Cheated of Cheesecake?

Today was one of those good days when my employer fed me lunch on their dime. A guest speaker, Joshua Neufeld, the artist behind such graphic creations as The Influencing Machine: Brooke Gladstone on the Media or A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge (Pantheon Graphic Library), a graphic account of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, had given a lecture. We gave him a luncheon (and presumably a wad of money).

As I sat down to the table, I found the usual fare, including glasses of water and tea. We’re swanky at JCCC! But then I saw the precise slice of dessert pictured here lurking just past my super-healthy grilled chicken salad. Not only were they tempting me with cheesecake, but they’d drizzled caramel or somesuch all over it. I knew that, given my October Resolve to control my eating, I could not indulge in this delicacy. It would be colossally hard!

That’s what I told Penny when I got home. “It was hard.” Then I thought about it for a moment and realized that not eating that marvelous confection really had not been that hard. I looked at it. I saw Beth to my left eat about half of hers. Maureen to my right ate most if not all of hers. Mine never moved.

That’s when I found myself reminded that resisting temptation is not the incredibly difficult thing that we make it out to be. Temptation came my way not by the hand of Satan but my the hand of JCCC Food Service. The desire for it might have been nudged forward by Satan, but for me to truly be tempted, to find it hard, I would have to turn that desire over in my mind.

James 1:13-15 describes the process by which temptation develops. It starts with an idea, but it only moves from desire to sin to death when I allow myself to be “drawn away and enticed by [my] own evil desire.” It’s not the cheesecake’s desire. It’s not Satan’s desire. It wasn’t the desire of Beth or Maureen. It was mine. All I had to do to win the moment was not to feed–either literally or figuratively–that desire.

Another Reason to Run

Tony Reinke points us toward a great question: Are you willing to run? This question is not a call to physical exercise. Instead, it is a call to run from temptation–especially sexual temptation.

Some of life’s most important decisions are not complex. Yes, there are layers of affections to address and complex motives to uncover sometimes, but in the moment of temptation (especially sexual temptation) we must be willing to simply run.

In the animal world, we talk of the “fight or flight” response. Psychologists have broadened the possibilities to include freezing and fawning. In the case of temptation, the third “F” should probably be Fold–as in give up and give in to the temptation, whether it be sexual, substance-based, or something else.

As someone who has thought he was strong enough to fight certain temptations in the past only to find himself folding, I have to argue here for flight, for running.

Wild Animal Encounter–Mark 1:13

and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him. –Mark 1:13

The idea of Jesus hanging out in the wilderness for forty days evokes images for anybody who has spent time in Sunday School. Painters love to create images of a rather sad and pensive Jesus kneeling on the barren ground, usually in the vicinity of a large stone, presumably the one that Satan offered to turn into bread. Another popular image is Jesus standing with Satan atop a mountain surveying the kingdoms of the world. For the third temptation, of course, Satan pulled Jesus out of the wilderness and to the “pinnacle of the temple.” None of that gets presented in Mark’s fast-paced account. Instead we simply learn that there was temptation by Satan at some point over that forty-day span.

What I’d like to focus on today is not the temptation but the wild animals. Why does Mark mention the presence of the wild animals? Mentioning the presence of the tempter and the ministering angels makes a great deal of sense, as those are not what you experience daily. But wild animals? My guess is that there wasn’t much else to mention.

Having recently concluded deer season, I spent a good bit of time out in my own private wilderness. Let me just say that passing two hours sitting in wait for the approach of a  whitetail seems like forty days. In the process of waiting, you look around. You pray, since that seems like a good time for the activity. But the prayer seems to lose focus for me. I’ll stay on task for a couple of minutes and then I’m thinking, literally, of a squirrel.

When you’re in the wilderness, there’s not much else to focus on than the wild animals. You can worry about the predators or you can be startled by the small game. Since Jesus did not have a deer rifle, I’m fairly sure that he didn’t take any whitetails during his forty days.

Being tempted does not require forty days. I can be thoroughly tempted on a range of matters inside of forty minutes. Surely Jesus could have gotten through his three big temptations in a day, but instead he passed forty days in the wilderness hanging out with whatever birds and rodents populate the Judean desert.

Why? Why would the greatest teacher ever to walk the earth squander nearly six weeks of his three-year ministry–that’s about 4% if you do the math–hanging out with Thumper and Bambi? The answer to that question is simple but not completely satisfying to the inquiring mind.

The Spirit sent Jesus into the wilderness immediately after his baptism. In obedience Jesus went. Although we’re not told, it’s reasonable to presume that in obedience Jesus stayed for those forty days. To what end? That’s something God would know and didn’t feel compelled to tell us.

If you want, head out for your own forty days in the woods and see if God provides you with an answer.


Tempted in Every Way (Hebrews 4:15)

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. (Hebrews 4:15)

This morning, I had every intention of keeping my eye on the prize, on keeping God at the center of every waking thought. I did pretty well as I got out of bed and started my day. Then, as I drove my first load of water back home, I hit a pothole. The jarring of the hole put a two-foot crack in my water tank, which proceeded to dump 400 gallons of water along the marvelous roads of Lafayette County, Missouri. God had to take a back seat to my sudden water crisis.

As I drove to Independence to buy a new tank and then drove back, trying to salvage enough time so that I could haul a load before I had to take Tom to his voice lesson. Apparently, an unannounced “Wide Load” and slow vehicle parade had been scheduled for this morning on I-70. My frustration grew and God was shoved to the trunk.

Perhaps you’re thinking that being tempted to neglect God for a few hours is hardly a big deal. I wasn’t tempted to go on a homicidal rampage, shoot up with heroin, or abandon my family. But as I think it over, if I can succumb to the temptation to thrust God out of my attention, I can probably be successfully tempted in any direction.

It’s good to know that Jesus didn’t waltz through life, living an unreal life in which the temptations weren’t genuine. He dealt with annoying people and the first century equivalent of huge trucks driving far too slow on the Interstate. He dealt with them and still did not sin. That would be depressing if I had to live up to his standard. Happily, he did it for me.

Gone Camping? (Hebrews 2:18)

Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2:18)

If you are reading this, then the Day of Judgment did not come on Saturday, as predicted by Harold Camping. Not being familiar with Camping’s exact claims, I’m not sure he would assert that the Internet would be wiped out by now, but I’m pretty sure that if Judgment Day has come, you won’t be saying, “Hey, I wonder what that Browning guy has to say about Hebrews today!”

As we attempt to live as peculiar people, separate from the world yet dwelling in the midst of the world, it is very tempting to say, “Hey Lord, how about coming back right now?” The Christian life has wonderful rewards, but, lived properly, it pretty well guarantees frustrations and suffering. Why do I have to live through several more decades of toenail fungus and Geico ads? Why can’t the whole thing just end now? I suppose that’s the sort of mindset that allows a believer to commit suicide. Dwelling on and longing for the return of Christ is a sort of cultural suicide wish.

But Christ did not call us to wish it all to be over. He didn’t call us to forfeit whatever remains of the game. His return has been promised, but it has not been promised in our lifetimes, regardless of what various “experts” like Camping suggest. Our call is to soldier on, to suffer as necessary through the remainder of our lives.

Happily, the writer of Hebrews assures us, we need not suffer alone. Jesus, having faced temptation, having endured suffering, can help us through it. He did not provide cryptographic clues to pinpoint the end of the suffering, but he did prescribe the life and values that can help us ride out the storm.