and instead see God’s love, grace, mercy and sufficiency. Much better way to see.
I see God’s glory and a glimmer of Heaven when I’m outside
in nature away from humanity’s busyness.
I’ve been reading Red Letter Revolutionby Shane Claiborne and Tony Campolo. If you aren’t familiar with these men, get familiar. To admit this book (and I’m not even finished with it yet) has set me back on my heels a bit and forced me to re-examine my life after following Jesus for 47 years, is shocking to me. Yet what they are presenting makes sense to me: Read and examine and meditate on what Jesus did and said, and do it. He meant it. For those naysayers, STOP. Neither author discounts the rest of the Bible as irrelevant. It is the inspired word of God. All of scripture is good for teaching and ruminating on and discovering who God was, is and continues to be throughout history and into eternity. He was and is and ever will be.
Jesus was the culmination of God’s plan. His words are spoken to man directly from a member of the Holy Trinity. Wow. Ok. That’s hard to even wrap your brain around. I don’t meditate on that enough because after 47 years of church and Sunday School and Bible study and Falls Creek and Beth Moore conferences and divorce and disappointment and disillusionment, I seem to find more comfort in the letters of Paul than in the actual words of Jesus. That’s screwed up.
So I’m trying something. An experiment. I’m going to start in Matthew (though there is much discussion about which of the Gospels was written first–no one has been inspired to move it), and look at those red-letter words. Not devoid of context, but still pulled out and examined as part of his words to me. How I’m supposed to be like him. That’s what this whole Christian thing is anyway–becoming–transforming–evolving into a person like Jesus. (Naysayers–I’m not discounting the Holy Spirit’s equally powerful presence to move through the words of Jesus and speak to my heart–It’s the only way that the words will come to life for me and move me to action.)
This morning after laundry, cleaning bathroom, taking a shower, bathing a chicken in herbs and placing it in the crock pot, I decided to sit down and let God take priority for a while. Shoot, I can give Him a few minutes of my day. You would think this would be easy–but it’s not. I have 104 Scarlet Letter novels to look through and grade for annotations. I have 104 notebooks full of essays that need to be graded. I have to prepare to teach Thoreau and the Transcendentalists by Monday and try to make students understand why people were so drawn to this non-religious belief system…I panic a little when I think of all that I need to do. Momentary panic attack—ok. Back to red letters. The first red letters appear in Matthew 3:15.
“Jesus replied, ‘Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.’”
Jesus is responding to his cousin, John, who questions whether he should be the one to baptize the Messiah. Jesus replies. “Let’s do this.” And John does.
Ok. Simple sentence. Actually it is a compound sentence with prepositional and infinitive phrases tacked on. So, being an English teacher, I immediately started with the first clause. “Let it be so now.”
Note the authority with which Jesus replies. No hesitation. No, “Now John, it’s ok. Promise. You are the man for this job.”
“NOW” The immediacy of this word. I think about the Old Testament. The thousands of years God looked for men and women who would be sensitive to Him and love Him–no Holy Spirit at work. Just God and men and women who said “yes.” The prophets. The kings. The judges. The prostitutes. The ordinary people who God pulled out of their ordinary lives to show the earth dwellers that He was the great I Am. Some believed and served God and He used them in mighty ways. Some people preferred empty man-made gods (an oxymoron) that priests controlled, to an all-consuming uncontrollable God who demanded they turn to Him and away from wickedness. So God would use someone like Joshua to show those folks just how unmanageable and omniscient and powerful He was. Somebody (usually lots of people) ended up dead. Others were convinced.
Back to the “NOW.“ Jesus had been walking and working and interacting with family and friends for 30 years at this point. He then tells John, NOW. Baptize me now. Let the road to my death and resurrection begin. I have three years to challenge the world’s disbelief and show them who I am and who my Father is, because to quote Jesus, “I and my Father are one.” There is an urgency to the word “now.” An immediacy.
Time for the 2nd clause.
“It is proper.” I periodically like to have my students perform diction studies. They take words out several slashes in order to see the full connotation of the word rather than just its denotative meaning. So I looked at “proper.” I even looked up the biblical Greek word for it. If I do a diction study on it I start with proper and then I slash it out, I get this: Proper/appropriate/ suited for/ exactly fitting/ right and approved. Thus the 2nd clause becomes more than just “proper”—the new sentence might read like this: “it is appropriate, suited for and exactly fitting, right and approved [by God the Father] for you to baptize me, John.”
The infinitive: “to fulfill all righteousness.” I’m starting with the infinitive: to fulfill. I think of completion. Something needs to be done to complete a task, an order, a job, a ministry. To accomplish. To carry through to completion.
Now “all”–inclusive. No exceptions. Nothing else needed.
Righteousness: When referring to the righteousness of God, we have to connect it to His justice. And since God is God (and we are not), His justice is always right. Always according to His nature. It is not man’s justice or man” right-living.” It is God’s holy justice. According to Bob Deffinbaugh (“The Righteousness of God”), God’s righteousness is “a natural expression of His holiness.” Through God’s righteousness I am made acceptable to my creator. His righteousness was displayed in the person of Jesus. Jesus makes us acceptable to our righteous God. We can’t make ourselves righteous anymore than we can make ourselves holy or pure or sanctified. Jesus had to do it for us, because we humans have a tendency to get a little proud and boastful when we think we are “all that and a bag of chips.” When we love and embrace Jesus as Savior, we are seen by God. In a sense, Christ’s righteousness filters our sin. We are made “right” before God.
Ok. I’m going to try to put this 2nd clause together: “It is appropriate, suited for and exactly fitting, right and approved by God the Father–in order to complete or accomplish ALL (nothing lacking and nothing else needed) of God’s holy justice.”
I don’t know about you, but this blows my mind. The first time Jesus’ words are recorded in red letters in the book of Matthew, He defines His entire purpose. It’s like he is saying, “So, let’s get this redemption thing going.” Thousands of years of God’s planning and working through the lives of flawed and fallible beings come to this moment in history: Jesus beginning what would become a mere three-year ministry–a ministry of salvation for the entire world. Three years. Change the whole world. And it continues.
Check it out: https://www.facebook.com/RedLetterRevolution