Week 1 of Lent – Storms

We began the Lenten season with Matthew 4:1-11 which is the familiar section where beforehand Jesus has been baptized and he goes into the wilderness for 40 days and nights.  He is then tempted by the devil 3 times with questions about his power and Jesus responding in scripture back to him.  When people are questioned about their power and their authority is questioned, sometimes their hackles are raised and it’s easy to react out of a defensiveness or justification of how powerful you think you are.

When this Sunday rolled around a couple weeks ago, the Charlie Sheen saga was at a fever pitch.  It was right after he started waving around a machete on top of a building.  Now I know that people in Hollywood generally may have a healthy sense of self, but waving around a machete and talking about bi-winning and having goddesses are not really the way to go about winning America’s love much less your argument that you are the one with the most power that everyone should praise.  And yet, there was something about this terrible spectacle that at least some people watched because ratings have been up for the show and people couldn’t get enough of the news stories, interviews, and magazine covers.  There’s a certain kind of power that needs attention to be validated.  There’s a certain kind of power that feeds on the frenzy whether good or bad and the ego just continues to grow and mutate.

Now Jesus, who is both God and man could be argued to have been the most powerful human to ever walk the face of the earth.  Nope this wasn’t some demigod or Zeus.  This was God, right here, Emmanuel – God with us.  Now, you didn’t see Jesus waving around machetes or calling for press conferences to do great miracles and healings.  In all actuality a lot of the miracles and healings that he did, he did with what was handy whether a couple loaves and fishes or his own spit mixed with some dirt, and about half the time he told the people don’t tell anyone about this. 

In this snapshot with the devil in Matthew, he’s not falling for the trick of the attack on his ego, he’s answering clearly and definitively in scripture.  In some ways this would have been prime time for him to show how awesome and powerful he is.  He had just been baptized and a loud voice had burst through the clouds and said “This is my son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17)  That’s bigger than any political endorsement that you could get.  With a ringing pronouncement like that you would think he would have immediately used all that capital and start ministering everywhere showing all the he could do.

And yet, in Matthew immediately after the baptism it says that Jesus was then “led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”  Jesus was led by the Spirit.  He didn’t just go off on his own and start building his own little kingdom on earth with a huge building, marketing campaign, and tv spots.  He listened to the Spirit and followed even if that was into the wilderness where he would be tempted.  One of my dad’s favorite Bible verses in high school that he shared with me when I was in high school was 1 Corinthians 10:13 which says, “No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone.  God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.”  Jesus could handle this testing.  He could.  That didn’t make it any easier to go through.  That didn’t mean it was any less tough.  When is fasting ever easy for the human body?  As any youth group that has done the 30 hour famine can tell you, fasting is not easy.  As anyone who has given up desserts or chocolate or soft drinks or sugar for Lent can tell you, fasting is not easy.  Mother Theresa used to say, “I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish that He didn’t trust me so much.”

What are some ways that we have been tested?  How did we respond to those tests?  How was God with us in those tests?  Tests are not necessarily things we look forward to whether in school or in life, but if we prepare for them, it’s that much easier to be ready.  One of the students and I talked last night about questions of theodicy or why God lets bad things happen.  She specifically was asking about a friend who had died while still in high school, about my brain tumor, and about the continued struggle and misery of the people of Japan.  I don’t have some big, perfect answer to give that’s going to wipe all the sorrow away.  I don’t.  But I do know that God is with her friend’s family and with the people in Japan.

I don’t believe that God causes cancer or earthquakes or tsunamis or abuse, but I do believe that God is with us in our sorrow and in our anger and in our doubts and in our fears.  I have no idea why God allows some things to happen.  Like I told her last night, as much as I think that may be one of those things that we would want to ask on the other side, I honestly don’t think we’ll care all that much at that point in the midst of God’s presence.  I also trust and know that if we dig into the Word of God and if we are fed spiritually that when the tests and struggles of life arise, we’ll be that much more prepared.  Jesus didn’t just let the devil keep taunting him.  He answered clearly and specifically from the Word of God.  Even when scripture was thrown back at him, he didn’t waver from the truth and where his heart and trust was.  He was strong.  He was ready.  He wasn’t just on a Charlie Sheen power trip.  He didn’t have to prove his power by some big display or some long soliloquy.  He just had to answer solidly and unwaveringly in faith.

Often it is our fears that get in the way of us feeling this security or confidence.  In the movie The King’s Speech a lot of the soon to be King George’s hang up with stuttering goes back to trauma and fear.  A lot of our fears and worries can be traced back to our own traumas and fears.  God is offering us something different though, better than any SAT or GRE prep course and better than any class we can take at the local college, community center or YMCA.  God is offering for us to know God whether through scripture or prayer or song or meditation or silence or just opening our hearts and eyes to the fingerprints of God around us.  God is offering us tools and foundations so that when the storms of life are raging, we know who’s standing beside us.

So as we continue this Lenten season, may we continue to prepare ourselves through repentance and renewal knowing that God is beside us and before us no matter what this world may bring.

When the storms of life are raging,
Stand by me (stand by me);
When the storms of life are raging,
Stand by me (stand by me);
When the world is tossing me
Like a ship upon the sea
Thou Who rulest wind and water,
Stand by me (stand by me).

In the midst of tribulation,
Stand by me (stand by me);
In the midst of tribulation,
Stand by me (stand by me);
When the hosts of hell assail,
And my strength begins to fail,
Thou Who never lost a battle,
Stand by me (stand by me).

In the midst of faults and failures,
Stand by me (stand by me);
In the midst of faults and failures,
Stand by me (stand by me);
When I do the best I can,
And my friends misunderstand,
Thou Who knowest all about me,
Stand by me (stand by me).

In the midst of persecution,
Stand by me (stand by me);
In the midst of persecution,
Stand by me (stand by me);
When my foes in battle array
Undertake to stop my way,
Thou Who savèd Paul and Silas,
Stand by me (stand by me).

When I’m growing old and feeble,
Stand by me (stand by me);
When I’m growing old and feeble,
Stand by me (stand by me);
When my life becomes a burden,
And I’m nearing chilly Jordan,
O Thou “Lily of the Valley,”
Stand by me (stand by me).

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