Three Temptations of Jesus - Relevancy, Spectacular, Powerful

Henri Nouwen writes in his book In the Name of Jesus there are three temptations Jesus faces in the desert with Satan. He frames them as:

  • Relevancy - turning stones into bread
  • Spectacular - leaping off the temple
  • Powerful - bowing to satan

Why is relevancy a temptation? "I am deeply convinced that the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in the world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self."

He goes on to say, "The great message that we have to carry, as ministers of God's Word and followers of Jesus, is that God loves us not because of what we do or accomplish, but because God has created and redeemed us in love and has chosen to proclaim that love as the true source of all human life."

Finally he says, "The leaders of the future will be those who dare to claim their irrelevance in the contemporary world as divine vocation that allows them to enter into a deep solidarity with the anguish underlying all the glitter of success, and to bring the life of Jesus there." 

 Photo by  Jordan Whitfield  on  Unsplash

As I read it, Nouwen is saying that more and more people are feeling irrelevant. People feel irrelevant as they watch automation take their manufacturing job. People feel undervalued at a their job that gives little to no benefits. People feel more replaceable than ever as the world changes faster and faster. The rise of the irrelevant is well underway and there is no place in the world that cares about irrelevance because we assess people's worth on how relevant they are. 

The Church and Church leaders are to stand with the growing number of people for whom irrelevancy is the norm. Relevant pastors will continue to peddle the wares of the culture that values relevancy. Success in the Church is not being more relevant. Success looks like being in solidarity with the irrelevant of the world. 

You know, like Jesus did. 

May we be like Jesus who resisted the temptation of to be relevant. May we be like Jesus who defined success by our willingness to follow.

Combating the Societal Disease of Our Time

Norman Lear is credited with saying "Short-term thinking is the societal disease of our time." The corporate world has been sick with this disease for a long time and it is clear the disease has spread to other bodies in life: politics, entertainment and even the church. Perhaps you have seen the ramifications of being sick with this disease? We are feverishly addicted to the quarterly reports. We check the and and down of the sock market daily. We look to medication that can claims to change our lives thirty days. Content longer than three minutes is too long

We break up writing so to order lower the pressure of committing to read an entire paragraph. 

 Photo by  William Iven  on  Unsplash

Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

Organizations infected with short-termism infect the members of that organization. Short-termism then spreads and the epidemic is upon us. We know the cure to break the fever, but ain't nobody have time for that.

Rather than prescribing new practices such as breathing or meditation, rather I offer up something that was recently taught to me. I cannot recall where it came from nor the more articulate way it is described, but it is the idea that we are only 10 people away from Jesus. 

The idea is that your life is really about 200 years rather than just the 70ish we think of. How do you get to impact 200 years?  Simply add three numbers.

  • The age of oldest person who knew you were born +
  • The number of years you live +
  • The death age of the youngest person who knew you when you die

This simple equation of impact means that the life impact of Jesus is not 2000 years away but only ten people away.

Short termism can be addressed by shifting how we think about the world. The monthly, quarterly or even annual reports are too short term. The Spirit of God has a different scale. Our little short term reports would be laughable if they were not so damaging to our bodies. 

Being Led by An "Earless" Would-Be Bishop

Within the opening pages of Andrea Sterk's book Renouncing the World Yet Leading the Church: The Monk-Bishop of Late Antiquity, lies a short story of a monk named Ammonius. Ammonius was well revered and beloved even as a monk living by himself. He was so appreciated that they wanted to make him bishop. Moving from the harsh desert to the accommodations of a bishop must have been a nice upgrade.

A group of men go to Ammonius to tell him the great news of his promotion. 

 Photo by  David Rangel  on  Unsplash

Photo by David Rangel on Unsplash

Ammonius hears the news and polity rejects the invitation to the office of bishop. The group is a bit flummoxed, I mean who would not want to be bishop? They press upon him and it becomes clear that they are going to take him by force to the consecration services. With a quick thought, Ammonius grabs pruning shears and cuts off his left ear.

The men stood in shock looking at a severed ear on the ground and their would be bishop bleeding from his head. Ammonius reminds them that dismemberment disqualifies one to the office of bishop. Ammonius closes the door to his hut and the men leave. 

It is not necessary to point out, but can we just pause to admire how much of a boss Ammonius is? There is a deep beauty in clarity of call and purpose, in divesting of power, to sacrifice for a greater Truth. Lord may we all have such courage, imagination and wisdom.

The church has a deep theology of sacrifice, but contemporary practice is to expect sacrifice from others. Ammonius, like Jesus, remind us that the call is not to sacrifice others but to self-sacrifice. 

I want to be a part of a church that would cut off her own ear for the sake of refusing the temptations of power and prestige. 

Worship And Las Vegas: More Alike Than We Think

 Photo by  Bradley Wentzel  on  Unsplash

It has been said what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. And this has come to be more true than just keeping the “wild” that happened from being expressed in the “civilized.” The truth is that despite all the parties, concerts and mystic around the desert town, Vegas is just not that wild.

Of course most people who go to Vegas do not have the experience that we see in movies or have in our imaginations. Few people wake up with a tiger in their hotel room or win it big at the high rollers table. Still with all the promiscuity and sense of “all is allowed,” Vegas is not that wild because Vegas is an escape.

Vegas is the iconic escape location. Like all forms of escape, Vegas does give you access to the source that can transform your life, it only gives you an escape from your current life for a bit before you have to return to it. Escapism is among the most common ways to live our lives. It is seen when we are living for the weekend. The weekend is the “everymans” Vegas. We party hard on Friday and Saturday, recover on Sunday and then catch a “case of the Mondays” to start the next week. We do things on the weekend that we would/could not do in the week and we are “recharged” by these customs. We sleep in. We party. We drink and rest.

Escapism is also seen in the way we worship on Sunday mornings. We use language to talk about going to worship so we “can recharge” or “fill up” for the week. We talk about “re-connecting” with God on Sunday or, as one person said to me once, we get our “God fix” for the week. Worship is for many of us a form of escape – it gives us respite but we do not allow it to transform our lives. In this respect, Vegas and worship accomplish the same effects with different means.

The call is not to avoid the escapes in our lives. It is good to escape every now and again. The problem is when we cling to escapes we cannot grab a hold of the transformative. This is why worship calls us to “let go” and “open our hands” to “receive” and “give thanks.” Worship can be treated as an escape. It can also be the means to transformation. If worship is not leading us toward change and transformation and only feeding and nurturing, then worship may be an escape.

Remember “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” is more than a slogan. It is the sirens song of escapism. If “what happens in worship stays in worship”, then worship is a less flashy manifestation of Vegas.