The Temptation

Then Jesus returned from the Jordan, filled with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit led him into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil for 40 days. He ate nothing while he was there and was very hungry at the end of that time.

The devil approached him and said “If you are truly the Son of God, then you should tell this stone to become bread so you can eat.” But Jesus answered him “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from God.’”

Then the devil took Jesus up onto a high mountain and he showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor in a twinkling of the eye. He said “I will give all of this to you because it has been given to me and I can give it to anyone I want. It will all be yours if you will fall on your knees and worship me.” Jesus answered him “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.’”

So then the devil took him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the top of the Temple and said “If you are the Son of God, then throw yourself down from here, for it is written ‘He will order his angels to take care of you. They will lift you up with their hands so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
And Jesus said “It is also written: ‘Do not test the Lord your God.’”

Then the devil left him and immediately the angels came and began to serve him.

MT 4:1-11, MK 1:12-13, LK 4:1-13

John’s commentary after the baptism

John saw Jesus walking towards him the very next day and said “Look! This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is the One I was telling you about when I said ‘A man who is far greater than I am is on his way, and he existed long before me!’ I didn’t know this man was him when I said it, but I have been baptizing with water so that the nation of Israel might take notice of him.”

“I saw the Holy Spirit come down from heaven looking like a dove. The Holy Spirit rested on this man. At the time God sent me to baptize, He told me ‘When you see the Holy Spirit descending and resting on someone, that is the One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. That is the One you are looking for.’ I have seen it with my own eyes and I testify that he is the Son of God!”

JN 1:29-34

The beginning of the ministry of John the Baptist

God sent John to serve as a witness to testify about the light that is Christ, so that everyone could believe through that light. John himself was not the light, but he came to tell others about it. The true light, who gives enlightenment to everyone, was about to be revealed to the world. Christ was in the world and the world was created through Christ, yet the world did not recognize him. He came to those he was called to and yet they did not welcome him. But to those who did welcome him, he gave them the honor of being the children of God. Those who believed in Christ were born out of the will of God and not by way of genealogy or human desire.

The word of God that is Christ took on human form and lived among us. We saw his glory as the only begotten Son of the heavenly Father, and that glory was full of grace and truth.

John testified about him by telling people “This is the One I was talking about when I said ‘There is someone who is coming after me, who is greater than I am because he existed before me.’ Indeed we have all received blessing upon blessing from him, because even though the Law was given through Moses, Christ has brought us the grace of forgiveness. No one has ever seen God, but he has been revealed to us through his one and only Son, who is at the Father’s side.”

JN 1:6-18

God’s word came to John the son of Zechariah while he was in the wilderness. This was in the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, while Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea. At the same time, Herod was the ruler of Galilee and his brother Philip ruled the region of Iturea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruled Abilene. Annas and Caiaphas were high priests during this time as well.

John went out into the wilderness of Judea and everywhere around the Jordan, preaching about a baptism to forgive sins for those who are repentant. He was saying “Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has arrived.” Everyone from the countryside of Judea and the city of Jerusalem came to him and he baptized them in the Jordan River while they confessed their sins.

He is the one the prophet Isaiah spoke about when he said –

“Look! I am sending my messenger ahead of you who will prepare the way before you. He is a lone voice crying out into the wilderness, saying ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make his paths straight!’ Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, the crooked path will straighten, the rough path will become smooth, and the entire world will see God’s salvation.”

MT 3:1-3, MK 1:1-5, LK 3:1-6

John’s clothing was made of camel hair and he wore a leather belt around his waist. He ate only locusts and wild honey.

MT 3:4, MK 1:6

When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to be baptized by him, he said “You are a nest of snakes! Who warned you to flee from the wrath that is coming? You need to act in a way that proves you are repentant. Don’t think you can get away with saying ‘We have Abraham as our father’, because God can produce children for Abraham from the stones that are here! Even now the ax is poised to chop away at the root of the tree! Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.”

MT 3:7-10, LK 3:7-9

The crowds asked John “What should we do?” He answered “Anyone who has two shirts should give one to the person who has nothing to wear, and if you have extra food you should give it to those who are hungry.” Tax collectors came to be baptized by him and they asked “What should we do?” He answered “Collect only what you are required to by law and nothing more.” Soldiers questioned him in the same manner and he replied “Don’t use force or false accusations to extort money from anyone – be satisfied with what you get paid.”

LK 3:10-14

All the people were debating amongst themselves if John was the Messiah or not. Priests and Levites were sent from Jerusalem to ask him “Who are you?” John said “I am not the Messiah.” Then they asked him “Are you Elijah?” John again said no. Then they asked him “Are you the Prophet?” John again answered “No.” “Then who are you?” they asked. “We have to give an answer to the people who sent us. What do you have to say about yourself?” John said “I am a lone person crying out in the wilderness – Make straight the path of the Lord – just like the prophet Isaiah said.”

LK 3:15, JN 1:19-23

Since they had been sent from the Pharisees they asked him “Why do you baptize if you aren’t the Messiah, Elijah, or the Prophet?”

John said “I baptize using water, but there is One coming after me who is more powerful than I am. I am not even worthy to take off his shoes. He will baptize you using the Holy Spirit and fire. He stands among you but you don’t recognize him. He is ready to separate the good from the bad, just like how a farmer gathers the good wheat into his barn but burns the chaff in an unending fire.”

He used many other similar warnings to announce the good news of the kingdom of heaven to everyone. All this happened across the Jordan in Bethany, where John was baptizing.

MT 3:11-12, MK 1:7-8, LK 3:16-18, JN 1:24-28

The Nativity

Here is the story concerning the birth of Jesus. His mother Mary was engaged to be married to Joseph, but while she was still a virgin it became known that she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Because her fiancé Joseph was an honorable and righteous man, he decided to break their engagement off privately rather than publicly disgracing her.

But after he had decided what he was going to do, an angel appeared to him in a dream saying “Joseph, son of David, don’t be concerned about taking Mary as your wife, because the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you shall name him Jesus (meaning “Yahweh saves”) because he will free people from their sins.”

All of this fulfilled the prophecy spoken by God through the prophet Isaiah:

“Behold the virgin will become pregnant and gave birth to a son, and he shall be called Emmanuel.” (Which means “God is with us.”)

After Joseph woke up, he did as the angel had told him. He took Mary as his wife, but did not know her intimately until she gave birth. And Joseph named him Jesus.

MT 1:18-25

Knowledge of Father and son.

Then Jesus became filled with joy from the Holy Spirit and said “I praise you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because it pleased you to hide this knowledge from those who are wise and educated, and have revealed everything to children. My Father has entrusted me with everything. Only the Father knows the son, and the Father is only known by the son, and those who the Son has chosen.”

MT 11:25-27, LK 10:21-22

“Come to me, everyone who is worn down by life, and I will raise you up. Everyone, work alongside me and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and with me you will find rest. If we share the work together it will be easier, because I will give you only light burdens.”

MT 11:28-30

Speaking privately to his disciples he said, “Your eyes and ears are blessed because of what they see and hear! There are many prophets, kings, and righteous people who wanted to see and hear the things you see and hear now, yet didn’t.”

MT 13:16-17, LK 10:23-24

Zachariah’s prophesy

Then Zachariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and began to prophesy.

“Give praise to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to visit his people to redeem them. He has brought forth a mighty king from within the house of his servant David to save us, just as he promised through his holy prophets long ago – someone to save us from the clutches of our enemies and those who hate us. He has shown mercy to our ancestors and remembered his holy covenant that he swore to Abraham – to rescue us from the hands of our enemies and make it possible for us to serve in the presence of God freely and without fear, with holiness and righteousness all the days of our lives.

And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Mighty One, for you will prepare the way before the Lord, by teaching people how to find salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.

Because of God’s great mercy and compassion, a dawn from heaven is about to shine upon us, to give light to those who live in darkness and suffer in the shadow of death, and to guide our feet in the ways of peace.”

The child grew and became strong in the Spirit, and he lived in the wilderness until he began his public ministry to the people of Israel.

LK 1:67-80

Mary visits Elizabeth

Shortly afterwards, Mary went to visit Elizabeth at her home in the hill country of Judea. The child leapt within Elizabeth’s womb when Mary called out her greeting, and Elizabeth was suddenly filled with the Holy Spirit.

Elizabeth exclaimed with a loud voice, “God has blessed you above all other women, and the fruit of your womb is blessed! How did I deserve the honor of the mother of my Lord coming to me? As soon as I heard your greeting, my child leapt for joy in my womb! She who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her is blessed.”

LK 1:39-45

Good News and the Holy Temple

Why is it that so many denominations focus on the part of the Gospel that says “The Gospel has to be preached to all nations” (MT 24:14, MK 13:10), but seem to completely gloss over the fact that they don’t have to prepare for what to say when we share it, because the Holy Spirit will give us the words? (MK 13:11, MT 10:19-20, LK 12:11-12, LK 21:14-15)?

These two concepts come when Jesus is telling his disciples about the end of the Temple, not the end of times. This too is something that many church leaders don’t mention, or don’t notice. Many denominations feel it that the more nations that they preach the Gospel to, the closer they are to Jesus coming back. They prepare tracts and rehearse missionaries towards this end. Nowhere in that section does Jesus talk about the end of days – just the end of the Temple. The Jewish Temple has been destroyed for thousands of years, and the Gospel certainly wasn’t preached to all nations before it happened.

So what is going on?

Jesus was talking about the Holy Temple literally, and the Holy Temple spiritually. The Temple was a literal building at the time, but the Spirit left that building and entered into Jesus, and through him, into us. We are the building. We are the Temple now. Remember that Jesus was the “cornerstone” which the builders (the Jews) rejected. Remember that Peter, a human being, was the rock upon which Jesus built his new church.

The Church is a literal Body of believers, not a place. This is the message that needs to be spread through the Holy Spirit. We are to wake people up to this, to prepare their hearts, just like that simple manger in Bethlehem, to welcome in Christ.

We do need to be good witnesses, sure. We need to “acknowledge Jesus before others”, certainly. But we don’t have to prepare, because the Holy Spirit will give us the words. We’ll have better words through the Holy Spirit than we could ever prepare on our own. How interesting that the idea that the message of Jesus has to be preached to all nations is only in two Gospels, but the message about the Holy Spirit giving us the words to be able to do it is in three – and actually twice in one of them. More is said by Jesus about the Holy Spirit than sharing the message, and I think we need to notice that.

Our job is to be messengers, but not in the usual sense. We are to let the Holy Spirit speak through us. We don’t have to worry about it – we just have to let it happen.

Perhaps that is why so many church leaders don’t talk about this. The Holy Spirit can’t be controlled. People who have the Holy Spirit in them don’t read from the script or from a prayer book. There is nothing “common” about the Holy Spirit. It can’t be contained. I believe that many church leaders are frightened of this, because once the Holy Spirit gets loose, it can’t be put back.

Once it gets loose, people might just start to realize that Jesus didn’t ordain anybody.

Once it gets loose, people will remember that Jesus made us all ministers, by virtue of our baptism.

Once it gets loose, people will remember that Jesus said the only One above us is God – not a Rabbi, not a Teacher, not a Father – not any religious authority.

Come, Holy Spirit,
and spread over your Church,
and make it new.
Cleanse us with your fire,
turning the lead of
ritual and rote
into the gold of
service and joy.

Amen.

Cursillo- the fourth day

Cursillo is like a combination of your birthday and Christmas and Easter and New Year’s and your wedding day, all crammed together in a weekend. And I don’t just mean the excitement of all that. I mean the symbolism and meaning of all that.

A lot of what makes Cursillo work is the surprise factor. However, you could be told everything that is going to happen and it still wouldn’t change the effect. It is the difference between reading a guide book on Paris and going to Paris. Experiencing something is far more powerful. I’m going to tell you something about it, but I can’t tell you everything, partly because it is different for everybody and with every team that is hosting it.

Cursillo is an intensely spiritual weekend. The Catholic Church has them, and the Episcopal Church licensed the concept from them. The Methodist church has a program called “The Walk to Emmaus”. They are all the same concept. The point is that by the end you will have had an encounter with the Holy Spirit.

I feel that this experience is mandatory for all adult Christians. If you take your faith journey seriously, go. It isn’t church camp for adults. It is a life-changing experience.

Going to Cursillo is like being upgraded from a 110 volt outlet to a 220. It is like being upgraded from a garden hose to a fire hose.

It is a modern day Pentecost. That was the time after Jesus had arisen from the dead and then ascended into Heaven. There was a long period in between where the disciples weren’t sure what was going to happen. Then the disciples were suddenly filled with the Holy Spirit and they gained the power to heal, speak in other languages, and minister to others in the same way that Jesus did.

Cursillo replicates that experience. It is an intentional calling-down of the Holy Spirit.

It is a bit overwhelming, especially coming from a non-evangelical church. I suspect Pentecostals and Church of Christ people are wondering what I’m talking about. They have this kind of experience much more often. In some churches, it has to be created, it isn’t a natural event. It really doesn’t matter how it happens, just that it happens.

I’ve written about some of what happened to me before. It is one of the posts in the “Strange but true” section.

Being filled with the Holy Spirit is a time of intense energy. There isn’t a lot of time for sleep. There is so much to do and learn. We are like little children who have just learned how to read. When we get it, that is all we want to do. When we get filled with the Spirit, we want to keep that connection going. Sometimes sleep isn’t really possible.

Coming back to the real world after such an experience can be very hard. It is called “the fourth day”. Sadly, they don’t give any advice on how to negotiate the world of work and family once you’ve been transformed. I’m going to try here.

Do everything slowly and carefully. Do everything with a sense of thankfulness and gratitude. You are like a new child at this point. You are relearning how to just “be”.

Like walking on water or handling snakes, it is a true test of faith. You are going to want to go back to your old ways of doing things, but your old ways were before you got filled with the Spirit. Breathe through this new experience. The Spirit will teach you what to do.

I found it helpful to make breathing intentionally a part of my practice. On the in breath, pray “Lord help me.” On the out breath, pray “Thank you
Lord” (or change Lord to Jesus).

Eat lightly. Consider going vegetarian. Meat is hard to digest during times of change and stress. Eat only half the amount of food that you normally would eat. Chew it slowly and thoroughly, giving thanks with each bite.

Avoid all spicy foods.

Avoid all stimulants, like sugar and caffeine. You are “high” enough. They will just tip you over the edge.

Try to stick with your normal routine – if you exercise, do that. Don’t make any sudden changes.

Things will look different. Expect that colors will be brighter. Things may have an extra layer of meaning to them. This is normal. The Spirit is revealing information to you that you have missed before.

Hymns and Scripture readings will have more meaning.

Don’t try to write everything down. Enjoy it. Soak it up. You will be overwhelmed with meaning at this time. Things will connect and make sense that you’ve never noticed before. This is normal.

It won’t stay at this level of energy forever. You can survive it. It is kind of like learning to surf – the wave isn’t going to be up for that long. But the best part – if you fall, you won’t drown. You are safe.

If you are woken up in the middle of the night, consider just following your intuition. The Spirit will lead you. You don’t have to lie there, wondering and fretting about lack of sleep. You’ll have as much rest as you need.

When I’m awoken, I get up and I go into my craft room. I’ll sit on the recliner, with a small blanket over my legs. I will turn on a small light so I’m not fully awake, and I’ll sit and see what the Spirit wants to reveal to me. Sometimes it means I need to write it out to discover it. Sometimes it means I need to read Scripture. Sometimes it means I need to draw. Whatever the means – there is something that needs to be uncovered, and I have some work to do. I’ve come to look forward to these middle-of-the-night conversations with God. They don’t happen a lot anymore, and I’ve gone from worrying about them (at first) to missing them. When they happen again it is like getting a visit from an old friend.

Welcome to this new life, this life of Spirit. It is kind of like learning how to read. Once you have been told about reading, and turned on to how to do it, that is all you want to do. Sadly, the “real” world isn’t into Spirit study all the time, so you have to integrate the two. I wish you luck in your path, as you learn your own special way to serve God in this world. Know that the Spirit is always with you for you to call on for help and advice.

“For God is not a God of disorder, but peace…”

The priest at my former church used the argument from 1 Corinthians 14:33 as a justification for stopping my deacon discernment process. That is –

“For God is not a God of disorder but of peace–as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.” (NIV) In the New American Standard Version “disorder” is translated as “confusion”.

There was no confusion. It was just different. I wasn’t confused or disordered. It was different from my normal.

She said that the fact that I was saying that God was waking me up at night to tell me things was a disordered way of being. She said that God loves me and wants the best for me, and that wasn’t something that God would do.

It wasn’t hurting me. It was surprising, because it had never happened. I’d not been trained in how to deal with it or what to do with the information. But I wasn’t suffering. I wasn’t sleepy the rest of the day. I was fine.

Perhaps she forgot about God waking up Samuel.

I Samuel 3:1-10
3 The boy Samuel ministered before the LORD under Eli. In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions.2 One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. 3 The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the house of the LORD, where the ark of God was. 4 Then the LORD called Samuel. Samuel answered, “Here I am.” 5 And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down. 6 Again the LORD called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” “My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” 7 Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD: The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him. 8 A third time the LORD called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” Then Eli realized that the LORD was calling the boy. 9 So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. 10 The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

Perhaps she forgot that God sent an angel who wrestled with Jacob throughout the night.

Genesis 32:22-32
That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 The man asked him, “What is your name?” “Jacob,” he answered. 28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel,[a] because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.” 29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.” But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there. 30 So Jacob called the place Peniel,[b] saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”

Perhaps she forgot about God waking up Joseph, four times. He protected Mary and Jesus by obeying God’s command that came to him in the middle of the night. At first he was going to leave Mary, when he found out she was pregnant. God sends him a dream to change his mind.

Matthew 1:20-21
20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

Then Joseph gets another dream-message from God because Herod was sending people to kill Jesus.

Matthew 2:13
13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

And yet another dream –

Matthew 2:19-20
19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”

He returns, but then there is another dream.

Matthew 2:21-23
21 So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, 23 and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene

Joseph gets four different dreams from God, and he acts on all of them.

Imagine what would have happened if Joseph had gone up to some priest and asked what he should do, and the priest told him that he was crazy.

Perhaps she forgot that the verse she quoted is from Paul, who said that women shouldn’t talk in church in the very next verse. Paul would be totally against a female minister.

1 Corinthians 14:34-35
“34 Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

The Bible is useful to prove your point, but you have to use all of it.

We spend our days with anything except stillness and quiet. Of course we can’t usually hear God. We go out of our way to block God’s voice out. Of course God talks to us when we are quiet and still at night.

We are told that if a prophet’s words come to pass, then that person is a prophet.

Deuteronomy 18:21-22
21 You may say to yourself, ‘How can we recognize a message the LORD has not spoken?’22 When a prophet speaks in the LORD’s name, and the message does not come true or is not fulfilled, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.

We aren’t told to discount someone right away. We have to wait and see.