Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Temptations of Christ: Self-Gratification
(Turning Stones into Bread)

 St. Paul warns us to "not be ignorant of the devils' devices, lest he gain an advantage over us." ( 2 Corinthians 2:11)

Successful generals study their enemy's tactics. The Bible gives us a clear picture of satan's strategy throughout human history.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world -- the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life -- is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever" (1 John 2:15-17)

From the above passage, we see that people of the world and their systems are held sway by three dynamics:

Lust of the Flesh
Lust of the Eyes
Pride of Life

These forces are governed by satan, meaning he is the prevailing influence in the philosophies, opinions, and views of the unbelieving world, which affect the educational, commercial, political, and religious systems of nations.

"...In whom the god of THIS world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them." (2 Corinthians 4:4)

Note the use of the word "this" not "the"...signifying that satan does not have absolute authority in the earth, but operates deceptively with limited power primarily over those who do not believe, and only in this current age.

When satan rebelled against God in Heaven, he was full of pride; he coveted God's Throne (which he covered continually with his wings) and desired to possess its power at any cost.

His rebellion was characterized by a) lust of the flesh, b) lust of the eyes, c) pride of life.

He and his angelic followers were cast to earth, doomed to wander their "penal colony" while they watched mankind, created in God's image and likeness, spread the Father's glory over all the earth. It was to be eternally tormenting!

Satan soon realized that if he could find a legal way to gain the mandate of earthly authority granted to Adam, he could reanimate into the physical world and work to steal, kill, and destroy God's beloved humanity.

Could he tempt man to also rebel and be kicked out of Paradise? Could he persuade man to follow his lead and forfeit his estate?

We all know the story as recorded in the third chapter of Genesis. Let's pick up where Eve succumbs to the same three dynamics in verse 6:

1. She "saw" the tree was good for food (flesh)
2. It was pleasant to look at (eyes)
3. She desired it in order to become wise (pride of life)

All temptations--then and now--land in one of these three areas.

Although Christians are not of the world, we are nevertheless in it; and when our hedges are down, we become the devil's prey, as well.

What do I mean by "downed hedges"?

"Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man:
But every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death." (James 1:13-15)

When we are tempted, we can't blame God. He doesn't have anything to do with it! Even satan has to seek an opportunity to tempt; he cannot indiscriminately pick a victim:

"Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world." (1 Peter 5:8-9)

Unbelievers do not live within secure spiritual parameters; Christians do. Nevertheless, we can find ourselves compromised due to careless neglect. 

Conversely, as James tells us, we may linger and listen to voices outside the hedge that speak to the needy areas of our heart, drawing us away from our safe place. Ultimately, we step out to embrace the tempter.

We are blinded under temptation, unable to see a vicious predator--only beauty, desire, and personal fulfillment. In other words: lust of the eyes, lust of the flesh, and the pride of life.

James tell us to resist temptation "stedfast IN the faith"...not with the faith. This is important, saint.

Remember, you are IN Christ, and He is your faith--not a set of rules and regulations. The only place you can win is in Christ!

"In Christ" is where you positionally, legally reside at all times, but you have to make that truth a daily reality here on earth--in your mind, in your sexuality, at your job, in your choice of friends and entertainment.

Why is this important?

God, the Son assumed human flesh in order to undo man's disobedience by becoming what Adam was not--a trustworthy representative of God to all creation. The Incarnation was a radically brilliant plan that would not compromise the integrity of a just God nor deny mercy to the fallen.

After Jesus' baptism, the Holy Spirit led Him into the desert to face the three temptations that Adam and Eve failed. Satan used his standard M.O. to try to disqualify this new representative--the SAME methods he uses against you and me as God's representatives in the earth today.

Although Jesus was God in the flesh, the temptations He faced were very real.  His divinity was willingly submitted to serve the Father's purpose, thereby manifesting only by permission as it fit into redemption's plan, such as with healings and miracles. (Jesus explained, "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does." John 5:19)

The temptations were aimed at  pressing Him to question His Heavenly Father's  intents and goodness  while in His human condition, thereby compelling Him to step outside of God's provisions and into self-attainment.

However, it was not the humanity of Jesus that answered those temptations, but God within. As a result, He passed the test.

With his sinless life and sacrificial death, He ransomed us from the curse of rebellion, paid its penalty in our place, and credited that obedient life to our account. Our statement is stamped "Paid in Full"!

That's what being IN CHRIST means. In the Kingdom, we reside IN His righteousness, His perfection before the Father, His faithfulness to God. We trust what He has done for us, not what we do for Him (which can never measure up to His holiness).

However, in the material world that has yet to see the full manifestation of Christ's Kingdom, we are the visible representatives of that which is to come and its Sovereign.

"The mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints.  To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory." (Colossians 1:26-27)    

Therefore, as refractions of the life and ministry of our Lord, we face our temptations in the same way. The battles are very real, but Christ within makes the final decision!

The minute we 'step outside' of that protective place by doubting God's ways of relating to us and caring for our needs, we choose to take matters into our own hands; we want to determine what's good and evil...we want to control the how's and when's of getting what we want. We take the bait again--just like Adam and Eve--and open ourselves up to unnecessary trouble and consequences.

Let's look at how the Bible records the temptations of Jesus:

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”

But He answered and said, “It is written,
‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God'."

Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written:
‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and, ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone'."

Jesus said to him, “It is written again,
‘You shall not tempt the LORD your God'."

Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written,
‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve'." Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.

From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:1-11; 17)

Notice that none of the things used to tempt Jesus were in themselves illegitimate.

God created us to enjoy food, but Jesus was in a God-inspired fast that required a season of self-denial. God didn't want to withhold sustenance from His Son, but it was not yet time for Him to eat again.

God was going to raise His Son from the dead in spite of fatal wounds, but it was not time. The Cross was God's way. Jesus would validate His claims to the world by saving others. He was not in the world to please or prove Himself.

Jesus was going to win back what Adam forfeited to the devil, but not by bowing to the enemy. He was going to die instead, rise from the dead, then triumphantly, openly strip satan of the keys to death and the grave!

He stuck to the Father's plan, although the end result took longer and was certainly not as easy.

Jesus understood the WILL (or plans) of God for His life. He was not in His season of Kingship. He was to first come as the suffering servant, the sacrificial Lamb.

Jesus relied on the Holy-Spirit inspired WORD of God to keep Him in God's Will (see His response to the devil's temptations).

Jesus accepted the WAY of God as to how the Father's plan of redemption was to unfold and be fulfilled--the how's and when's.

What season are you in as it relates to God's will for your life?

Jesus is the Living Word. We are hidden in Him (Colossians 3:3). He is our armor (Ephesians 6). Abiding in Him enables us to resist the enemy and bear the fruit of obedience to the Father's plan.

We surrender to the way the Father has chosen--the how's and when's. Many frustrated Christians are trying to follow the right plan, but in the wrong way or time. Some have rejected their calling altogether, thinking they missed God.

God has promised to meet our temporal needs as El Shaddai, the God who is "more than enough". He has promised to vindicate every wrong and be our defense against accusations and insults. We need not take matters into our own hands to prove anything.

Our loving Father has promised that we have been "given all things that pertain to life and godliness" in Christ (2 Peter 2:1-4) and that indeed, we are joint-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17).

We already sit in Heavenly places in Christ Jesus, "far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come."

If all things are under His feet, then they are under ours as well. He is our head, we are His body--the FULLNESS of Him that filleth all in all." (Ephesians 1:21, 23; 2:6)

Beloved, being in Christ means we not only have unrestricted access to His divine blessings, but we assent to obtaining them in the same manner as our Lord--surrendered to the Will, Word, and Way of God at all times.

This may appear impossible until we remember that we are In Christ--abiding in and expressing outwardly the life and power of One who already surrendered on our behalf and won the victory!

"For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin." (Hebrews 4:15)

Now, we'll look further at the first temptation of Jesus to turn stones into bread. It falls into the category of "lust of the flesh", or what I define as self-gratification.

God created us with a genuine hunger mechanism--a signal that our bodies are 'running on empty'. But our heart (the seat of our emotions) also releases uncomfortable feelings when it is approaching "E".

God created us with the capacity to give and receive affirmation, attention, and affection. Emotionally healthy people have mostly full tanks, and do not rely on constant input from others to keep them running.

Affirmation says: You're valuable to me.

Attention says: You're worth my time.

Affection says:  You're desirable; I want to be near you; I am not repulsed by your flaws.

Don't get me wrong; it's nice to receive these blessings from other people. We can all benefit from "topping off our tanks", but do you get what I'm saying?

Only God can heal and satisfy the heart's complex hunger for affirmation, attention, and affection. If it's not met in Him first, our hunger will drive us to look for fulfillment in ungodly people and places.

Pause for a moment and reflect once again on what affirmation, attention, and affection means. Do you have the kind of relationship with Jesus Christ that makes it easy for you to hear and believe these words when spoken by Him? If not, to whom are you looking for validation?

Deficient hearts are desperate. They want to end the discomfort NOW! They can't stand being told "no" or "not yet"; they take it as a personal insult or attack that screams, "You're not worthy to be gratified."

This vain imagination leads them to desperate choices in their relationships, finances, business, and ministry--often leading to sinful ways to try to escape the compounding consequences. Notice in the temptation passage that satan prods, "COMMAND that these stones become bread!"

Indeed, needy people are quite demanding, and insist on getting their way every time...regardless of whom it affects:

Achan in Battle (Joshua 11): He took material blessings out of the timing of God.

What do we do when God says, "Not yet"?
Do we go ahead and buy on credit and extend our debt?

King David with Bathsheba (2 Samuel, chapter 11): He had sex with another man's wife after seeing her bathe, and the cover-up led to greater wickedness. Though he had many wives, David lusted after a particular woman and would not rest until he had her.

How do we react when God says, "No!" Do we nevertheless keep flirting with what is forbidden until we reach a point of no return?
Do we heap more sin unto our account by the way we try to erase our footprints or escape a consequence?

King Solomon, who was willing to compromise his faith to please his foreign wives and concubines: (1 Kings 11)

Although God's Word is clear, do we deceive ourselves into thinking that our anointed gifts, talents, position or wealth makes exceptions for us?

Judas and his thirty pieces of silver: (Matthew 26: 14-16)

What is your price? Can your confession for Christ be exchanged for money, fame, a  certain person's favor or a position of power?

St. Paul observed:

"...for I have learned how to be content (satisfied to the point where I am not disturbed or disquieted) in whatever state I am.
I know how to be abased and live humbly in straitened circumstances, and I know also how to enjoy plenty and live in abundance.

I have learned in any and all circumstances the secret of facing every situation, whether well-fed or going hungry, having a sufficiency and enough to spare or going without and being in want.
I have strength for all things IN CHRIST Who empowers me [I am ready for anything and equal to anything through Him Who infuses inner strength into me; I am self-sufficient in Christ's sufficiency]."
  Philippians 4:11-13 (Amplified Bible)

Contentment is not automatic. All of us must learn that only living spiritually IN CHRIST will we be able to, in turn, live in the natural world under any circumstances--with plenty or little, appreciated or not, loved or alone.

Focusing on Christ and His sufficiency prevents us from embracing a lying vanity that causes us to doubt God's goodness and care for us in the seasons of "No" or "Not Yet". It prevents us from stepping outside of Him to meet either a legitimate or a perceived need.

Up Next: Self-Empowerment

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Your Eyes Will Be Opened

"Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to tend and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:15-17)

Adam's job assignment contained only TWO aspects: tend and guard the Garden. Isn't it interesting that Adam was not burdened down with volumes of rules and regulations on how to do his job?

Actually, only ONE rule existed: do not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. It carried a stiff penalty of sure death. This forbidden tree was in the middle of the garden--not protected by an imposing fence or even a "No Trespassing" sign.

Adam and Eve could choose from countless varieties of fare from the abundant vegetation. Although God knew ahead of time what Adam had done each day, He delighted in stepping into time and walking with His children in the cool of the day, rejoicing at their progress and patiently listening to their discoveries. It was the joy of loving and being loved.

As the couple grew in knowledge and wisdom, they were to learn directly from the Creator about the intricate, spiritual dynamics outside their ever-expanding material world. (Adam had been told to protect the Garden; therefore, he knew an enemy was on the ground somewhere.)

The economy of the Garden ran on relational stewarding. Adam and Eve were co-trustees of creation--accountable to each other and to God. The moment the outsider spoke, Eve should have turned to Adam and told him. Adam, in turn, should have refused further engagements until God could be consulted. After all, the Creator of all things would know the true nature of this strange creature and exactly what it wanted.

Eve, however, fell under the charm of being singled out. Flattered by the attention and isolated by her pride, she unwittingly fell under seduction. Satan systematically wore Eve down by:

1. emphasizing the prohibition, not the provision
2. reducing God's command to a question
3. casting doubt upon God's sincerity
4. defaming His motives
5. denying the truth of the consequences

Most likely, the enemy has never has spoken to you directly, but he does use other charming things and people to get you hooked into engaging him. Look again at his methods above. In hindsight, does this M.O. look familiar?

In essence, satan asked Eve:
Do you want God to teach you what He knows, or do you want to learn it yourself?
Why do you think God wants you to have to keep coming to Him?
Could it be He desires to keep you under His thumb?
If He really loves you, why is He holding something this important and pleasurable from you?
Have you ever wondered if eating from the tree will make you just like Him, and then you won't need God anymore?
Did He say you'd die? Why, I think you'd become divine!

It worked. Genesis 3:6 records the downfall:
1. Eve "saw that the tree was good for good" (Lust of the Flesh)
2. That it was "pleasant to the eyes" (Lust of the Eyes)
3. And a tree desirable to “make one wise” (Pride of Life)

The book of James tells us the difference between godly and earthly wisdom:

From above--pure, peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, without hypocrisy
From below--inspired by the devil; full of bitterness and envy that leads to self-seeking that produces confusion

Envy occurs when a person lacks another's (perceived) superior quality, achievement, or possession; and either desires it or wishes that the other lacked it.  Regardless of how well the devil spins it for you philosophically, when you want to be the captain of your soul and the master of your fate, the bottom line is--you envy God.

If we look back at Genesis 2:15, when God said, "You shall surely die", the literal Hebrews is "in dying, you shall die."

It would take hundreds of years for what Adam and Eve set into motion to steal their physical breath, but their spiritual death was immediate. How did we know? To be spiritually alive in this realm, a man or woman must be connected to God, who Himself is a Spirit, and the giver of all life (John 4:24). To be dead spiritually indicates a person is relationally, intimately cut off from God. Look at the symptoms:

After eating the fruit, Adam and Eve notice they were naked for the first time. A new emotion entered the garden--shame. They desperately make fig leaves (from the forbidden tree) to cover the most intimate part of themselves from each other. Next, they hid from God for the first time, shrinking from the One they normally welcomed into the Garden for intimate fellowship. Why? Shame was followed by a second emotion: fear.

"I was afraid,"
said Adam.

Finally, blame shifting manifested:

The man said, "The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it."Then the LORD God said to the woman, "What is this you have done?" The woman said, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate." (Genesis 3:12-13)

Eating the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil gave Adam and Eve the shortcut they were looking for--the power to decide what was good and bad for themselves, but at a tremendous cost.

Physical life would go on, but under harsh conditions. Creation would no longer obey Adam because he disobeyed the Creator.

The earth no longer would acknowledge Adam as a representative of the Godhead. As a result, it was not obligated to respond to his efforts to subdue and take dominion over it. Cut off from the divine (the spiritual), man had to rely solely on his five senses to help him discern, divide, and decide.

The first humans' sons and daughters have come into this world ever since with the same amputation. We arrive as spiritual cripples, despite our intellectual capacities and talents. Our void shows. We don't appreciate the liberties we DO have as agents of free will; we focus on what our Creator prohibits and begin to question His motives. We listen to "new" voices that feed our doubts and fuel our pride.

Like Eve, we legalistically add to God's restrictions to convince ourselves of how enslaving they are. (She added, "We may not touch it, lest we die")

Like Eve, we diminish the consequences in our mind by removing "surely" from before the word "die". (Genesis 3:2)

We may still be breathing after seizing the tree, but we're not well. Society reels with one problem after another that can be traced back to the day we became fig weavers.

As a whole, we are people bent on self-preservation and hiding our true selves. When caught red-handed, we quickly pass the blame. We are steeped in fear. We don't know what it's like to live shame-free, nor without the secret delight in shaming others.

When Adam and Eve finally faced God, He would not, could not wink at their sin. He didn't grant them a "do over", much as we might to a child who lands outside the lines in a game of hopscotch.

God is holy (perfect). He is just. He is love and mercy...far beyond anything mankind has been able to fathom or experience. His attributes cannot be separated, nor can one quality be emphasized to the exclusion of the others without distorting the real character of God.

While allowing the curse to stand, God nevertheless slaughtered animals in the Garden--another first--using their innocent blood to temporarily atone (cleanse) for man's rebellion. He then made each of them clothes from the skins of those animals, which Adam and Eve wore out of the garden. The animal skins were evidence that a sacrifice had been made on their behalf.

God also promised Eve that her future Seed (another representative from God) would face the accuser again (Genesis 3:15). Adam II would be wounded by satan, but would undo the curse and crush demonic authority once and for all.

It happened--just as God promised and just as He planned.

God, the Son assumed human flesh and became Adam II to make final atonement for what happened in the Garden. Being born of a human woman, he was fully human yet fully divine. His power was never diminished-- only restrained for redemption's purpose, which was to suffer and die in our place.

"Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God someting to be used to His own advantage;
Rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness." (Philippains 2: 5-7)

He deliberately limited His humanity in order to know man's hunger, thirst, need for sleep, tiredness, and emotions. God, the Son chose to cloak His divinity in order to learn language and social skills as a child--even carpentry--thereby authentically experiencing and sanctifying every stage of life.

"I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does..."
John 5:19-20

Given the earthly name Jesus, Christ lived a life totally dependent upon God, the Father...bypassing the temptation to partake of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in His humanity.

Satan wanted this Messiah to believe that the Cross was not necessary. Plotting what he thought was another easy ruse, the veteran tempter told Jesus that all he had to do was bow down in allegiance to him; then, all the wealth and power of earthly kingdoms that had been previously forfeited by the first Adam would be returned--no pain, no suffering, no loss of reputation or life.

Jesus wasn't interested. To Him, the stakes were higher: human souls.

Adam and Eve would have eventually possessed the knowledge of the universe; but they chose to seek it divorced from intimacy with God and each other. God only works relationally. This is a foundational truth we learn by looking into the profound intimacy, love, and outworkings within the Trinity.

What Adam and Eve didn't understand (and neither do most of their descendants today) is that no one really becomes his or her own god; It's just a tragic change of allegiance under the pretense of autonomy. That's another reason God couldn't say, "All right, kids; since this is your first sin, it doesn't count."

Adam and Eve had switched allegiance from God to the fallen prince of rebellion. Thinking they were free unto themselves, they were slaves of the devil and bound to his ways. They were eternally cut off from God's goodness and grace. Forgiveness was not enough. They needed a formidable deliverance!

Actually, there was a "do over", but not by sinful Adam and Eve:  It was accomplished by Christ--the final Adam. If you receive what He has done for you by faith, God will credit this finished work to your account. You will be legally transferred out of the imprisoning inadequacy of Adam and into the liberating sufficiency of Christ.

So during this season of Lent, God is calling to the fearful in hiding. He is walking once again into the Garden you soiled by sin and draped in shame. He’s not out to destroy you!

He wants to know if you're interested in making an exchange: your fig leaves for His Son.

"But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh..."
(Romans 13:14)

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Along the Canterbury Trail:
A Charismatic Discovers the Beauty and Power of Lent

Today begins the season of Lent. That's Lent with an e, not an i.

The only "lint" I experienced as a child was the stuff I had to clean out of the clothes dryer, and the pesky pet hair we'd have to brush off our "Sunday best" before heading to service. Having a menagerie of dogs and cats necessitated having a good lint brush around, or at least a roll of duct tape.

  I heard the other LENT was some sort of ceremony practiced by Catholics.

I heard they put ashes on their foreheads and acted really sorry for being bad.

I heard that some of them gave up their favorite foods right before Easter in order to prove to God they were serious about doing better.

Our evangelical church never practiced Lent. When it was mentioned, it was usually criticized as Roman rubbish.

I recall being at a restaurant after the mid-week service when some of those people walked in with the smudge on their foreheads in the shape of a cross. We whispered in eerie tones, "They do that thing called "Lent." We tried to cover a snicker or two as we watched them--each with a distinctive blob of dirt above the nose--eat and chat away as if nothing was out of the ordinary.

God's sense of humor contains a stinging "gotcha!" that all of us need to watch out for when we take hearsay for facts, and judge others from inside our comfortable, but confining perceptions.

After attending an Ash Wednesday service a few years back, I was woefully stung at the Golden Corral following the evening service. A woman and her daughter brushed by while I was debating between a topping of cottage cheese or chicken salad. I heard the Mom say as they passed, "Quit staring. She's a Catholic."

"What's a cat tick?" the little girl asked with fear in her voice, as if the word had terrorist-like connotations.

"I'll tell you later," the mother replied.

Despite my chuckle, that's exactly what bothers me. What did she tell her child?

The same lies...excuse me--misrepresentations I heard at an early age? The same falsehoods that shaped my belief system for most of my Christian life? I acknowledge that most of the things I heard were spread by well-meaning, but misinformed believers who accepted without question what others had passed down through their denomination or particular church--their little place of Heaven.

But let's clear things up to prove my point.

I am NOT a Roman Catholic (nothing against them). I attend a conservative Anglican church. We are also a charismatic fellowship, which the mom probably never would have guessed. After all, how many Pentecostals get ashes rubbed on their foreheads at church?

Dancing in the aisles? Maybe. Ashes from last year's dried and burned Palm Sunday branches? Uh, no. We're on a roll, so let's clear up a widely believed error right now:

There was no Roman Catholic Church until 1054 A.D., when trouble that had been festering for years finally split the Church into two expressions--the West (guided by Rome) and the Eastern Church (Constantinople--Orthodox).

Very few Christians today take time to chew on the glorious truth that there was only ONE church on earth for over a thousand years after the Day of Pentecost!

If a visitor arrived in Corinth, for example, he would ask, "Where does THE Church meet in your city?" Although assembling in different cities and homes (and later in buildings), it was ONE Church which adhered to the doctrine of Christ and His Apostles, guarded it against heresies from within and persecutions from without, and worshiped in manifested unity.

All of us--Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant--owe a lot to St. Athanasius. His explanation and defense of the Trinity against divisive elements within the early Church helped clarify and ground the Trinitarian doctrine. Athanasius was also the first person to identify the same 27 books of the New Testament that other Church leaders later canonized (made official).

We learn from historical records that Athanasius--in 331 A.D.--was instructing the Church toward a forty-day period of introspection and repentance in order to properly prepare for Resurrection Sunday. By 339 A.D., after having traveled to Rome and over the greater part of Europe, Athanasius wrote in the strongest terms to urge this observance to be universally practiced. And so it began…when EVERY Christian was catholic (little "c"--meaning a part of something universal).

Really, aren't we all catholics (little c's)? I trust you believe you are a part of the seamless Body of Christ--past, present and future--in Heaven and on earth.

I agree that there are important doctrinal measures that define the true faith and cannot be compromised--e.g., the Trinity, the Incarnation of Christ (fully man and fully God) His bodily resurrection and physical return to earth--but we must focus on our unity in Christ and not turn minor, non-salvific traditions into legalistic dogma that breeds suspicion and cripples our witness.

Now you know that Lent was not invented over in Rome to offend Protestants. Face it. If you were a believer living anywhere from 330.A.D. onward until the Reformation (1517), you observed the Lenten Season. That's a long time.

But guess what? Protestants took the practice with them, too. Today, Anglicans, Episcopalians, and Lutherans observe the season of Lent, along with many Methodist denominations. Only the more modern churches have abandoned the observance. Oops! Doesn't sound like these folks were "on the fringe" after all! Truthfully, they were smack dab in the center of Church practice from the beginning.

So, where does the word Lent come from and what does it mean?

is Latin for "fortieth day". No big revelation here.

The season begins on Ash Wednesday and continues for forty days to the Saturday before Easter. Sundays are not counted in this season because every Sunday is the Lord's Day and is celebrated as a joyous, spiritual feast (or should be...Selah).

In the Roman Catholic Church, Lent ends on the Thursday before Easter. This day is known as Maundy Thursday, Holy Thursday, or Covenant Thursday throughout Christendom.  It commemorates the “Maundy” (New Commandment), and the Last Supper of Jesus with His Apostles.

Now, if you're an evangelical trodding through unknown territory in this article, then let me digress to give you a backdrop of information.

Not until I joined a liturgical/sacramental expression of Christ's Body did I realize that the Church follows its own calendar of worship that revolves around the life and work of Christ in seven seasons:

: the two comings of Christ (God keeps His promises)
the Incarnation "God With Us"
the revealing of Christ to the Gentile Magi and His Baptism in the River Jordan
repentance, forgiveness, and restoration
the Holy Spirit
(also known as "Ordinary Time") growing in service and sanctification

Combined, these seasons teach the four doctrines of the Church:
The Incarnation
The Atonement
The Resurrection
The Holy Trinity

Oh, before we go any further, imagine my surprise when I also discovered the concept of such a calendar developed around 325 A.D! It's intended to help us stay focused on the life and ministry of Christ as repeatedly, year after year, we move rhythmically through the seasons.

Kingdom truths are like exquisite diamonds with multiple facets. The closer we draw to the treasure, the more details we can behold. Moving around the diamond also gives us perspectives we could not see from a previous position. We are going "from glory to glory". The seven seasons of the Church Year, as the diamond, remain unchanged. However, WE are the ones changing.

People can become so familiar with their liturgy or order of service that it can sadly deteriorate into mimicry--a corporate "going through the motions"--whether it's standing to sing Hymn # 429 or getting ready to celebrate Jesus' Resurrection.

I visited an Episcopal Church one Sunday and sat beside a young woman. We exchanged pleasantries as the service began. I was still rather "new" to liturgy, but I could tell she had it all down pat. She knew when to make the sign of the Cross and kneel; she knew the General Confession and Great Thanksgiving (Eucharist) by heart. I was impressed.

Nevertheless, during the homily (sermon), she took out a file and manicured her nails. When it came time to receive communion, she bounced up to the rail, received it, and left before the service ended.

May I tell you what she got that day? A nice-looking set of nails! Despite God being there to minister to her in a powerful, incarnate reality through His Body and Blood, she missed Him-- even though she said all the right things at the right time, and even drank the wine and ate the bread.

"Be it unto you according to your faith", right?

You'll only get out of Lent what you expect…and only if your faith takes you into the experience out of love for Christ. It bothers me to hear people brag about giving up something for Lent, as if our sacrifices for forty days of booze, cigarettes, and chocolate leave God breathless.

I'm more patient with those who've taken it a step further and are willing to lay aside TV time, electronic games, social networking sites--anything that seems to compete for the time and devotion that belongs to Christ.

But those are only outward distractions. The whole purpose of Lent is to give God permission to step across the carefully guarded threshold into where your deepest desires and real motives dwell...where out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks and the issues of life flow. It's all there--your sexual passions, insecurities, lust for power. Greed is there, along with vanity, pride, selfishness, hatred, bitterness, unforgiveness, lingering offenses, irrational fears, control and manipulation.

Being prepared for the Resurrection means something had to die. We all want the power that comes with rising from the dead, but very few of us want to go through the only way to get it.

Of course, I'm not talking about physical death, but a laying down of all self-absorption...the kind that fills us so full of ourselves that there's little room for the manifested life of Christ to be wrung out onto the dry places and thirsty people around us!

The colors, symbols, signs and motions of liturgical worship are simply to strike a chord in humanity's five senses to an inward work of grace that's occurring. For instance, the palm branch I so joyously waved as I processed into worship last year, has been neglected--left to dry up and wither. What was once vibrant and supple has lost its color and breaks at the slightest touch.

It is consumed in fire. From the remaining ashes, a mark is placed upon my forehead to remind me of how easily a creature from the dust can turn on His Creator. If we remember the gospel story, the same people that took Palms and welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem were the same people who days later yelled, "Crucify Him"!

God sees what we wave at Him when things are going good. He hears the praise reports and thanks. It's what lurks unaddressed deep inside of us that concerns our Heavenly Father; He knows the enemy will use it against us. At pivotal moments in our lives, we may betray or deny Christ. Adultery is betrayal...not only to one's spouse but to the Lord of that marriage. Refusing to take a stand when it counts because one doesn't want to sabotage a promotion is denying that Christ who was tortured to end the fear of man and its tyranny over us.

Yes. It's dirty work. When I watched my dad uproot an old tree stump, a lot of "groans" emerged from the ground as the deep root system began to surrender to the unrelenting pull of the chains. Decades of spreading, tangling, intertwined roots finally made their way to the top as the soil churned and dust flew.

Lent prepares you to fix your heart for your cross; and draw upon the strength and empowerment of the One who has gone before you with His Cross. You will walk out from some of your tombs this year. Maybe not all of them at once, but of this I can be assured:

"And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns."
(Philippians 1:6)

If you lose your resolve along the way, if you begin to kick at the pricks and hold on instead of letting go, here's some good news: Lent will come again. You can repent and start anew!

I invite you to join me during this season for a series of messages that will get us ready to rise to a new level of life in Christ.

For each week in Lent, we'll approach an aspect of God’s forgiveness as it relates to the amazing merge of His holiness and love at the Cross. Some areas I’ll cover include:

1) Why God couldn't say to Adam and Eve, "Okay. That one didn't count."
2) What God did to right the wrong, and why the plan had to be bloody and brutal
3) How to respond to Christ's already secured gift of redemption
4) How to have a "perfect" heart toward God, as He demands.

I'm also planning to post articles taken from the Gospel accounts of Jesus' temptation in the wilderness. His three temptations--to turn stones into bread, to jump from the pinnacle of the Temple, and to bow down in allegiance to satan--dealt with the same prevailing heart attitudes that Adam and Eve faced, but did not overcome.

Beloved, nothing has changed. The devil has no new M.O.'s. The times, places, and platforms are different, but all temptations known to humanity fall into one of three categories:

self-gratification, self-protection, self-empowerment
...which are:

1) lust of the flesh
2) the pride of life
3) lust of the eyes