Honest Self-ReflectionPosted: February 17, 2013
SLIDE 3: LENT – TIME OF TESTING
The first Sunday of Lent we focus on the temptations of Jesus. Lent is a time of testing, when we try to deny some of our appetites in order to develop some spiritual discipline. Now I want to be the first one to admit, my struggle with will power. As a diabetic I do well avoiding sweets. But I regularly succumb to over eating. I constantly find myself saying, “well I will try again tomorrow.” And one of the keys to any Lenten discipline is if we fail not to give up but just to start over again. Jesus’ temptations are not our temptations, but maybe if we examine them more closely we can see ourselves in Jesus’ struggle and learn.
SLIDE 4: FASTING
Fasting or “giving up” something for Lent has been a traditional spiritual exercise to mark the six weeks leading up to Easter. In recent years the practice has fallen out of favor especially among Protestants, but maybe in our unwillingness to discipline ourselves by fasting we are missing something important about the spiritual life.
When we make a commitment to deny one of our appetites, we are trying to use our minds and our spirits to exert some control over our bodies and our passions. The discipline of self-denial can bring us into struggle with the dark side of our natures. One Lent I was preaching about Jesus embracing his dark side in his temptations in the wilderness. A visitor got up and walked out. Carol Howie, God bless her, concerned that maybe he was ill, followed him out of the sanctuary, and asked if he needed any help. The stranger turned and said in a very upset voice, “Jesus didn’t have a dark side.”
SLIDE 5: JESUS EMBRACES HIS DARK SIDE
For those who need to think of Jesus as “perfect” Jesus struggling with his dark side is upsetting. If the temptations of Jesus weren’t real, if he didn’t feel the temptation, and truly know the potential for sinfulness within himself, then Jesus wasn’t fully human like us. And if Jesus wasn’t fully human like us, then what’s the point of the incarnation?
SLIDE 6: And if we doubt the necessity of knowing, embracing and integrating the dark side of our natures, just look at the tragedy of Olympic Hero Oscar Pistorius. Known as the Blade Runner Pistorius was the first paraplegic to compete in the London Olympic Games. Running on carbon fiber blades he competed as an equal. He was hailed as an Olympic Hero. This past week on Valentine’s Day of all days he shot and killed his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp. Pistorius has been charged with murder. The press is now reporting the Dark Side of the Blade Runner. And as our friend and favorite criminal defense attorney will tell us, we are all capable of acting out of our dark side.
SLIDE 7: AFFLUENZA
Jesus’ temptation to change stones into bread can be seen as our tendency to experience everything through the lens of our material desires. God knows we need bread, but we need more than bread to sustain us spiritually. We need more than material stuff. We complain we don’t have enough time for spiritual matters, but the truth is we Americans are working fools. We work longer work weeks, have shorter vacations and fewer holidays than any other work force in the developed world. And we do this in order to afford the affluent life style to which we would like to be accustomed. Our obsession with accumulating stuff is sometimes called “affluenza.” We make tremendous sacrifices to acquire material things, because we think they will make us happy, missing the point that maybe happiness isn’t the point, but peace and joy are conditions of the spirit.
SLIDE 8: REFOCUS FROM MATERIAL STUFF TO SPIRITUAL NEED
Our God is gracious and generous and gives us enough each day for our need. “Give us this day our daily bread.” But the abundant generosity of God is not enough for us. We want tomorrow’s bread too, and next week’s bread, and next month’s bread, until we become like the rich fool who pulls down his barns and builds bigger barns to store his stuff (or he rents at an off-site storage facility), not knowing that he is scheduled to die that very night, and his spiritual account is meager. And how do we make deposits into our spiritual accounts: prayer, worship, mission, charity, cultivating love in relationships. Perhaps in the simple act of fasting God can help to re-direct our concerns from our material stuff to our spiritual needs.
SLIDE 9: TEMPTATIONS TO POWER
The temptation to power may not seem relevant to many of us, but over and over again, at work, at church even in our families and relationships there is struggle over power and control. We may not aspire to play out our power needs on a national political stage, but our need to have power and control over our lives can be seen in our families, our work places, even in church.
You doubt your own need for power? Consider this, the number one reason for fighting in marriage is money. Money is monetized power. Money is a symbol that can tell us, who is in charge, who controls the purse strings.
SLIDE 10: WHAT’S THAT? I NEEDED IT!
I’m reminded of a couple in a previous church, and both of them worked in their own business that provided a good income. One day the husband came home with a new pick-up truck without consulting his wife. When the wife saw the truck, she asked what’s that, he said, “I needed it!” The next day the husband came home from work and the wife was in the home/office wearing a new fur coat. The husband, asked, “What’s that?” The wife replied, “I needed it.” They eventually realized that it wasn’t about money, and they worked out the power issue.
SLIDE 11: POWER ISSUES IN CHURCHES
Power issues in churches are often played out over money. And one reason power is such a difficult issue in the church is because church, especially congregational style churches is one of the only places people feel like they have any control or say so in their lives. Most of the institutions in our lives don’t give a damn about our preferences. When was the last time the State, or the City, or the School District, or your Employer, asked for your input on a decision affecting your life? Congregational Churches on the other hand are about as close to a participatory democracy as you can get, and one person can have an impact. So church often suffers from folks acting out their frustrations over feelings of powerlessness in the other institutions of their lives.
SLIDE 12: PLAYING GOD
The temptation to play God, to assume we are immortal, that the universe should make exceptions for us is something with which we might all identify. We put off doing what we really want, because we assume there will be a tomorrow. Bob Neuschaefer kept warning us travel, while you are still able. Yet many of us live as if we will be able to travel and perform feats of physical strength, when we are old. We put off making health and lifestyle changes willing ourselves to remain ignorant of the abuse to which we are subjecting our bodies. Perhaps we are seldom confronted with the stark decision Jesus faced to jump from the pinnacle of the Temple. Our pinnacles are lower and the consequences are further in the future, and so we believe we can have our cake and eat it too. But sooner or later the consequences catch up to us, and too late we realize we will not survive the fall.
SLIDE 13: JUDGING OTHERS
Another more subtle way of playing God is in our judgments of other people. We have no idea the path that another human being has walked, but we reserve for ourselves the right to judge them. We also make decisions for other people, when we choose not to confront them. We are in a sense withholding information from them and judging their behavior. We are also playing God, when we manipulate people or withhold information to take away their right and responsibility to make decisions for themselves.
SLIDE 14: UNTIL AN OPPORTUNE TIME
What we might identify with the most is in verse 13 of our passage: “And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Jesus until an opportune time.” Understanding when we are most vulnerable to temptation can be a great aid in surviving enticements without surrendering. Nikos Kazantzakis in his novel The Last Temptation of Christ explores the theme of the devil returning to Jesus at an opportune time, when Jesus was suffering on the cross. The story is really about Kazantzakis rather than Jesus, but it might prompt all of us to examine the “opportune moments” of temptation in our own lives.
SLIDE 15: ONLY THE TRUTH WILL SET US FREE
As I have said, my greatest temptation is overeating. And there are times when I am feeling good about myself, when my appetites are well regulated, my ego is under control, and I am well rested. At times like that I can most of the time resist temptation. But when I am over busy, tired, distracted, depressed, or alternatively when I am elated and full of myself, then I am most likely to over indulge. Those two states probably take up 50% of the time. We need to know ourselves, because the truth and only the truth will set us free. Part of knowing ourselves is to understand all of the disparate parts of our personalities. Like Jesus we have to know and embrace the dark sides of our personalities.
SLIDE 16: WHAT’S THE GREATEST TEMPTATION IN YOUR LIFE
What’s the greatest temptation in your life? Can you identify it? Can you own it? Can you embrace it, and be honest about it? Jesus showed us the way.
SLIDE 17: HONEST SELF-REFLECTION
Bill Green wrote a Still Speaking Devotional that addresses our need for integration. We can’t know God’s love if we overlook parts of ourselves we’d rather weren’t true. Sooner or later that trips us up. “For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.” (Luke 8:17) The truth will out. We’re a blessing to God and one another when we’re open and honest. Let us begin the season of Lent with honest self-reflection acknowledging weakness as well as strength, our deceits as well as our honest moments, our resentments as well as our love, our doubts as well as our faith, our fears as well as our hopes, and all of the disparate parts of our lives that are simply out of control. Let’s honestly take it all to God in prayer, and let God help us put it together.