Thursday, February 26, 2015

In The Desert With Jesus

“In The Desert With Jesus” (A Lenten Meditation based on Matthew 4:1-11)
Lent is the time of year when we meditate upon the turbulent and dark last days in the life of Jesus leading up to His crucifixion and resurrection. Typically people talk about giving up something for Lent. When we observe some of the “sacrifices” people make (i.e. chocolate) it doesn’t seem very sacrificial at all. Yes, it may be uncomfortable but the discomfort is often not severe and very short lived. My typical sacrifice was to give up my Wednesday evening meal. In some ways I thought it was a “greater” sacrifice then giving up chocolate. However, this year is different. I am in a spiritually dry place and not motivated to do much for Lent nor for anything else. I can’t connect with God the way I am used to hearing from Him. I find myself battling depression and trying to avoid sinking too low. But what if God asks you to lay aside what you are used to doing? What if He moves you away from the familiar and sends you to a place where there is no activity, no comfort, and no connection with anyone, not even God Himself? In meeting with my spiritual director, he raised the idea of being in the desert like Jesus when He was being tempted by Satan. I couldn’t get the thought out of my head. In fact the more I thought about it, the more I felt the need in my spirit to write about the experience. I am entering in with Jesus into that desert place to see what God has to say to me.
According to Matthew, Jesus was led into the desert by the Spirit. One of my first thoughts was how cruel the Holy Spirit is to lead Jesus into of all places the desert. A place unfamiliar, deserted, barren, and isolated. A place many of us would not willingly choose to go. Although Jesus is led into the desert by the Spirit the text does not say that the Spirit abandoned Jesus and left Him to His own devices. In fact the Spirit did not even send Jesus into the desert but rather led the way. I wonder what Jesus was thinking? How did He feel as the Spirit led Him further and further into this uninviting place? How do I feel about the Spirit leading me into the desert? I can feel a sense of anxiety as He takes me by the hand. I am asking the Spirit, “Where are we going?” However, He doesn’t reply. I get a sense that He is wanting me to just trust Him. Jesus is said to have fasted for forty days and forty nights. The very sustenance that sustained His physical body was not present for a little over a month. In this desert place, that which sustains me has been taken away. My familiar “activities” like Bible reading and prayer have lost their sustaining power.
After Jesus had fasted, we are told, “He was hungry.” That seems like an understatement. Hungry? How about famished? How about desperate? I say to the Spirit, “Holy Spirit, I don’t like this feeling. I am famished for the familiar. I am weak, I am tired, I am confused. I am in a prime situation of vulnerability, so the Enemy can take advantage of me.”
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As if on cue, who shows up but Satan to tempt Jesus. Satan first strikes Jesus at the point of His most immediate need, the need for food. (Matthew 4:3) Likewise, I am struck at my most immediate spiritual need, a connection with God which is severely being tested. I turn to the Lord, “Jesus, you and I are in real danger. Why don’t we leave this place. It is too scary and overwhelming. I don’t have what it takes to survive.” However, Jesus is not listening to my pleas but He presses on telling the Enemy, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4) In other words, I cannot live on the familiar alone. I cannot survive solely on the predictability of routine or creature comforts. In those desert places, I need more because the environment may not be conducive to my previous “God in my toolbox” coping strategies. When I have nothing left to give and my feelings have gone south, the word that God speaks over me has power to sustain me. Not just some words, not just particular words but every word that comes from the mouth of God. “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11) (italics mine)
Again, I plead with the Lord, “O.K. Jesus, but can we go now? It looks like Satan is coming back. Holy Spirit why are You leading us deeper into this wilderness?” Matthew tells us that Satan decides to up the ante. He takes Jesus to the highest point of the temple and tempts Him to throw himself down because certainly God would not let any harm come to His precious Son. (Matthew 4:5-6) Likewise, the Enemy offers another “fruit from Eden” to me. He reminds me that I am God’s daughter. “Surely, God does not want you to linger in this place. How unkind of this so called “Loving Father” to let the Spirit carry out such a painful and torturous plan,” He whispers,“If you are a daughter of God, let go of the Spirit’s hand and leave this place. Go back to your familiar and comfortable surroundings.” I look at Jesus, “Hey, Lord, he has a good point. You are His Son. You can do anything and not be penalized. How can any good come out of this?” Jesus hears me but keeps pressing forward, “Do not put the Lord Your God to the test.” (Matthew 4:7) In other words, don’t make God prove His love for you. Even though I may not feel like He cares doesn’t change the fact that He does and that He loves me. I acknowledge Jesus’ words but still try and convince Him otherwise,“Thank You, Lord that You love me. However, the Enemy is coming back again. Haven’t you proved your point? Haven’t we already been too long in this
place? Holy Spirit I’m ready to have you lead me out.” Again, no response from Jesus.
Matthew says that Satan returns for a third time and offers Jesus all “the kingdoms of the world and their splendor” if Jesus will bow down and worship him. (Matthew 4:8) What does the Enemy have to offer me? Satan argues, “Stop waiting for God to move! You can do things for yourself. Go after the respect, honor, and power that is due to you. Go crash the “church” parties you were kicked out of and reclaim what should be yours. Tell everyone how awful these pastors are and that you can do a better job. Show them up to be the hypocrites that they are. Lay claim to the power of the pulpit! In fact this is what you were called to do! I look to Jesus with pleading eyes,“Lord, the Enemy is really hitting where it hurts. How long do I have to wait to be heard? Why do others seem to flourish while I’m stuck here in the desert? It’s not fair! You claim to have a heart for the widow, orphan, fatherless, and oppressed. Well, I feel like that widow who has lost the love of her life. I feel the loneliness of abandonment and oppression from so many sides. May be it’s time to rise up against my oppressors! Jesus acknowledges the pain but replies, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.” (Matthew 4:10) In other words, keep your eyes on the real prize. Service for God is not limited to a certain place or resting on a particular person. As the saying goes, “God is not looking for extraordinary people, but ordinary people who believe in an extraordinary God.” Am I one of those people? After the devil left Jesus, Matthew tells us that “angels came and attended Him.” (Matthew 4:11) I notice the text does not say, “Then Jesus walked out of the desert and began His ministry.” The angels came to Him in the desert. They met Jesus where He was at. I wonder what the angels did for Him? Perhaps, met His basic needs for food and water in the same way Elijah’s basic needs were met when he fled to Mount Horeb tired and depressed. (1 Kings 19:1-9) Did the angels encourage Jesus and celebrate His victory over Satan? Did the angels bring a word from God the Father? “Well done, my Son. I love You. Now that you have experienced this great challenge and overcome, trusting in my Presence even at Your lowest point, You are ready for this next season in my plan.” Jesus is renewed and ready to continue serving God and His people. I start to follow Him out as He leaves the desert but He turns to me and tells me to stay a little while longer. He tells me that I know this desert well. He reminds me that the circumstances may be different and the landscape unfamiliar but I have been here before. And although I am not yet ready to leave, He assures me that I am not alone. The Spirit will keep holding my hand even if I don’t feel His Presence. Jesus says,“Remember I will never leave you or forsake you. Don’t forget my words to Joshua, “Be strong and courageous.

Do not be terrified; Do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9) .....even in the desert. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

"Mary"

A few weeks ago I was on my way home from work. It was a Friday afternoon and it had been a long work week. Typically, I stop at the post office to send information to our director's wife who takes care of our billing. After getting off the exit to the post office I noticed an accident had taken place. One car was resting not too far from the exit ramp. Across the road sitting on the front lawn of an office building was the second vehicle. Folks had already begun attending to the passenger in the car near the exit ramp. However, the other driver had yet to be approached to check on their condition. I felt a prompting from the Spirit not to be like others who tend to gawk, shake their heads, and hope everything works out. So, I pulled my car across the street into the nearby driveway of the office building. Upon approaching the car there was a woman inside crying hysterically and trying to use her cell phone. I tried to open the door but it was locked. Other people started to approach the car including two witnesses to the accident. The woman unlocked the door and I got into the passenger's seat and began to comfort her. A few seconds later another gentleman jumped into the rear seat behind the woman and placed her head between his hands providing her with a manual neck brace until the paramedics arrived. The man appeared to have some sort of medical training as he told the woman not to move and put her phone down. She had been trying to call her son. The man asked her what her name was and she replied, "Mary." We then shared our identities and the gentleman said his name was Bob. Bob did a great job of calmly talking to Mary to keep her from panicking until help arrived. Mary held my hand tightly and at one point expressed concern that she may be squeezing too hard. I noticed a flyer on the floor along with her purse which had been thrown forward during the accident. I picked it up and noticed it was a funeral bulletin. Mary apparently had just come from a funeral mass. Mary, continued to cry and stated she was in pain in her hip area. When the paramedics arrived they jumped into action. Bob updated them on Mary's medical status and her physical complaints. Unfortunately, Mary was in such great pain the paramedics could not remove her from the car and had to call for back up. The only way to extricate Mary from the car was removing the door from around her. The police officer asked me to find her license which was in her wallet in her purse. Once the police verified who she was, they took over the situation and Bob and I got out of the car to let the professionals do their job. When I began to think about this accident I received some insight from the Lord. At first I felt guilty, thinking to myself, should I have prayed for Mary out loud? But it occurred to me that God hears out silent prayers and in that instance what was needed more was the Lord's presence represented through me. I thought it ironic her name was Mary. This lead me to meditate on the announcement by the angel Gabriel to Mary when she was chosen to give birth to Jesus.(Luke 1:26-38) Both Mary's worlds had been turned upside down by a totally unexpected event. Both women were needing reassurance. And God, chose and sent His messengers to provide the spiritual help that was required. Gabriel was sent to Mary and I was sent to the other Mary. I confess I am humbled by this insight. God is in the midst of every day, ordinary life and if we are sensitive to His presence, He will use us. God wants us to represent Him to this world. Paul tells us, We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God was making His appeal through us." (2 Corinthians 5:20a) Additionally, Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." (Matthew 25:40) I pray that Mary was able to recover. Although we may never see each other again, it is enough to know that the presence of God was there in time of need.
Because of Jesus,
Pastor Sheree