Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,
“‘You shall worship the Lord your God
and him only shall you serve.’” --Matt 4.8-10
By this point, we should be aware that the transformation that God is seeking to do is within you. We don't need to make dough from rocks to be happy. And we don't need to control the kingdoms of this world to be free or secure. Many untransformed Christians think they have to control the presidential election in order to protect their freedoms. Jesus was tempted with this very thing, control Rome and bring freedom to the world. He chose God's kingdom. (I'm glad He did). This thinking that control = freedom isn't limited to kingdoms of government and politics though. We carry it into the world of finances thinking if we could just control our finances then we would finally have real freedom. Or if we could control our spouse our life would finally be free. Notice what is consistent here? If we can change the external world our internal world would finally be free.
The wilderness helps us live from the freedom that already exists in the internal world. The wilderness walks us into the control-center, the decision-making apparatus, the part of us that either responds in compassion or reacts in prejudice, that part of us that makes decisions to prove we matter, to prove we are legitimate, and that part that will choose either to take up a cross or take up a sword, and transforms it back to what it really meant to be human.
Harvey Cox, Victor Thomas Professor of Religion at Harvard, said, "[the temptation] story provides: a typology of leadership styles. It suggests that early in their careers people inevitably develop a certain approach to decision making, what Aquinas called a habitus. Then they apply this way of making choices throughout their careers. The temptation story supplies a useful grid for examining some of the root postures from which people, including leaders, make their decisions."
What we are after in these days leading up to Pentecost is a transformation. And what we are after now is transforming our decision-making core.
Up to this point, the transformative effect has taught us that the Transformed make decisions based on the Voice and based on the Object of their worship. If you can hear the Voice and have an affection in your heart for God your decisions will be fulfilling, decisive, and empowering.
Last year Jerusalem was doing the college search thing. The pressure was on. We prayed together about what College God wanted her to attend. I remember the Saturday, as I dropped her off to take her SAT, we sat in the car and asked God to help show us what college she should go to. The decision to pray and ask was one she learned the hard way in 8th grade. (That's another story.) As a senior, Jeru was leaning toward the principle that God knew best, she just wanted to know God's will and see if it made sense to her.
As you can gather by now, I am somewhat mystical, I look for traces of the Voice everywhere. I dropped her off and took off to Marin Headlands to do my hiking. I prayed again as I hiked up to Coyote Ridge and Summit. A retired gentleman sat on the rock eating an apple.
"Beautiful view today," I said.
"Yes, it is."
"It's my first time up this trail. I didn't realize this view was here. Do you get up here often."
"Since I have retired, I have come up here every Saturday."
"What did you retire from?"
"High School Principal here in Marin."
"Well as fate would have it, you're just the guy I needed to run into."
I told him about Jeru and he listened intently. I shared the process we were in and how daunting the choices were for us. He smiled told me he understood having put three of his own kids through college. He told me to get the book Colleges That Change Lives. As he talked I sensed that somehow this was part of the answer to our prayer. (to be sure, I have no assumption that this book is the best book for making a college choice; it's just that God was using this book to steer Jerusalem where he wanted her).
I ordered it that night. It arrived Monday. Jeru grabbed it before I could say anything to her about it. She read chapter 1 then jumped to the last chapter. Tuesday she walked into my office and said, "There is only one college in CA in this book and I had already written it down on my whiteboard as my top school, St. Mary's." A couple months later she had her acceptance letter and lots of scholarships. She decided on St. Mary's.
A month or so later she started second guessing if she had made the right decision. Early one morning I woke up to a string of texts. I've included them here in all their raw, unedited, typo-glory.
The text could use some polishing and correction, but this is just what came out of my heart that day. I really was more concerned with how she made decisions than what decision she made. The two factors that play largely into our decision making core, that place that just reacts with choices without ever thinking it through: (1) the gods or God we worship, by default we choose whatever placates the gods or God we worship. (2) the voices or Voice we listen to. For Jeru, I pointed out how the Voice had directed us with "The book, the whiteboard, and the scholarships." And then I brought her back to how she "Postured herself in worship to God."
Then came the temptation to doubt and second-guess.
Notice where Jeru shifted? In talking to a friend who had made a decision to save money by going to City College for a couple years Jeru feared she had missed something. Her friend's idea seems very prudent and financially responsible. And given how so many students get deep into student loan debt I applaud her friend. But there was a subtle myth at work in her decision, she believed if she had control of her finances then she would really be free. And without consulting God, she was really at the mercy of whatever she was worshipping in her life at the time.
I loved Jeru's honesty with "everything is fluff good right now... so I made another problem for myself..." Ha! This is a natural reaction. This is Israel standing outside the Promise Land, readying to enter but creating a problem for themselves, and having to be jettisoned back into the Wilderness for 40 more years. Have you noticed in both Deuteronomy readings, where Jesus quotes, Moses is constantly reminding Israel of God's Promise, "bringing you to houses you have not built, vineyards you have not planted... a land flowing with milk and honey"? Jesus stands in the tension of the present wilderness and the future promise and refuses to bow and make the promise a god, he trusts in the promise as a good gift from God, but refuses to make it his god.
Here is the American myth at work in our decision-making processes: If only I had control of _____________, then I would be free. The Truth is the freedom (that's what Jesus will say later in his ministry). And the Truth abides in you. Being king of the mountain will never make you free, I played that game many times as a kid and trust me, it doesn't last.
Four Gestures (I think this sounds better)
Read Devotional. What stuck out to you in the reading?
Prayer. Pray a transformational prayer over what you wish you have control of confessing to God that you just want him to control your life.
Conversation. Have a conversation with Cleopas about if only I had control of_____________ then I would be free. Or what do has God shown you that you second guess when talking with others who worship other gods?
Reflection. Reflect on if only I had control of _______________ then I would be free. What is the _____? What are you most tempted to control in your life in order to have freedom?