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Monday, March 13, 2017

Jesus in the Wilderness

             I am encouraging everyone at my church to focus on three things during the 40 days of Lent--prayer, study, and service.  Today, I want to talk about prayer. 
            Prayer is communicating with God. You don’t have to use fancy language or try to impress God (or anyone else) with your eloquent speech. The best prayer is simply you talking to God like you would talk to a trusted friend.
            However, we often forget prayer is also listening. Many times, our prayers are just us talking, but never listening. There’s a cliché that says God gave us two ears and only one mouth so we ought to listen twice as much as we speak. That’s even truer when we come into the presence of God. Do you presume to teach God something He doesn’t already know or impress Him with your clever speech? We should tell God about our day and our struggles and our joys and present Him with our petitions. And we should thank Him and praise Him and glorify His holy name. Yet it is even better and far more beneficial to just be still and quiet and know that He is God and to listen for His holy voice that we might know His thoughts and His purposes for our life. That would be a worthy practice for the 40 days of Lent.
            I want to share a story takes place right at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus goes into the wilderness on a pilgrimage to fast. And fasting always goes with prayer. Jesus is listening for the voice of God to prepare him for the next 3 years of his life—a ministry that will be powerful but face many challenges, require great spiritual fortitude, wisdom, and grace, and that will culminate in his arrest, torture, and crucifixion. Ultimately, there will be the final victory of the resurrection and defeat of death, but only if Jesus is completely faithful to God’s plan. So Jesus begins his ministry with an intense period of fasting and prayer.

Slides – Luke 4:1-13
1Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan River. He was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where he was tempted by the devil for forty days. Jesus ate nothing all that time and became very hungry.

Then the devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become a loaf of bread.”

But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone.’”

Then the devil took him up and revealed to him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. “I will give you the glory of these kingdoms and authority over them,” the devil said, “because they are mine to give to anyone I please. I will give it all to you if you will worship me.”

Jesus replied, “The Scriptures say,

‘You must worship the Lord your God
    and serve only him.’”

Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! 10 For the Scriptures say,

He will order his angels to protect and guard you.

11 And they will hold you up with their hands
    so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.’”

12 Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the Lord your God.’”

13 When the devil had finished tempting Jesus, he left him until the next opportunity came.

The Voice of God vs. the Voice of Satan            In this passage, Jesus communes with God as he fasts in the wilderness, but he also encounters Satan. It is often the case that we encounter Satan when we are looking for God. Why? I will tell you. Satan does not want us to commune with God. His ultimate purpose is to disrupt just such encounters. People may think of Satan’s wants to scare us, or hurt us, or deceive us, or make bad things happen to us. In part, all of these are true. Satan hates us and wants only bad to befall us. However, the greatest and darkest goal Satan has is to keep us from a true relationship with God. For if he accomplishes this, he will ultimately achieve the greatest evil of all which will also include all the other lesser evils.
            If all Satan wants to do is scare us or cause us pain, he could simply show his ugly face and shred our bodies with his evil hands. However, doing so would be the surest way to make us turn to God. (If you saw Satan face to face, you would cry out to God—and He would come running to save you. You would never forget it; you would cling to God forever lest you fall back into the hands of the Devil.) It is much better for Satan that we never know he is the one who torments us. 
           Satan’s goal is to turn our hearts away from God, to make us forget about God. Then Satan will have our souls and can make sport of us forever, torturing us and causing pain, having already accomplish the greatest wound of all—eternal separation from our Creator.
            So when we go looking for God—as Jesus did while fasting in the wilderness—Satan comes along to tempt, to disrupt, to deceive, and destroy.  Satan doesn’t usually come and tell you “I am Satan.” We would never listen to him if he did. Nor does Satan look as you would expect—with red skin, horns on his head, and a pointy tale. Who would take advice from a monster? Satan’s usually comes to us in the same way God does—as a voice in our head as we contemplate the world around us, as we think about our life, as we meditate on the worries we have, as we ponder how we should react and what we should do.
            So you must learn to know the difference between Satan's whispers and the voice of God. And I want to give you some clues to how you tell which is which.

God’s voice stills you; Satan rushes you.
            Satan will push you to always do more and more and more.  He will keep you so busy you don’t have time to look for God or consider if all you’re doing has any real meaning.  But God calls us to slow down.  He gave us a whole day to rest—the Sabbath—so that we can be still and know that He is God.  For when we are still, we become calm.  And when we are calm, we listen with our heart.  And when we listen with our heart, we hear God’s voice.  And when we hear God’s voice, we know Him. 

God’s voice leads you; Satan pushes you.             Jesus said, “Come and follow me and I will make you fishers of me.”  He said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and carrying heaven burdens, and I will give you rest.”  Satan pushes us to do more and more and more.  He literally told Jesus to go jump off the highest point of the temple.  What do you think Satan would do to you?
Sometimes Jesus asks does ask us to do difficult things.  He said his followers must take up a cross and follow him.  But he has already lead the way.  Jesus also carried a cross—a heavier one than you will ever bear.  Jesus is our leader.  Satan is a pusher who has never done anything for us or anyone else.  Listen to Jesus, not Satan.

God’s voice reassures you; Satan frightens you.
We all have doubts.  We all have worries.  We fret over our relationships.  “What did so-and-so mean by that?”  “Can I really trust her?”   “Why is he staring at me all the time?”  “Maybe I shouldn’t have done that.”  “Maybe I should have done more.”  We worry about our children growing up and making good decisions.  We fear we have messed the whole thing up.
Satan loves our inner turmoil.  He directs to the unholy choir of voices singing our perceived failures.  If you listen to Satan, he will rip you apart with fear.  Don’t listen to Satan.  Listen to God.  God reassures you.  He says, “You have done much better than you give yourself credit for.  You are a loved; you are good; you are special; you are doing well.”  He says, “Even your failure are not as bad as you think.”  He says, “We can fix this together.”  He says, “Don’t give up.  Keep on the path.  We will get there together.”  Listen to God not Satan. 

God’s voice enlightens you; Satan confuses you.
Do you realize, you don’t have to know everything about everything?  You only need to know what God teaches you to be truly wise.  Wisdom is more about trusting God than knowing information. 
Satan will try to confuse you.  He will cloud your mind to the obvious truths and lead you chasing after knowledge that is irrelevant.  Listen to his dark voice and you will know a bucnhc of stuff about nothing.  But if you listen to God, you will be clear about what really matters and you won’t care about things that mean nothing.  You will be truly enlightened.

Slide – God voice encourages you; Satan discourages you.
            God is our Father.  He encourages he children to do their very best.  Satan makes us want to give up and settle for less than our best.
            A while back, I had a daddy/daughter date night with my youngest child, Abigail.  We decided to go out eat dinner.  As we drove to her Red Lobster and passed our church, she asked, "What's up inside that steeple?"  I told her how I had been up in the steeple once to help fix a broken window.  As we ate dinner, I asked her what she wanted to do afterwards.  She replied, "I want to go up in that steeple!"
            I thought that was pretty cool; my daughter wanted to go on an adventure.  And since I'm the pastor and have access and permission to do such things, I could make it happen.  To get to the steeple, you have to go into the attic above the sanctuary.  It's a lot like most attics--dark, dusty, and full of insulation.  You have to be careful to step on the studs, but as long as you are careful it is safe.  It made my young daughter a little nervous, but I was there to make sure she stayed safe and to reassure her.  We climbed the ladder inside the steeple and she completed the challenge--safely under the supervision of her protective father.
            That story reminds me of our relationship with God.  God helps us overcome great challenges and accomplish great things.  We may be nervous or even a afraid of the things we must face.  However, God is there with us to guide us and keep us safe and encourage us so that we can do anything He leads us to do.  Satan discourages us, but God encourages us.

God’s voice comforts you; Satan worries you.
Worry is thinking about the same problem over and over again.  It’s like spinning your tires—it makes a screeching and a lot of smoke and it ruins your tires, but it doesn’t get you anywhere.  Satan loves it when you worry.  It makes you restless.  It fixates your mind on a useless thoughts.  Worry doesn’t leads to anything productive and it keeps you from resting in God’s loving arms.
            God’s voice comforts you, letting you know it’s all going to be OK.  It allows you to rest your mind until your thoughts are clear.  Then you will see the answer is probably so simple or that God has already worked it out for you.  Let God comfort you and don't listen to Satan.

God voice convicts you; Satan condemns you.
            God loves us.  And love is more than a sentimental feeling.  Love is far deeper than that.  Love, true love, warns us when we have gone astray.  Jesus’ core message was: Repent of your sins for the Kingdom of God is near! (Mark 1:15).  In Luke 13:3, he warned, “…you will perish, too, unless you repent of your sins and turn to God.” 
            We have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glorious standard.  We are guilty and God convicts us.  But he does not condemn us.  Satan condemns us.  Satan tells us our sins are unforgiveable.  Satan lies and says, “There is no hope for you.  God does not love you anymore.  You might as well give up.  You are not worthy.  You will spend eternity in my hell!”  Do not listen to Satan.  Listen to God.  God says, “You have sinned, but you can be forgiven.”  The Bible says:
·       If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. (1 John 1:9)
·       For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 3:23)
·       For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans10:13)
·       God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (Ephesians 2:4)
·       Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. (Isaiah 1:18)
·       Anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! (2 Corinthians 5:17)
·       He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. (Ephesians 1:7)
·       This is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.  (Matthew 26:28)
·       Now repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away. (Acts 3:19)

            If you want to know how much God loves you, look at the cross.  He loved you enough to die on the cross to forgive you of your sins.  The cross is clearest statement about the depth of God's love and the forgiveness He offers.  Listen to God's voice in prayer and ignore Satan.

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