The Eclipse of Temptation

“When tempted, no one should say ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers.”
– James 1:13-16

I’m sure I never realized as clearly as I do <in prison> what the Bible and Luther mean by “temptation.”  Quite suddenly, and for no apparent physical or psychological reason, the peace and composure that were supporting one are jarred… It feels like an invasion from outside, as if by evil powers trying to rob one of what is most vital.
~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

As Bonhoeffer sat in prison, he felt the depth and intensity of sin and temptation more than ever before. Similarly, it was in the wilderness that Christ was approached by the devil. As the distractions of the world are pulled away like a curtain, it reveals a window to the pain and brokenness of the human life. The desert fathers and countless monastics recognized this truth, the nature of the broken world is to draw us into love of many things that cloud how truly alienated we are from God in our sin. We see clearly in James that the desire springs up in my heart and is given space in my actions. Isolation accentuates the loneliness of sin. The season of Lent leads us to this desert land, in which we must grapple with our own sins and decisions.

The isolation of Christ, of Bonhoeffer, and of so many others leads us to a matching truth, however. Humans are meant for fellowship. Whereas we are given a clear vision of our own brokenness in our isolation, we begin to receive a vision of shalom and fulfillment in Christian fellowship. Lent was not just a season of naming temptations, but a season of forgiveness and repentance in preparing for ecclesia. New believers were prepared for baptism and separated brethren were restored from their egregious sins. Lent reminds us that our guilt and sin is not the end of the story, it is a reminder of how much more is offered in forgiveness and reconciliation with God and others.

While Bonhoeffer was brought to the depth of his own sins in prison, he was simultaneously brought to a deep recognition of what life together looks like:
“In a word, live together in the forgiveness of your sins, for without it no human fellowship, least of all a marriage, can survive. Don’t insist on your rights, don’t blame each other, don’t judge or condemn each other, don’t find fault with each other, but accept each other as you are, and forgive each other every day from the bottom of your hearts…”

Our sin is real, but the reality given by forgiveness and reconciliation eclipses that dark night of isolation and sin.
~Ben Gibson

Fearing Nothing

Psalm 23:4
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

To have a rod and a staff comfort me is a confusing thought. The thought of correction and rebuke being the source of strength and encouragement is counter intuitive, but it runs deep with truth. In his discipline God strikes an amazing balance we could not have anticipated. In the midst of the valley of the shadow of death, God makes his presence known, even if it is not that for which we were expecting and hoping. Rather, in our pain and confusion, he makes himself known discreetly.

The shepherd would not beat with his rod and staff, he would silently and gently guide through dangerous areas. The advent season points us toward the same truth. In the midst of a confused and pained world, Christ discreetly breaks in and guides us through our valleys. Ultimately, he leads the world through that valley to new creation. All the while, he did this by creating and leading his church through guidance, not force or violence. We the church still know the deep reality of valleys, but we continually look back to God made flesh, knowing in his word, his rod and staff will be made evident.
Thanks be to God for a savior who, this advent season, removes all fear; who we trust to guide with rod and staff, for he felt the full brunt of them.

~Ben Gibson

Wiser Lake Chapel Advent 2012

Wiser Lake Chapel has a tradition of sharing special Advent Readings during worship on the four Sundays of Advent, with additional Advent-themed scripture to be read at home and reflected upon during the rest of the week.  These daily readings will be available on our Chapel blog at https://wiserlakechapel.wordpress.com and can be emailed to you directly from that site.  This Advent Season, our Sunday readings will be taken from the 40th chapter of the book of the prophet Isaiah, who expresses the dire need of the people for the Lord, and through the prophet, we hear the Lord respond with promises to come.

Prior to each Sunday, there will be daily scripture readings and reflections posted here for your devotional time, in anticipation of the week’s Advent evening service.

The Sunday evening service during Advent will focus on that week’s central verse and theme, along with hymns, prayer, and shared meditation on the meaning of our preparation for the coming of Jesus–His birth and His return.  The final Sunday (December 23) will be the Childrens’ Program, culminating in the sharing of God’s Good Tidings for his people.  Please join us in worship during this special time as individual children of God, as families raising up our children on His word, as an extended Chapel family and as a broader part of the worldwide church.

First Sunday in Advent –December 2
Comfort My People!  Isaiah 40:1-2
“Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God. 2 “Speak kindly to Jerusalem, and tell her that her time of warfare is over, that her punishment is completed. For the Lord has made her pay double for all her sins.”

Second Sunday in Advent–December 9
The Straight Highway  Isaiah 40:3-5
A voice cries out, “In the wilderness clear a way for the Lord; construct in the desert a road for our God. 4 Every valley must be elevated, and every mountain and hill leveled. The rough terrain will become a level plain, the rugged landscape a wide valley. 5 The splendor of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it at the same time. For the Lord has decreed it.”

Third Sunday in Advent–December16
The Breath of God  Isaiah 40:6-8
A voice says, “Cry out!” Another asks, “What should I cry out?” The first voice responds: “All people are like grass, and all their promises are like the flowers in the field. 7 The grass dries up, the flowers wither, when the wind sent by the Lord blows on them. Surely humanity is like grass. 8 The grass dries up, the flowers wither, but the decree of our God is forever reliable.”

Fourth Sunday in Advent–December 23 (Children’s Program)
God’s Good Tidings  Isaiah 40:9
Go up on a high mountain, O herald Zion! Shout out loudly, O herald Jerusalem! Shout, don’t be afraid! Say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your God!”

December 24 and 25
Special readings to be announced

Lead Those With Young

And gently lead those that are with young.
Isaiah 40:11

Parents of young children deserve special compassion from the rest of us.  I remember what it was like to juggle two crying children under the age of three at a grocery store.   One particularly stressful afternoon, I left a full cart in the middle of an aisle, picked up both overly tired screaming boys in my arms and headed to the car, too exasperated and embarrassed to continue shopping.   I was badly in need of a dose of gentleness that day.  When I see a mom in that predicament at the grocery store now, I offer whatever help she may need at the moment, because I remember what it was like.   It is my responsibility to help those who are responsible for children.

Instead of it taking a village to raise a child, it is my experience that a church family is a safer bet.  As we hunted for a church home with our two young boys, it was important to see which church made them feel just as welcome as their parents.  Some worship services discouraged the inclusion of young children in the sanctuary, shuttling them to nursery or classes instead.  I loved what I saw at Wiser Lake Chapel, the little church we eventually joined:  young children were part of the regular worship, learning to sit quietly, sometimes with surrogate grandparents equipped with colored pencils and paper to draw pictures, or to start taking sermon notes to post on the Chapel refrigerator for all to see.  There was a collaborative sense of devotion to the nurturing of each child in the church, through support of their parents, even if that meant being tolerant of the occasional rowdy toddler.

Now that our children are grown, we can be part of the lives of the dozens of younger children who are coming behind them.  I love knowing these children trust me enough to come to my arms when they need comforting, and will sit with me during worship, or draw me a special picture.   I enjoy playing piano for their Sunday School singing time, hearing them sing the same songs my children learned twenty years ago and that I learned over fifty years ago.  We value time we spend with the high schoolers in Sunday School, talking about the often deep and confusing feelings that accompany discovering one’s spiritual beliefs, as well as hosting the youth group in our home.

So in gratitude to the shepherds who lead those who raise children,  the continuity of your gentle nurture is deeply appreciated.