Patmos Journal – #10

May 20, 2020

The tests of the wilderness

Matthew 4:1-11 
1  Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
2  And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry.
3  And the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”
4  But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.'”
5  Then the devil took Him into the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple,
6  and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written, ‘HE WILL COMMAND HIS ANGELS CONCERNING YOU’; and ‘ON their HANDS THEY WILL BEAR YOU UP, SO THAT YOU WILL NOT STRIKE YOUR FOOT AGAINST A STONE.'”
7  Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.'”
8  Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory;
9  and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.”
10  Then Jesus *said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY.'”
11  Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him.

The Word of God is rich with the accounts of testings that come to mankind. Through sin, illness, chastisement, perfections of faith, or fallout from a fellow man in a fallen world, there are accounts of these tests that range from days for an individual, to multiple centuries for a people group.

The accounts of those enduring the ordeals are striking, because in sufferings of a similar type, the range of responses are so varied.  For some in their trial, it yields an outcome of complete surrender and turning to God for safety and deliverance. For others, it is the opposite extreme: the abject rejection of God, and blasphemies that ring out all the way to their grave.

The best example for us, for our response to testings, is found in the life of the Lord Jesus. The sinless One endured the attack of the enemy at the end of a prolonged isolation with fasting. This time in the wilderness was an intense period of fellowship with the Father; a preparation for our Lord’s public ministry days. This mission would include multiple tests, and ultimately the greatest test, the Cross of Calvary.

The enemy paid his call after forty days, when Christ was physically weakened but as we know, spiritually fortified. His isolation had been purposeful, and directed by the Father. I find a lesson in this alone, amid my days of forced stays at home. God has purpose in the quiet, and I must seek Him for the preparation for what lies ahead, here in my isolated days.

The first test Christ deflects, in verses three and four, reminds me that a strict obsession with my needs, however real, can be detrimental to my spiritual life. The Scripture Christ refers to is from Deuteronomy 8, reminding me that taking my creature comforts as first-priority, even in a time of upheaval and real needs, will not profit me in my walk with God. Jesus would speak in other days:

“Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:31-34

The next testing, in verses five through seven, show Satan trying to twist the words of God to push his own twisted agenda. The Psalm the enemy quotes from is Psalm 91. I would recommend reading this psalm in its entirety, for even protections from plague and pestilence for those trusting in the Lord are spoken of here. Jesus corrects the deception of Satan, by using the Word aright, for He is the Word, and birthed the Word for us. Referencing the principle of Deuteronomy (and other passages), the Lord states that God’s protections are not a license to manipulate Him to rescue us from willful acts of reckless abandon.

For these present days, I find a resonating truth in the Lord’s triumph over this testing. The truth is unchanged: God offers me His protections in Himself, and ultimately I am indeed forever secure in His care. Yet I should not take the challenges of this day lightly. There is wisdom in heeding some practical safe practices, rather than recklessly assuming the Lord is obligated to extract me from my mess I create from foolish presumptions. It’s also why I use seat belts and observe driving rules, or use extreme caution when working around live wires.  Proverbs contrasts wisdom and foolishness, and we should meditate there more often.

The last test of this encounter is found in verses eight through ten. Satan offers a counterfeit triumph and worldly power by shifting worship away from the Father to himself. Jesus reprimands Him again with the Word, showing that nothing is to be worshiped but God, and service is to Him and for Him alone.

 Jesus was focused on His relationship to the Father, and doing as the Father willed. The mission was not for mere earthly kingdoms, and certainly not for pride or personal ambitions on Jesus’ behalf. All was to bring praise to the Father, and to be done for His Glory. Satan offered the best he could put forth, and the Lord quickly pronounced the paltry value of those earthly deeds and titles.

My application of this principle in this present pandemic is thus: While there is a continual clamor for power, acquisition, chief seats, public adorations and unwavering servitude, there is only one King. There is only one Kingdom. There is only one God, and I must keep the allegiance to Him always before me, in my going and coming, my thoughts, words and deeds, and all that becomes in effect my “testimony” that I either speak or show to all around me. Then Satan left, and the angels ministered. May we all know the ministrations of the angels, as we overcome the attacks of the evil one.  This is done through rightly dividing the Word, reliance upon His powerful Spirit within, and the fellowship of the saints who very much are united in Christ, though for the present are enduring a prolonged wilderness test.

Patmos Journal – #9

May 13, 2020

Show and tell.

1 Thessalonians 1:5-10 
…for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.  For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything.  For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come.

Many families in this land enduring shutdowns and isolating at home are experiencing their first round of home schooling. Some parents are getting an education themselves; learning now that what the teachers were saying about their student was actually true. I would imagine a huge boost in admiration and respect for our educators is going to rise from the ashes, with parents being “woke” in realization that administrating on campuses and presiding over classrooms is a worthy endeavor not for dabblers or the fainthearted.

For those parents now in the classroom initiation-by-fire, I would like to suggest that in addition to junior’s worksheets, recitations, memorization of tables and myriad other academic necessities, you might throw in an item from the dusty vault of the American classroom. This little gem in my day, was called simply Show and Tell.

I recall that time in my early elementary school experience, when a “show and tell” moment was an anticipated segment of our every day. There was an orderly list–by row and desk– of who was to share on what day. I cannot describe the lengths that we budding toastmasters went to in preparing for our brief presentations.  The best “show ‘n tellers” would hide their “show” object until the moment of reveal in front of the class. Many times, the venerable brown paper grocery sack (various sizes!) was utilized to keep our audience in the dark until that moment.  What would it be today? Arrowhead? Souvenir book from Mammoth Cave? A real telescope? Foreign coins or stamps? Newly hatched chicks? …Young minds were engaged by the object, and the story that went with it. This was real. This was life on display. This was example and testimony, rolled into one.

Paul’s encouragement in the lives of the Thessalonians came from their application of the gospel to how they lived. Their testimony was not only verbal, but bore itself out in the reality of the things they practiced. They could tell about the Lord Jesus, because they also would consistently show the Lord’s presence in their acts.

Looking at an admonition from Paul to the believers in Philippi, he wrote: “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” Philippians 2:3-4 

Here in these Patmos days of virus, isolation, distancing, and necessity-only ventures, we are looking to the Lord for various creative ways that we can still practically demonstrate care for others that will add credibility to our words when they are needed. Though much of our organized common ministries and activities are curtailed for the present, there are still many demonstrations of Christ’s love that are occurring among the church, positionally isolated from one another, yet living, moving, and laboring as one at carrying out our commission from the Lord. Opportunity still presents–it has always been there.

The calls. The gifts. The small acts of serving: a neighbor, a stranger, a worker. Transportations. Prayers through a window. Kindnesses of the tiniest sort. Recognitions. Mailed items. Compassion demonstrated by allowing another to go, or choose, or have. Pleasant cooperation with those front-lined for our good, who also have souls, and are made in the image of our Creator. The examples run on and on…

Then, with that genuine showing of faith giving credibility (that is, I actually believe Christ enough to let Him guide even my smallest actions!) there often comes the suitable time to tell: speaking or conveying a fitting word of testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ (that is, this is what motivates and compels me).

In these days, it is ever-clearer to me that we’re all students in the classroom. Though we teach the Word to our children, prayerfully with accuracy, consistency and practical application, we cannot fail as the adult in the room, to build the same lessons into our lives. It’s not just that little eyes are watching; every eye watches.

And He also spoke a parable to them: “A blind man cannot guide a blind man, can he? Will they not both fall into a pit? A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher.” Luke 6:39-40

“Ok children, it’s time for Show and Tell. What have you done today to show and tell about Jesus? Alright, who wants to be the first to share?”

Patmos Journal – #8

May 6, 2020

Prayer from Patmos

…for truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur. And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.  Acts 4:27-30

Reading at Acts chapter 4, you come across these verses amid the prayer of the believers who are gathered under escalating persecution. Peter and John had just been dismissed from an interrogation. These two men lead in the emerging church, writing what is to be inspired scripture, and will continue to suffer greater things for their faith–martyrdom for one and exile on Patmos for the other. Here, the Jewish council had reviewed their activities, and threatened with a cease-and-desist order; no more of this Jesus talk or attributing to Him the working of miraculous things…

Where the chaffing for me really ramps up is not by the ignorance and blindness of leaders in the show-of-force meeting, but in the gathering of the believers with Peter and John upon their release, and what transpires there. We’re reading what transpires there…it is prayer.

I project our present day back into this first-century event, and imagine the response if such a rights restrictive power-against-the-people ruling should occur today. There would be a rush to demonstration marches, penning of snappy chants, public wielding of firepower, passionate and profane venting across every media platform, rampant t-shirt and hat sales, defiant posturing, and probably someone’s going to have their sofa torched.

You understand, I’m just imagining. These would be expected responses from the unregenerate who only know earthly kings and always oppose power, until they wield the power. We should perhaps grant the understanding that God’s people would not respond in such manner to the overreach of a government wanting to be the only voice heard.  By example, that might-is-right approach was the situation in Jesus’ day, and He did not lead a rebellion, but a rebirth to all who would deny self, take up their cross daily, and follow Him.

It’s the time of year for having our National Day of Prayer; the first Thursday in this month of May. The roots of this national observance go back to the days of the Continental Congress, and a long line of observances mark the 245 years since its inception. Gatherings of all types in myriad locations are focusing this year on praying for “God’s Glory Across the Earth.” The theme verse is from Habakkuk 2:14. That may not mean much, but coming from an obscure minor prophet who details how God can and does use a wicked nation to punish His disobedient people, it should not be lost on us.

In Acts 4, the church did not plot overthrow or revenge. They did not ask God for ease, comfy days, powers that were sympathetic to the faith, or lightning to consume the wicked “them.” They knew God was using even the hardened to accomplish His will. What they desired and asked for was the continued, confident communication of the gospel through them. That is, they desired strengthening to be faithful in their call, as they knew God would be God in conducting His business.

I find with this Day of Prayer, more a heart’s desire for revival in our land, than perhaps I have ever desired before.

We have sought God’s blessing while continually dismissing His will, His Word, and His ways from our national life. We yearn for ease of life for pleasures and recreation, while accepting abortion, trafficking and vices of the unsaved with nary a tear.

The first church asked for strength to continue on in the strong testimony. Perhaps our prayer should be first for our return to the testimony. A return to “business as usual” seems clearly out of alignment with God’s will for us.

I don’t mean to sound hypercritical or above the argument. I have seen the coolness in my life. The desire for “normal” days and events that are easily planned, managed and resultantly explained. The crying out for natural rhythms rather than supernatural power. In God’s scale, I am found wanting. Where are you?

So I do pray. I read this Word. I strive to listen for God, so that in my quietness I may discern His speaking, rather than dwelling on my many words. I find it hard to cheer about a National Day of Prayer, when it should be a daily thing for this nation, once blessed in the providence of God, and now just like the other nations that squandered their invitation to make His glory known.

This I know: God’s purposes will not be thwarted. He will be exalted in all the earth. One day every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that Christ is Lord of all. Some will declare this in great joy, others will admit this in deep anguish and conquered surrender. I want to make His will my priority, for the days as always are evil, short, and foreordained by His immutable counsel.

And this I know: I cannot pray for the “them” revival until there is the “me” revival. And I cannot pray for the unsaved to respond to the gospel, if I am not living out the proof of its residence in me, displayed before this world in its present darkness.

And this I know: The fervent prayers of the righteous are very powerful. The self-righteous only pray to themselves.

Pray, friends, without ceasing. God will do mighty things, in us, and throughout this world.