Temptation 5

The pastor at our church when I was a teen-ager once told the story of a man who put his young son on top of a table and coaxed him to jump into his arms.  He kept telling the boy he would catch him, and after some time the boy finally jumped.  The father let his son fall to the floor and then told him, “Never trust anyone, not even your own father.”

It is a terrible story – hopefully, not true – about the cynicism so many can have in life.  We may fear that we are completely alone in life, facing temptations and troubles without the benefit of anyone who cares.

We must remember the comfort Paul offers in this passage.  What does Scripture (Isaiah 28:16) tell us?  What is God’s attitude toward all people?

Temptation can be very hard to resist.  When confronted with one of the greatest temptations – the desire to take care of ourselves first – it is difficult to have an attitude of self-sacrifice.  We may fear that we will fall and there will be no one there to catch us.  It can be so difficult to trust that if we are giving we will also receive.

But if we can take on an attitude of sacrifice, an attitude of putting God first in our lives and trusting in the eternal presence of the Lord, then we can be blessed in our lives.  God will be there to catch us if we fall.  He will be there to pick us up when we stumble in our walk of faith.  And He will be there to strengthen us as we face the temptations of life.

With God as our first concern, with God as the center of our focus we will never be dismayed or put to shame.  It doesn’t matter who we are, whether we are the strong Christians we are supposed to be, the ones who have just begun a journey to perfection, or those who doubt and fear.  God is ready to bless us all.

We must learn to call on the name of the Lord.  We must be willing to make God our dwelling.  We must place the Lord at the center of our heart to guide us and direct us in our lives, and to be that ever-present source of strength and comfort.

DAILY CHALLENGE:  What will help you take a leap of faith for God?

Temptation 4

Where does your money go when you contribute to your place of worship?  Does it simply vanish into the pastor’s salary?  What about all the time and effort you give?  Is it wasted time and energy?

Of course, the answer is that anything you give to God is not wasted.  The money you contribute works to maintain the church and all of its ministries.  Your money is converted into salaries, yes, but it is also used to keep the building functioning as well as outreach to help the needy.  The efforts you put into your place of worship also help to spread the love of God to all the world.

In our modern society we do not always recognize the results of contributing our first-fruits.  Continuing in Deuteronomy 26 with God’s commands about giving to the temple we see where these offerings go.  What should the faithful giver say and do?  Who is involved in the celebration of honoring God?

As with the gift in ancient Israel, which was a tangible and visible gift, the receiving of the gift was just as apparent.  The person presenting the offering of first-fruits was to declare that the gift was intended to honor and thank God for all that the Lord had provided.  The giver was to bow down before the Lord.

But the act of giving didn’t end there.  The gift was given directly to the Levite (priest) and also to the alien, the foreigner and needy widows and families.  The implication is that the person giving the gift was able to witness the benefit of the offering and also, perhaps, join in on the feasting and the celebration.

Although we do not always have such a direct contact with the benefits of our giving we must trust that what is offered to honor and thank and praise God is being used to demonstrate God’s love.  Our gifts become expressions of the Lord’s care and grace.  The gifts we offer go out in many different ways to build up the kingdom of God.

Rather than give with hesitation and reluctance we should resist the temptation to keep all that we have for ourselves and instead give sacrificially with the knowledge that we are part of God’s love and compassion to the world.

DAILY CHALLENGE:  Can you see where your gifts benefit others?

Temptation 3

We are called on to honor God, to make Him our dwelling place and our refuge.  But how do we go about doing that?  We can wonder how it is we are supposed to give honor to God, to submit to Him and show Him that we love the Lord.

For the Israelites who were led from Egypt, taken from a place of bondage and possible abuse to a new land, a place that God had promised them, the task was simple.  What were the faithful instructed to do?  How does this translate into our modern situation?

For the people entering into Israel, the Promised Land, the act of honoring God was fairly straightforward.  They were to take their first-fruits – literally, the best of their crops and their animals – put them in a basket and take them to the priest at the temple.  This was a tangible and visible expression of gratitude to God.  It was an observable action that demonstrated obedience to God.

These people in this agrarian society, a people who survived primarily through the raising of crops and livestock, were to take the best of what they had and sacrifice it to God.  They had to resist the temptation of providing for themselves with their best crops and their best livestock.  It was to be given away to God.

In that way they demonstrated their trust and gratitude toward God.  They made God their dwelling by handing over those things they would have liked to keep for themselves.

Our society and religious institutions are not set up the same way they were for the Jews thousands of years ago.  We can’t imagine setting a basket of our finest corn, soybeans, wheat or sheep on the altar at our church.  Are we then excused from such a sacrifice?

The sacrifice that we should be willing to make should be that God is considered first when we examine our situation.  An offering to God may not take the form of an animal or a basket of vegetables.  Instead we may choose to give money.  We may choose to give of our time and energy.

What is essential is that these donations are given first, before we care about ourselves.  We should be certain that we sacrifice to the Lord – time, money, possessions – before we worry about meeting any other obligations.  When we are able to give to God first we are making God our dwelling.  We are expressing love and gratitude to the Lord.

When we do this, when we have this attitude, we will be blessed by the Lord for our sacrificial and loving actions.

DAILY CHALLENGE:  What first-fruits do you have to give to God?

Temptation 2

While working as an editor at a local newspaper the managing editor, the big boss, was named Ozzie.  His name was often used as the authority for getting things done.  If someone questioned why something was to be done or done in a particular way, the response was frequently, “Because Ozzie said so.”

It can be quite helpful to have a person of authority and power on your side.  The author of Psalm 91 talks about all the good that can come about from honoring God.  What positive things will happen (verses 10-13)?  What does God promise in verses 14-16?  Why will these good things come about (see verse 9 and 14)?

We are certainly faced with the many temptations that come with life.  We are tempted to be certain that we are in a good place in life – in our finances, in our homes, in our relationships.  It is a temptation to take care of “Number One” – ourselves.

But we will be blessed by God if we can overcome the temptations we face every day and instead honor God.  The psalmist reminds us that if we make God our dwelling and our refuge – that is, if we submit ourselves completely to God and focus our energies on serving Him – then we will receive good things from God.

The Lord will protect us from harm.  God’s angels will watch over us, guard us, and even be with us when we face some of the most dangerous and terrifying things in life.  This is not an encouragement to go out and do daring and foolish things that will put you in dangerous situations, but it is a reminder that we will have the strength of God with us in all the difficulties and challenges in life.

God offers promises to protect and bless us in our lives if we are able to submit to Him and love Him as He deserves.  “Because he loves me,” God says in verse 14.  If we truly love and honor God in our living, if we resist the temptation to focus on ourselves and instead live a life of holy sacrifice, God promises to protect us from harm.  He promises the salvation we so deeply desire.

Like Jesus we must resist the temptations to satisfy our own desires.  We must replace that impulse to care for ourselves and replace it with an attitude of sacrificial giving – giving our time, our money, our efforts, and our devotion.  When we can resist temptation and be sacrificial toward God in our life we will be blessed with God’s presence and power and be delivered from the harm and troubles that come when we give in to temptation.

DAILY CHALLENGE:  How can you make God your dwelling?

Temptation 1

Todays’ passage is a lengthy one, but it is likely a story from the Bible most people are familiar with.  Jesus has been baptized by John in the River Jordan and now is ready to begin the ministry that makes up much of the four gospels.

Why does Jesus go into the desert?  What are the three temptations presented to Jesus?  Why do you think Jesus started his ministry in this way?

If we are going to understand temptation and sacrifice we need to completely comprehend what they are.  Temptation is that desire to please your own desires and wants in whatever way that may be.  Sacrifice is the ability to deny your selfish desires so that others may benefit.

I have addressed the temptations offered to Jesus in the past.  If these three scenarios were a temptation to Jesus then two things must be true.  One – whatever was being offered must have been something that Jesus could have desired.  Two – for it to be a temptation then submitting to it, giving in, accepting what was offered must have been considered.

Being fed because he was hungry must have been something Jesus considered.  Being in charge of all the nations must have been something Jesus might have wanted.  Becoming the center of attention and praise must have been something that tempted Jesus.

Why did he go into a desert place and spend 40 days in the wilderness?  Why did Jesus allow himself to be confronted by the devil?  Is this the best way to start a ministry?

Obviously, this was the best way for Jesus to begin.  He was filled with the Holy Spirit and it was the Spirit, that third person of the holy Trinity, that led him to the desert to have this showdown with the devil.

It was a good way to begin ministry because it allowed Jesus to demonstrate to himself, to God, to the devil, and ultimately to us that he was ready for ministry.  He could face all the various temptations that the world (or the devil) could offer and reject them.  He would not give in to the temptations, but would sacrifice – deny himself – for the benefit of everyone else.

We have celebrated Easter and the resurrection of the Lord.  We have learned that we must believe without seeing.  Now we must be willing to face our own ministry with the same attitude of Christ.  We must be willing to deny those things that tempt us away from doing good, and instead take on an attitude of sacrifice.

DAILY CHALLENGE:  What helps you resist temptation?