Wildly Tempting: How to win the war of temptation

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In his wilderness temptations, Jesus said no to each one. But how did he choose not to say yes to temptation? How did Jesus win that battle?

Of course it’s disturbing to imagine Jesus falling to the temptations of Satan. But it helps us imagine what was at stake. In these scenes in the wilderness we see Satan tempting Jesus to choose between his humanity and his divinity.

In tempting Jesus to make stones from bread, Satan is telling a famished Jesus he doesn’t have to experience the very real pain of his physical needs. As Jesus has discovered, it’s humbling and terrifying to live in a human body which needs to be fed day after day. It would be easier to have a super power which ensured you never had to ask God to provide.

It brings to mind the way the people of Israel were called to daily gather only the manna they needed for that day. And it makes me wonder if Jesus thought back to this moment when he prayed the Lord’s Prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread.”

As Jesus discovered, it’s humbling & terrifying to live in a body which needs daily feeding. Click To Tweet

How are we tempted to set aside the human pain of daily physical reliance?

In tempting Jesus with the authority and glory of the kingdoms of the world, Satan is telling a mission-oriented Jesus that he doesn’t have to experience the very real pain of his task. Jesus is focused on reaching the world for the Father–a pretty humbling endeavor.

Having limited himself to exist in one body, he’s aware that he has only one mouth to speak, only one pair of legs to take him on this mission. Satan knew that directly asking Jesus to set aside the mission would be too obvious.

So instead he tempts Jesus to have a mass-marketing approach. He doesn’t show Jesus thousands of faces but tempts him with authority, kingdoms. Instead of seeing the mission as a call to love, heart by heart, Satan is tempting him to create a brand. Instead of seeing his mission as serving the multitudes, Satan tempts Jesus to be served.

Instead of seeing his mission as serving the multitudes, Satan tempts Jesus to be served. Click To Tweet

How are we tempted to set aside the human pain of daily reliance in our mission?

In tempting Jesus to leap from the temple, Satan is telling a human Jesus that he doesn’t have to experience the pain of being led by the Father. It’s excruciating to limit himself to rely on the Father, to not always know the future.

Forcing the Father’s hand to behave in his way, in his time, would have set aside Jesus’ need to keep seeking, keep asking, keep following. But in doing so, he would have made a pet, a Father who performed for him.

How are we tempted to set aside the human pain of daily guidance from the Father?

If Jesus had said yes to making bread, it would have been a last supper of a different kind, a final, solitary feast that ended his kingdom. If he had said yes to worshiping Satan, he may have gained authority and glory but would have become like every other human ruler, lording it over the masses for his own glorification.

If he had said yes to leaping off the temple, it may have simply ended in an inglorious splat. But even if the Father sent angels to save him, the Son would have learned he could manipulate the Lord of the Universe.

In all of these temptations, Satan is showing Jesus his human limitation. He tells Jesus “Look how small and weak and limited and stupid you are!” In doing so, Satan tempts Jesus to find shame in his humanness. And from that shame, he tempts Jesus to set aside humanness and flee to the comfort of Divinity.

He tempts Jesus to quickly set aside the pain of human limitation and return to the power of being only God. He tries to tell Jesus that Human and God cannot co-exist. What hope for us would there have been if he had found shame in the limitations of humanity?

But He chose to wrestle in that place where human and God come together in Him. This makes his death meaningful. But in it he also discovers a way that human and God can come together in us.

In every way that we are human, Satan tempts us to find shame.

In every limitation, every lack of understanding, every physical need he tells us “Look how small and weak and limited and stupid you are!” And from that shame, he tempts us, as he tempted Adam and Eve—to find some way we can be like God. He tempts us with a quick fix to remove the pain of our human limitation.

But when we remember that there is no shame in our humanness, that God himself became it to embrace it, we can also embrace our humanness. And trust that the living Lord, who found some way to live in the pain of humanness will show us, in our own humanness, how to follow the Father.

There is no shame in our humanness—God himself became it to embrace it. Click To Tweet

Questions for Reflection

  • How are we daily confronted with our human limitation?
  • How are we tempted to find shame in it?
  • How do we respond out of that shame, to turn to anything that will make us feel strong?
  • How, instead, could it be an invitation to turn to God?

A Confession

We confess all the ways we’re ashamed of how you have made us.
We confess that we feel weak when our bodies get tired and sick.
We confess that we feel inadequate when we can’t control our fate.
We confess that we feel small when we can’t reach our goals.
We’re sorry for every way we’re ashamed of how you’ve made us.
We’re sorry for every way we try to be gods.
We’re sorry for every way we turn from you.
We confess we need you.
Teach us to recognize our need for you in every moment.
And give us the courage to turn to you instead of our own efforts.
When we do, receive us and forgive us.
Thank you for reaching out to us by entering the human race.
Thank you for showing us how to live in reliance on you.
Receive us back to yourself.
Let us live in harmony with you again. Be our God & we will be your people.

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17 responses to “When They Will Not Come

  1. David,
    I don’t think there is a problem with this subject being “well worn”. I have been struggling through a similar question. I have been watching the church trying desperately to get people into their (way of) life rather than asking how do we get into their (the unchurched) lives.
    The issue I am facing at the moment is developing the initial support group. We had a young couple that we were working with but they are moving away for continuing education.
    I look forward to reading these posts.

  2. David

    I agree with the previous comment, I don’t think the topic is “well worn.”

    I work with an association of Baptist churches and I am constantly amazed and troubled that no one in our existing churches seem to notice that “they are not coming.” Moreover, since there are still a few who are “coming” from other churches then we keep doing the same old “attractional” crap and mission never becomes our rhythm.

    I look forward to future posts on this important theme.

  3. David,

    I’ve recently found your blog, and it has quickly become one of my favorites. This article, in particular, has hit home with me. I am one of those members that has actually been running away from the traditional church-moving from one to another, only to do the same thing over again. Recently, I have found a church home that has a focus on being Missional. And while this concept (Missional)is somewhat new to my vocabulary and upbringing in traditional Southern Baptist style, it has renewed my faith in a powerful way. There is joy unspeakable in the focus on becoming relational. We have formed bonds that reach far beyond the church walls. I now have an enlarged vision of the community around me. I see much more than I ever did before, and I am thankful that by God’s grace, He still leads those who are willing to follow.

    Thank you for this stimulating article. I definitely look forward to more.


  4. DF,
    I have one question for you. This is not a challenge, but it is an honest question trying to understand.

    I went to Life on the Vine’s website and noticed something. The church talks about incorporating ancient practices, but then the church only participates in the Lord’s Supper once a month… even though the ancient church did it every time they met together (which was pretty much everyday). I don’t even understand why my church only does it once a month and it is a battle I have continually “fought” so I was wondering why your church, which seeks to embrace ancient traditions, only does it once a month also.

    Thanks for taking this question in the spirit in which it was asked.

  5. Hi, first let me say that as a church planter, I have seen this same problem.

    FYI, I came to your site because of our shared interest in being a Friend of Missional. I am glad to make your acquaintance and visit your blog. God bless!

  6. As some one about to enter seminary, this article strikes home. I have spent the last 13-14 years doing youth ministry for a large para-church organization and for two “mega” churches. In the process I have learned one important thing… small community is the mode of life-change not big entertainment “Christian Style”.

    I look forward to planting/pastoring a small community some day that lives out the Acts 2 vision. Thanks for your post and I look forward to reading more.

  7. modern ancient …
    just to let you know … (and I guess we need to change some things on the website) … we meet once a month for an hour long celebration around the Table (a truly transformational time). This happens first Sunday … then we go into service of the Word. Some might disagree with me, but this represents a truly pre-post Constantianian communal practice. On the other three Sundays of the month … we enter into the Table in our “regular” 10:15 a.m. service. We find in the First Sunday Service we can accomplish true Eucharist community in ways we can’t in the other service. One way feeds into the others. yet we can’t do First Sunday every Sunday for reasons too long to detail. There’s a history behind how this all happened…Maybe over a cup of coffee someday?..
    So we have Lord’s Table every Sunday! Just not in same way. Blessings … thanks for the clarifying question.

  8. This seems to be the major issue outside of church today. There are so many reasons not to come.

    And within churches we find that what we have to offer isn’t what they are looking for. There are plenty of things to be committed to outside: church can’t compete with the communities of baseball, soccer and sports or the wonder of celebrating yourself. Why do we need to go to church? It seems that most obvious answer is if it fits into either of those plans… but then who is being worshiped?

    Our church has truly become the place that people don’t have to come to (I even tell my family they don’t have to come if they don’t feel called). Yet in this place people who want to be there are truly seeking answers each Sunday.

    This past Sunday I didn’t preach. I simply asked the question, “what does God want to happen next in your life?” We had an amazing discussion. People wandered in late and stayed about an hour late. The least churched of the group had the most to say. The one or two “churched people” were silent or said statements that sounded much like they’ve always said and done nothing about. It was fun to watch the “churched” be the most uncomfortable with such a huge God shaped question. And now we will see what God will make happen now.

    I fear for the people who don’t want to ponder this question. They seem so closed off to the work of the Spirit. I fear for the people who like to fit people into categories (myself included) because we see so afraid to let God make “new creations” in our church. I fear for the new believers who may soon realize that boredom is the norm.

    My determination is to do all I can to let the Holy Spirit work and not get into the game of timetables and discipleship programs. I also don’t want to limit the kinds of places and the manners in which God can work… They don’t need to come to my church. I pray that “When they will not come” that God will work anyway.

  9. David,
    Thanks for the response. I agree that an actual meal more accurately represents pre-Constantinian Christianity. We see evidence of people having assignments of what to bring for others to eat. Almost like communion was a potluck culminating in the breaking of bread and the drinking of wine (eucharist). I think it’s awesome that you guys emulate that practice. I also think it’s great that there is the participation every Sunday with communion. I just might take you up on that cup of coffee. You are outside Chicago right? One of my wife’s best friends manages the Starbucks that does the highest volume in the city (I think it’s on Michigan Ave.). Next time I’m up there, I might drop you a line as I’d love to pick your brain sometime.

  10. I’m a newcomer to the blog, but love the way you weave your ideas together. It’s all the things I think but can’t quite get into eloquent words. I’d like to add that when they don’t come, perhaps being missional means it’s time for us to go to them–like JC did. I’ve been experimenting with this on my internship in Lynnwood, WA and seen it fly and crash as we’re working from a traditional church with a group of people who’ve caught the missional vision of what it means to share, live and encounter faith outside the walls of the church in everyday life. They’ve started small groups working with an in (internal group), up (worship of some kind) and out (service) dynamic as their basis. Appreciate your perspective and can’t wait to read more.

  11. This is a good post and an important topic David. Thank you. A couple of thoughts:
    (i) ‘… and we’re competing for customers.’ I read this as irony. I read it as comment made in heartbreak and dismay. I read it as statement of fact. I see all three as appropriate. And to add to the craziness of competitiveness between churches – not only do we compete for customers, we also commodify them – for when our churches become an end in themselves, then the church, in a sense, becomes its own customer, and the attendees what we ‘feed the machine’ with. The scarcity of these ‘commodities’ in post-Christendom leads to bidding wars. This bidding through an attractional model of church risks appealing to base selfish needs that have been justified, sanitized, glorified and nurtured as right ways to live by our narcissistic, consumerist culture – and so the risk of creating a narcissistic consumerist spirituality. A spirituality based upon the aspirations and approval of the world will be susceptible to the cares of the world – a seed planted amongst thistles. The phrase I have been using of late is to describe this is faux-Christendom, or faux-Christianity. Having the appearance, but not the substance. At what point a group or culture passes from Christendom or post-Christendom into faux-Christendom I am not certain – but diligence and examine is called for, and I am convinced that ‘competing for customers’ risks creating a culture of faux-Christendom with its attendant shallow yet seemingly right spirituality.

    (ii) ‘Church in post-Christendom therefore is nothing less than a chosen way of life.’ Indeed, and in an era of concurrent post-Christendom and faux-Christendom – this chosen way of life becomes a prophetic witness not only to the world – but to the faux-Christianity that is in and of the world.

    (iii) Regarding ‘…rethink the orientation of just about everything we do in church’: Simon Chan’s ‘Liturgical Theology’ at page 38: ‘Evangelicalism has a strong ontology of the person but not an ontology of the church. Without an ontology of the church, the relationship between Spirit and church cannot be understood ontologically either. The real work of the Spirit is assumed to occur only in the individual and not in the church. As a result, the transformation of individuals will have only marginal impact on the whole communal life.’

  12. yo… everyone …thanks for all the great stuff … I’m in Canada for the week. Internet is intermittant at best. So commnets are few, And sorry to my Canadian friends I promised to visit on this trip… it’s a quick visit in haste amd we couldn’t make any side trips … but of course I’ll be to Canada a few more times in next six months.

  13. David, really looking forward to following your reflections on this. Interestingly I was having coffee the other day with a friend, and the topic was brought up about trying to get folks to come to his faith community. As I listened it seemed like nothing more than a fisherman in a boat trying to catch fish, trying to get them aboard using an attractive selection of lures. I threw Moses into the conversation, sending out scouts. As churches, how much do we really know about the communities that surround…demographics, issues, needs, economics, poverty…
    Anyways, David I’m looking forward to reading your series.

  14. David,

    Just wanted to say I’m reading your book right now. Thanks for writing it.
    I am also digging through your bolg and what you have to say really resonates.


  15. I love this article, I am from the american holiness movement where we changed the great comission from “go and tell” to “come and see” (not intentionaly mind you but in practice). God forgive us. I long for the days when the term “outreach” is no longer used and evangelsim in not the title of a program. How amazing would it be if rather than out reach we simply lived out our faith. I’m an idealist I know but what if . . . . thanks for the article my church board is getting a copy. It’s good for them to hear it from somone besides me.

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