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Pause – Proving Ground | Sermon from 6/19/2016

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This month we are looking at temptation and there is actually something good about temptation I want to share with you.  Temptation unites us.  That’s right, in a world that grows increasingly divided over so many things; we are united in our struggle against temptation.  While we wrestle with different issues, we are all tempted to think, say and do things that we know aren’t right, healthy, or in our best interest.  While all our temptations are different, we have seen that what is at stake in those temptations is often the same.  There are 3 things at stake in every temptation and they are… (wait for people: our faith, our future, our family.)

Jesus also faced temptation and in the 3 temptations we find in Matthew 4 we see that Jesus faced every temptation we do.  This week we are going to look at the second temptation of Jesus which in many ways is an appropriate one for us to consider on Father’s Day because it is the temptation we have to leverage God our Father for our own benefit.  This is a temptation to presume and assume that God will come to our rescue and always work out our issues in life no matter what.  Matthew 4:5-7.

We are not sure how Satan took Jesus to the top of the temple but from this location they would have been able to look down into the courtyard where the religious leaders gathered to do their work.  Jesus needed to reveal himself to these very people and they would be the ones most resistant to Jesus being the Son of God.  Satan’s plan was to have Jesus reveal himself now by stepping off the top of the Temple Wall because God wouldn’t allow anything to happen to Jesus which meant that the angels would come to catch Jesus before he hit the ground.  The sight of angels appearing to catch a man would have revealed Jesus as the son of God and it would have proved his relationship with God the Father.  This was actually not a bad plan and in time Jesus did do miracles to prove that he was the Son of God, but the problem was that this was not God’s plan. What is so subtle about this temptation is that Satan not only comes with a plan that would work but he actually quotes scripture to back it up.  How can you say no when the promise of God is right there in the psalms?
Jesus could have proved that he was the son of God through this act.  In a single moment, Jesus could have proved himself to the religious leaders and proclaimed to the world that he was the Messiah but doing it this way would have forced God’s hand.  By jumping into this plan, Jesus would have been assuming that no matter what he did God would save him.  Not only is this presumptuous but it once again shows a lack of faith and trust in God.  Our faith is always at stake when we face temptation.

You might think this is not a temptation we face because we aren’t going to be tempted to jump off the Temple in Jerusalem, but the reality is that we are tempted to do things like this more often than you think.  We often ask God to bless our plans instead of seeking out God’s plan.  We presume that we know God’s will so step out into what we assume is faith instead of pausing to seek God’s will and make sure we are working with God.  How often do we try and manipulate God to do things our way instead of working to do things God’s way?  How often do we presume and assume that God will bless our lives instead of seeking to a live a life that God chooses to bless?

I have seen many marriages where one spouse struggles because their partner is not engaged at all in their faith.  When I ask why they got married when they held such different views on and practices of their faith, I have often heard, I thought God would bring them around.  We move forward with our plans and assume God will bless them and make things work out.  When we go into a class without doing any of the work and then ask God to help us get an A, we are being presumptuous.  Asking God to help us get the promotion at work even though we know we aren’t fulfilling the duties is assuming God is there to always work for our benefit.   When we cry out to God because we are drowning in debt after spending years living well beyond our financial means we are leveraging our relationship with God.  It’s not that God won’t be there to help and assist us in times of need, but when we live our lives our way and then expect God to work things out, we are being presumptuous and using God.

I mentioned this was an appropriate temptation for us to consider on Father’s Day because we not only presume on God our father, we also make assumptions about our earthly fathers and mothers.  When I was in college there was a time where I not only presumed that God would bless my plans but I also assumed that my father and mother would make things work out.  I had finished my third year at Michigan State and decided to not only change majors and change universities.  It was not a well thought out plan on my part and I had not researched things well.  I was going to move from a large but relatively quiet campus in East Lansing MI to a campus in the heart of our nation’s second largest city, Los Angeles.  I made a few plans and then left for my summer job assuming God would work things out and my parents would pay for it.

About half way through the summer my parents finally opened my eyes to the cost of this school.  For months I had been saying that it was the same as MSU and they said no, it was twice as much.  Well, guess what, my parents were right and they couldn’t afford it.  I had assumed my parents would just pay for it, but they couldn’t.  I also assumed this was God’s plan but in time I realized it was not.  When I actually visited LA and the school, I came to the conclusion that I was really not interested in living in that big a city.  I had made my plans and then presumed God would bless them and assume my parents would provide.  I am thankful that God and my parents opened my eyes to what a failure my plan would have been.  They helped me pause and then move in a different direction.

This temptation to leverage God for our benefit can be very subtle, but we all face it and we also face it in the church.  In the church this temptation is often seen when we say that we are going to step out in faith with a plan that is not well thought out and perhaps one we don’t think will even work.  Over the last 22 years I have seen many congregations step out to do new things without doing the research or having the resources and then simply saying – God will take care of it.  Some people may call this faith but at times it can also be called presumptuous.  We presume God will bless our plans which can sometimes lead to disaster.

So how do we know if we are stepping out in faith or leverage God?  Jesus shows us that one way to deal with this temptation and walk in faith is to pause and listen to our prayers and language.  When Jesus faced this temptation he quoted from Deuteronomy 6:16.

As we saw last week, when Jesus is tempted he thinks back to another time and place when God’s people faced the same temptation.  Here Jesus takes us back to a time when the people were being tempted at Massah, in fact, the word Massah means trial or temptation and it was the name given to a place called Rephidim by Moses.  It was here that the people needed water to drink and instead of trusting God they taunted him.  Exodus 17:1-3.

It’s not just Moses they are complaining against here, it is God.  They are asking why God has done this to them.  Why had God brought them out here to die?  If God really loved them then God would provide for them.  If God was with them then God wouldn’t have let this happen to them.  These aren’t words of trust they are taunts to Moses and to God and they sound all too familiar.  If God really loved me then I wouldn’t be going through this.  If God was with me then I wouldn’t be struggling right now.  If God was strong enough I wouldn’t be in this situation.

When our language and prayers are more focused on accusing God instead of trusting Him, chances are good that we have presumed upon God to help us instead of cooperating with God.  When our prayers are filled with: God, I need this, God I want this, God you need to come through or me, then chances are that we have assumed God would bless us instead of giving more thought to living the life that God chooses to bless.

The key to overcoming this temptation is to pause and consider how we can cooperate with God instead of manipulating God.  Jesus was being tempted to prove himself as the son of God by forcing God’s hand to act, but because Jesus had walked with God and was cooperating with God’s plan, he knew God didn’t want to reveal his son to the world through a spectacular show of power but a humble show of sacrifice.  The proving ground for Jesus wasn’t to be the mid-air rescue by angels but the sacrifice of a son on the cross.  Having confidence in God’s plan and cooperating with God’s will is what helped Jesus overcome this temptation which means that knowing God’s plan and cooperating with God’s will is what will help us.

As we pause in the midst of temptation and learn to cooperate with God let me share one last thought.  Cooperation with God isn’t a two way street where we negotiate with God.  Cooperation with God is submitting to God’s will.  It is humbling ourselves so that God’s will becomes our will and God’s ways our ways.  This is what Jesus did.  He humbled himself to God’s will.  It would have been so much easier for Jesus to step off the Temple wall and let the angels catch him, but the proving ground for Jesus wasn’t in the air – it was on the cross.  Jesus took up that cross because in all things he humble himself and submitted himself to the life God had for him.

This week let us overcome temptation by humbling ourselves before God and walking in faithful obedience.  We have included a daily prayer to use each morning to help us submit ourselves to God.  I invite you to join me as we pray this together.

I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you,
exalted for you, or brought low for you;
let me be full, let me be empty,
let me have all things, let me have nothing:
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things 
to your pleasure and disposal.  
And now, glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you are mine and I am yours. 
So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.
Amen.
Next Steps
Pause ~ Proving Ground

1. When have you presumed on others and assumed that they would take care of things for you?  When has this happened to you and how did it make you feel?

2. Have you ever had an idea, followed through on it and then asked God to bless what you were doing?  What happened?

3. What is the difference between being presumptuous with God and having faith in God?

4. What recent prayer requests have you made that might be considered more a leveraging of God than a submission to God?

5.  This week, listen to your prayers and the cry of your heart.  Are they filled with trust or taunts?  (See Exodus 17:1-3)

6. Cooperating with God means first knowing God’s will.  How do you listen to God?  Where do you turn to find God’s direction for your life or help with decisions you have to make?

7. Use John Wesley’s Covenant Prayer as your daily prayer of cooperation and submission
I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you,
exalted for you, or brought low for you;
let me be full, let me be empty,
let me have all things, let me have nothing:
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.  And now, glorious and blessed God, 
Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you are mine and I am yours. So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.
Amen.

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