Temptation and Confession

Luke 4:1-13

1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4 Jesus answered him, “It is written, “One does not live by bread alone.’ ” 5 Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 Jesus answered him, “It is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’ ” 9 Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ 11 and “On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ ” 12 Jesus answered him, “It is said, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” 13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time. (NRSV)
My name is Ken, and I’m a sinner.

I try really hard not to be, but it seems beyond my control.

One of the recent insights from Leadership Psychology is that when we spend all our time working on our weaknesses, we may get to adequate, but we will never excel at the things we are really meant for.

This doesn’t mean we yield to sin, throwing our hands up in defeat, nor like the ___ do we revel in our sin “so that grace may abound”.

It does mean that we have to be honest, with ourselves, God, one another, and even the world. Like I said, my name is Ken, and I’m a sinner.

I’d been looking forward to my Sabbatical, well, since I began to think about being a pastor. “One day, I’m going to be somewhere long enough to earn a Sabbatical.” I had very high expectations in those days. When I went to Seminary @ Brite Divinity School, I envisioned a monastic-like community where people truly knew, loved and challenged one another as followers of Jesus, studied theology, and went out into the world to build the kingdom of God. Unrealistic, but true. And I think my hopes for Sabbatical were similar – that I would have an amazing spiritual experience, everything would work out just as I wanted it to and it would be nothing but blessing.

Back to reality. I realized the week before Sabbatical began that I was definitely going to need a new car. I hate buying cars. I don’t hate many things, but that’s one. Anything that requires that size financial commitment is very intimidating to me. Plus, I have a deep aversion to the car buying process. NOW, I know, in my head, that car salesmen are good people, and I believe that the vast majority of them are honest – all the ones I know personally are.

And yet, I have deep within me an aversion to the process, and when I get into it, some very base instincts take over. I get VERY defensive, the moment I walk onto a car lot. My posture changes, and its as though I am just daring a salesman to come and try to talk to me. Go ahead, I dare you.

Again, I know they are good people simply trying to make a living. I’m not saying this is rational behavior, or something of which I’m proud. Remember what I said.

My name is Ken, and I’m a sinner.

So, I had to buy a car, and I spent the first several days of my Sabbatical – where I was supposed to be resting and praying and being all spiritual, doing something utterly material, and potentially materialistic. I was not in a good place. Just ask Laura. I was grumpy, short-tempered and deeply frustrated, which was spilling over to every area of my life. Things were not off to a good start.

In fact, the worst of it – I had a car to get rid of. I maybe hate that more than buying a car. I wasn’t getting nearly what I needed for my trade. So, on a whim, late on Tuesday, I thought to call a salesman I know who owns a small lot. Now understand, this is someone I deeply respect. I don’t know him well, but everything I know I like, and his friends are people I highly respect as well. I wasn’t really expecting the call to go anywhere, and he says, “Sure, bring it on over. I was just about to close up.”

Remember, I had been walking around for days with my shoulders hunched, hands in my pockets, with a HUGE attitude, basically not trusting anyone. Completely irrational, unfair, selfish, petty, just daring someone to try to take advantage of me. “It’s a game, and there can only be one winner”. I know that’s not true, but there’s something else, deeper than what I know, that still pursues that vision.

Well, as I said, all this started because I needed to get rid of the car because it needed lots of repairs. Specifically, I’d been told it needed four struts, and the cv joints – about $2400, with parts and labor. Over the phone, when I wasn’t really expecting to do business but was asking some advice, I’d vaguely said that it needed some work, and I think I mentioned the struts. I was stunned when he told me to bring it on in, and I kept telling myself, “You need to tell him the rest of it.”

But I didn’t. I was so tightly wound up into the lie that life for me in that moment was a zero-sum game, one winner and one looser, that I just remained quiet. I didn’t exactly lie. But I certainly wasn’t truthful. I didn’t fully disclose.

For me, buying stuff is so very fleshly. I have a love/hate relationship with it. I love stuff – particularly cool gadgets. I’m also VERY cheap most of the time. And most importantly, there is something deep inside me that is convinced that we live in a dichotomous world – some things are spiritual and some things are material. One can read Paul that way, as he writes extensively about the battle between the Spirit and the Flesh. But what he is calling us to is not a rejection of the flesh, but an integration of Spirit and Flesh. A bringing together of the two in harmony so that the needs of both are honored and we experience God’s blessings on our lives.

But we, we separate the two all the time.

“Oh,” we say, “This doesn’t really matter. God isn’t interested in this part of my life – this is just material stuff, not spiritual. God only cares about the spiritual stuff.”

The truth is, Everything is spiritual.

What’s my point in all of this and where does the sermon title come in?

Forty Day Wilderness experiences are about transition from one way of being toward another. For example, here’s a quick list from Scripture:

• Noah – it rained for 40 days, and then he waited another 40 days before he opened the ark
• Moses – Forty years as Prince of Egypt
      Forty years as shepherd in Midian
      Forty Days on Mt Sinai
• Israel – Forty years wandering in the wilderness
      between Egypt and the Promised Land
      Between Slavery and Freedom
• Elijah – Forty days in a cave as his ministry was drawing to a close and he was to begin training Elisha to take his place.
• Jesus – Forty days of temptation in the wilderness
      Forty days between the resurrection and the ascension

Wilderness and 40 represent throughout scripture a transition from one way of begin to another – leaving behind a life that was not all bad to move toward a life into which God has called us.

Luke is clear that Jesus was tempted during those forty days. The three temptatio
ns named at the end of the story represent all of those that Jesus experienced. For jesus, the temptations grow from the things that he was loosing, giving up, in order to make this transition into a new way of being in the world.
1) Jesus had given up being a provider, not only for himself, but also for his mother and the rest of his family. So, his temptation was to provide for himself, instead of relying upon God to provide as he would need to do
2) Jesus had given up power and authority in his home and community. Jesus was tempted to take power just for power’s sake
3) Jesus had given up reputation and respect within his community Jesus was tempted to ‘become a celebrity’ by having angels rescue him.

I grew up feeling like I was on the edge or the outside most of the time. Feeling like I was at the mercy of other people’s decisions on whether and how to include me.

Guess what – two of my core temptations are to be defensive, and hold on to control. In the car selling experience, I fell into both of these.

What is temptation, anyway. A temptation is anything that pushes or pulls us toward sin. And SIN, I understand it to be anything that causes you to deny your true self as God’s child. Sin is not about rules, keeping or breaking them. The rules are there to help us understand what kinds of things will pull us away from our true self-in-God. Notice that, had Jesus yielded to any of those temptations, he would not have broken a single “Law” of God. But he clearly would have denied his true self.

Sin is also not some vague, abstract idea, some general character trait inherent in our nature. Sin is ALWAYS rooted in choice and expressed in movement – thought, word, or action. It does us little good to believe or agree that we are sinners. So what. What I need, and what you need, is to be honest with SOMEONES (God, Self, and at least one other) about the specifics of our sin. Which thoughts, words, and actions of yours have disrupted your life-in-God, the life you were born to live?

You and I have done, are doing, and will do things that disrupt our life-in-God. I’m not suggesting that we take turns standing up here bearing our souls. I am absolutely saying that you need to bear your soul to someone, and that we are to be a community that provides many safe ways and places to do that. If we can not be honest with one another about our struggles, then we will not be honest with ourselves or with God.

My name is Ken, and I am a sinner.

Heart wide open

“Imagine living without the fear of loving and not being loved…. [Can you] walk in the world with your heart completely open, and not be afraid to be hurt?”
— THE FOUR AGREEMENTS. by Don Miguel Ruiz (126)

new season, new priorities

I’m not sure quite how I feel about it.

The time I have had with Laura, Camille and Russell has truly been wonderful. It reminds me of my inclination to teach when we first moved to Allen – to have a work schedule that paralleled those of Laura and the kids. I hope in this new upcoming season of my work life to better balance work and family time.

I’ve also been wondering about where I may be led to focus my energies in the coming years – whether to maintain things or make some changes. I’ve had a few different emphases over my ministry:

1) In college (88-92) I focused on Social Justice activities directly.
2) In seminary (92-96) I led others into Social Justice ministries.
3) In Midland (96-97) I wanted to set great patterns for ministry, but ended up just trying to keep from falling down.
4) In Gladewater (97-2002) I developed neighborhood outreach, learned to be a small town pastor, and taught college courses in New Testament and Ethics, both Christian and Philosophical.

5) Since we moved to Allen in 2002… I’ve put significant energy into the following areas in addition to the obvious and normal stuff a pastor does (preaching, teaching, pastoral care, administration):
* Training and coaching people seeking to develop their ministries
* Local ecumenical work in the Allen Ministerial Alliance
* Playing Guitar in our Contemporary worship service

* Reshaping the congregational governance under a new Constitution and By-Laws
* Teaching Bible Survey Courses @ church
* Led the youth ministry for a few years
* Dealt with an 18 month period where the church participation dropped by 50%
* Launched a second worship service (twice!)
* Writing poetry and essays

* Coaching New Church Pastor/Developers
* Community relationships through Rotary and Chamber of Commerce
* NTA Committee on the Ministry which nurtures lay pastors
* NTA Lay Ministry Training Program, which trains lay pastors
* NTA youth camps
* Coached Russell’s Soccer team
* Served as a volunteer and staff chaplain at two hospitals

What I really want to do in this next season of my own personal ministry is enter into a slower pace, not take on any new projects for myself and just be available to listen. So, to that end I want to focus my ministry on:

My own spiritual life – daily prayer and study, weekly day of silence, monthly 36 hour retreat and yearly 5 day retreat
Study of scripture and theology
Sermon preparation and delivery
Training and coaching upcoming ministry leaders (this includes working with Shirley during her Supervised Ministry Year, with lay leaders at FG, and my continuing commitment to the LMTP for this next year)
Caring conversations with people, in the congregation and in the community (this includes my 5 hours/wk @ TCRH)
Writing poetry and essays to capture my reflections on these experiences

I will of course be also taking time for self care, family and friendships
Exercising daily – at least walking, pushups and situps
Weekly time for a ‘date’ with Laura – time to talk
An activity to share with Russell (probably around sports) and Camille (maybe around music)
Guy’s night out several times per month
Sailing
Spending time in the woods (at the Heard, etc)
Talking by phone to my dad & siblings weekly