Tag Archives: Temptation

A Generous Confession

A generous person will prosper;
    whoever refreshes others will be refreshed
.
Proverbs 11:25 (NIV)

Earlier this week I was with friends in our family room, and we were discussing the spiritual season of Lent that we entered into this past Wednesday. For those not familiar with the practice, Lent (from the Anglo-Saxon word for “length” which is also associated with “Spring”) is a period of roughly 40 days (there are multiple traditions who figure the days differently) leading up to the celebration of Jesus’ death and resurrection at Easter.

The 40 days traditionally relate back to the 40 days Jesus spent alone in the desert (Matthew 4) before he was tempted by the enemy. That 40 days of solitude, introspection, prayer, fasting, and temptation effectively launched Jesus’ three years of ministry. It was the spiritual boot camp that prepared Him for the determined purpose of fulfilling His earthly mission on the cross, through death, and out of the tomb. In the same way, Lent is intended to be a period of personal introspection, confession, denial, repentance, and preparation leading up to Good Friday (observance of Jesus’ death) and Easter (celebration of Jesus’ resurrection).

As my friends and I discussed our diverse religious backgrounds and personal experiences with Lent, we discussed the practice of self-denial and fasting that commonly occurs during the season. One member of our group alluded to a conversation he and his wife had about self-denial within generosity: You know a person who needs a special outfit for an event and they can’t afford it. It’s easy to say, “Here is an outfit from my spare closet that I haven’t worn for years. Take it. It’s yours.” It’s harder to say, “Here is my favorite outfit. It’s the best thing I own, and it cost me a pretty penny. Take it. It’s yours.” Which is true generosity and self-denial?

I thought of that discussion as I read today’s chapter and came across a verse that I, long ago, memorized. It’s today’s verse, pasted at the top of this post.

In the introspection spirit of Lent, I have a confession to make. Generosity has been a life-long struggle of mine. The struggle is two-sided. The obvious side is simply learning to be generous. Things were economically tight in my family growing up. As the youngest of four, I enjoyed a lot of hand-me-downs. The idea of being generous and giving things away was an honest struggle for me because when I had something new that was “just mine” I wanted to cling to it for dear life. It took me a long time to develop a heart of generosity, and even as I write these words I have specific, shameful memories of not being generous and being called out for it.

The other side of my generosity struggle comes from my core pain, which I long ago identified and labeled: not enough. So, even though I have come to embrace, en-joy, and practice generosity in greater measure than any time in my entire life, my Censor (that ugly whisperer inside my head and heart) ceaselessly tells me that it’s not enough.

Welcome to my Lenten introspection.

In the quiet this morning I find myself meditating on, and thinking about, my generosity. Jesus was constantly urging His followers towards the virtues of love, kindness, forgiveness, gentleness, humility, and generosity. Is it even possible to reach a point in my earthly life where I can say that I have arrived at having “enough” of these virtues in my life?

No.

Does that mean I’m an irredeemable failure?

No.

It means that I am on a spiritual journey and a Life journey. I am not where I once was (thank you God) and I can be encouraged by that fact. At the same time, I have not arrived (Lord, have mercy) and I can be humbled by that fact.

So where, does that leave me?

Time to lace ’em up for another day. I’m pressing on. Hope you are, too.

Oh, and if you wear men’s size 9 and you need a pair of shoes for the trek, I have a brand new pair. I think I’ve worn them only once. If you need them, they’re yours.

<— Click on Solomon for an indexed list of previous chapter-a-day posts from this series from Proverbs!

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

The Freedom That Leads to Slavery

They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for “people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.”
2 Peter 2:19 (NIV)

I grew up in a very different time. Parents weren’t as protective and overbearing with children as they are today. They couldn’t. The technology didn’t exist as it does now. As a kid I had quite a bit of freedom. I roamed our neighborhood with other kids. My Schwinn Sting-Ray five speed bicycle expanded the reach of adventure. I rode my bike to the bowling alley, to the pool, or to the wooded areas at the end of Madison and by the Des Moines River. All of this without cell phones or my parents having any idea where I was or what I was doing most of the time.

Of course, this freedom afforded plenty of opportunity to get in trouble. I can think of kids in my neighborhood who used their own freedom to push the limits of acceptable behavior. Often, I was invited and encouraged to join them. Occasionally, I did follow friends into doing what I knew was wrong, but I had a healthy conscience that usually (not always) kept me from repeating those behaviors. As I look back and remember some of those moments when I was encouraged by friends to misbehave, one of the regular arguments provided was that I would be breaking the shackles of parental or societal rules and experiencing freedom of doing whatever I wanted.

I’ve observed along my journey that “freedom” is regularly mentioned by those who propose marginal behavior. I grew up on the tail end of the “free love” generation which was supposed to free people from relational repressions but I never saw it creating healthier, happier individuals. I remember a friend from college who was fighting his own battle with drug addiction. He’d been encouraged to take LSD to “free his mind” but the story he told me was not one of freedom.

In today’s chapter, Peter was writing his letter to early Jesus followers to address a very similar issue. Men had joined with followers of Jesus and then told them all sorts of stories about how people were free to engage in all the marginal behaviors practiced by the pagan religions around them. Con artists were stealing money from the local gatherings of believers and leading people astray in their promises that people were free to do whatever they wanted as Jesus’ forgiveness gave them carte blanche grace and forgiveness. Peter warns the fledgling followers that the “freedom” these heretics were promising would only end in a different kind of enslavement.

This morning I’m thinking about freedom. Jesus said, If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” It’s one of those quotes of Jesus that I’ve observed gets only partially quoted. People love to quote the last part, but leave off the first part. I learned long ago that when I use my freedom to do whatever I want, it doesn’t lead to pleasant places. In fact, the so called “freedom” that many people espouse only leads to a different kind of enslavement.

Christ set me free, not to do what I want, but to do what I ought.

Temptation’s Basic Appetites Playbook

Next Jesus was taken into the wild by the Spirit for the Test. The Devil was ready to give it. Jesus prepared for the Test by fasting forty days and forty nights. That left him, of course, in a state of extreme hunger, which the Devil took advantage of in the first test: “Since you are God’s Son, speak the word that will turn these stones into loaves of bread.”
Matthew 4:1-3 (MSG)

Wendy and I spent a few days at the lake this week opening the place up in preparation for summer fun with family and friends. I keep the basics I need at the lake so that I don’t have to pack clothes back and forth each time. So it was that I went to put on a pair of “summer” jeans for a trip into town and had to face an undeniable fact. Ugh. Once again my winter appetite has gotten the best of me.

Oh it’s the holidays. Just a little bit more.

Family potluck. Haven’t had that in ages. I’ll have another helping.

Man that’s tasty. I’ll take two. They’re small.”

One thing I’ve learned along my life journey is that our spiritual enemy has a very thin playbook for tripping us up, and it begins with turning our own basic appetites against us. It has been that way from the beginning:

When the woman  [Eve] saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food (appetite of indulging our flesh) and pleasing to the eye (appetite for acquiring shiny things that strike our fancy), and also desirable for gaining wisdom (appetite for feeling superior), she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.

In today’s chapter Jesus has arrived on the scene to address messy at its core, and the first thing He must do is face the same spiritual test as Adam and Eve, who started the mess in the first place.

You’re hungry. Turn these stones to bread and indulge the natural appetite of your flesh.”

Throw yourself off the pinnacle and let your angels catch you. Indulge your appetite to proudly prove yourself and your power to me.”

See the kingdoms of the world? I can give them to you, and indulge your appetite to acquire all the shiny new things you could possibly desire.”

Each time, Jesus responded to the temptations of appetite with God’s Words spoken, as we like to say, by heart. His appetite for the Word and for relationship with the Father and Holy Spirit had been fed and nurtured so that when the enemy opened his basic temptation playbook, Jesus’ appetites of flesh were checked by His willful obedience to the appetites of the Spirit.

This morning I have to confess that I have indulged my basic appetites for food (meaning I have regularly eaten too much) and sloth (meaning I haven’t exercised) more than I care to admit over the past several months. As Wendy and I discussed this on our drive home from the lake yesterday we acknowledged that this happens time and time again because I simply want to do what I want to do. I want to eat what I want eat, as much as I want to eat it, whenever I feel like it eating it. Add the appetite of willful pride to my appetite for food and drink. Welcome back to the Garden. As I said, the enemy’s playbook is pretty thin.

As a follower of Jesus, I’m also reminded this morning of my need to follow Jesus’ example in the most basic of things. Time for me to feed and nurture my appetite for communion with Christ, my appetite for consuming His Word and seeking after the things of the Spirit. When I do that, I know that I am better able to face the temptation of all the other appetites.

 

Posts about Sex, Marriage, & Intimacy

On Remember When Wednesdays I typically look back at older posts across my ten years of blogging and re-post them for newer readers of my blog. Of late, I’ve been taking the opportunity to create a few topical lists of my chapter-a-day posts.

They say that “sex sells,” so I’ll be really interested how the stats on this post fare 😉 For today’s Remember When Wednesday, I’ve put together a list of my posts that reference sex (in a very broad, topical sense of the word).

The Art and Progression of Sexual Intimacy (Song of Songs 5)
Sexual Healing
I’m “Unclean.” If You Know What I Mean (wink, wink)
Of Twisties and Pantry Lights
Burning Down the House
A Hint of Paradise (Song of Songs 1)
With Nobody Else But Me (Song of Songs 2)
Meeting the Parents (Song of Songs 3)
Sensually Good (Song of Songs 4)
Browsing Among the Lilies (Song of Songs 6)
A Case for Delayed Gratification (Song of Songs 7)
Signed, Sealed, Delivered (Song of Songs 8)
We’re All Suckers for a Love Story
A Raving Fan of the Fairer Sex
Enjoy the Dance
Five Things That Irritate You About the Opposite Sex
Captivated
Profanity, Obscenity and Swearing
God’s X-Rated Word Pictures
Appetites and Maturity
Delicacies and Darkness
Chapter-a-Day Song of Songs 2
Chapter-a-Day Leviticus 18
Chapter-a-Day Song of Solomon 7
Chapter-a-Day 2 Kings 9
Chapter-a-Day Ephesians 5

 

“If You Can’t Do the Time…”

david absalomAbsalom behaved in this way toward all the Israelites who came to the king asking for justice, and so he stole the hearts of the people of Israel. 2 Samuel 15:6 (NIV)

Being forgiven does not erase the fact that we must face the natural consequences of our actions. After being confronted by the prophet Nathan regarding his adultery with Bathsheba and subsequent conspiracy to commit murder, David showed great remorse and sought God’s forgiveness but the events sewed seeds of scandal, anger and resentment both inside David’s family and in the public. Nathan’s prophetic word that the sword would never depart David’s house is fulfilled as the consequences of David’s blind spots now bear bitter fruit.

David’s children knew their father’s weaknesses both as a father and as a king. In today’s chapter, Absalom masterfully exploits his father’s scandal and weak leadership in a brilliantly planned and executed coup d’etat. David was forced to make hasty preparation to escape the city with his closest followers and arrange for spies to gather inside information regarding his the rebels’ plot. David’s very own son had stolen his kingdom and was reaching out to steal his crown.

Today I am reminded of many mistakes I’ve made along the journey and their residual effect on relationships, circumstances, and perceptions. Jesus advised people to “count the cost” before agreeing to follow Him. The same advice might also be given when tempted. There is a cost to wrong-doing and we are all wise to give consideration to the tragic consequences that might arise in the wake of our poor choices. As the saying goes, “If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.”

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Delicacies and Darkness

A pastry infused with dark chocolate and served with dark chocolate sauce from Casa Cortes ChocoBar in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.
A pastry infused with dark chocolate and served with dark chocolate sauce from Casa Cortes ChocoBar in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Do not let my heart be drawn to what is evil
    so that I take part in wicked deeds
along with those who are evildoers;
    do not let me eat their delicacies.
Psalm 141:4 (NIV)

Wendy and I returned home from our cruise late on Saturday night. We had an amazing time (more about that in another post). If you have ever been on a cruise, you know that there are some incredible delicacies to be experienced both on the ship and in the various ports of call. On Tuesday in San Juan, Puerto Rico we stopped in at Casa Cortes ChocoBar. The restaurant and bar infuses everything they make with chocolate. They even serve grilled cheese sandwiches with dark chocolate dipping sauce! Having just eaten at another restaurant, Wendy and I only ordered drinks and dessert, but the experience was certainly a tasty highlight of our trip.

In the psalm this morning, King David’s lyrics use the word picture of “delicacies” to embody the concept of being tempted and drawn in by evil. After a week of being mindful of my appetites amidst a seemingly endless supply of scrumptious food and desserts, it was not hard for my mind to make the connection.

Along my life’s journey I’ve observed that evil generally follows a fairly simple playbook. The strategy is to take a healthy human appetite and then feed it incessantly until it is perverted into a spiritual snare. There was absolutely nothing wrong or evil with any tasty treat on the menu this past week, but if I allow my natural appetite for food to indulge its craving over and over and over again without restraint then I will find myself trapped both spiritually and in jeans that won’t fit me any longer.

  • Our appetite for food gives way to gluttony, over eating, and unhealthy consequences.
  • Our appetite for sex gives way to adultery, pornography, and unhealthy consequences.
  • Our appetite for industry gives way to greed, power, and unhealthy consequences.
  • Our appetite for rest gives way to sloth, indulgence, and unhealthy consequences.
  • Etc.
  • Etc.

We do not avoid these spiritual traps without being mindful of our appetites. Our hearts are easily drawn to delicacies which are not evil in themselves, but will stimulate our appetites to crave more than what is good for us. Today as I wrestle back into my daily routine after a week of many delicacies I am, like David, praying for a little grace and strength to keep my appetites in check.

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Chapter-a-Day Deuteronomy 16

HDR @ the DMV
Image by stevelyon via Flickr

The right! The right! Pursue only what’s right! It’s the only way you can really live and possess the land that God, your God, is giving you. Deuteronomy 16:20 (MSG)

I was talking to a friend on the phone the other day, and he related an experience from his day. Standing at the teller of the local office of the County Treasurer, he was registering a used car he’d just purchased. When asked how much he’d spent to purchase the vehicle he had a momentary mental struggle. If he simply gave an amount that was a few hundred, maybe a thousand, lower than what he actually paid, he would have to pay less tax to register the vehicle.

“Truth wins out,” he heard inside his head, inside his heart. And the struggle yet ensued. There were, I’m sure, all sorts of arguments for being dishonest. It’s not a great amount, no one would know, and who really cares if the government gets a few dollars less on a registration tax in the grand scheme of things. “Truth wins out,” his conscience whispered. Or, perhaps it was Holy Spirit.

He gave the true amount of the purchase, paid the proper amount for registration, and slept much better that night.

I thought of my friend when I read today’s chapter. Little white lies and small dishonesties are easy to get away with. We think very little about them, but perhaps we should heed the challenge in today’s chapter to actively pursue what is right. Little dishonesties have a tendency to grow in unexpected ways and require further deception. Doing what’s right in the little things clears the conscience and paves the way for doing right in much more substantial life matters.

Indeed, “truth wins out” in many ways.

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