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What do we dream about? “If I win the lottery I’d…” or “If I had a million dollars I’d…” or “If I was as famous as Kim Kardashian I’d…”
We idol-ize wealth and riches, fame and notoriety, and power and control. It’s part of the human condition. And social media and reality television feed these monsters. A little more wealth. A little more notoriety or fame. A little more control. Do you find yourself wishing for these?
In the Alpha course we just launched [check it out here] actor and comedian Jim Carrey is quoted saying: “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.” According to someone who’s achieved riches and fame…they’re not the answer.
We all have to wrestle with this. We’re all looking for answers to our deepest longings. Many people think riches and fame would be wonderful solutions. Maybe you do too? Now, some of you may say “Well, I don’t need a million dollars.” But you might fixate on those season tickets or that car or that _______. Or maybe you fixate on the desire to be recognized: to have fame and notoriety. Or maybe it’s the desire to control things. And as Jim Carrey points out: these just delude us into thinking more money, or fame, or power will fulfill us. Yet, wouldn’t you agree with me that it’s the abuse of these three things that have ruined people’s lives and ruined societies?
Every major human problem, I believe, can be traced back to the abuse of, or improper relationiship with, one of these three: money, sex or power.
While there are the obvious violators of money, sex and power; like Bernie Madoff or Hugh Heffner or Adolf Hitler; I think there are much more subtle ways those three destructive poisons get into our lives that we have to pay close attention to. Any of us can say “Well at least I’m not as bad as Adolf Hitler.” But evil is evil. We should reject it in ourselves regardless of how little there is. Because it’s that small amount we’re un-willing to reject that, if allowed to grow, can turn us into a Madoff or Heffner or Hitler…at least to the people in our own immediate lives.
Our culture’s literature and films are ripe with stories of a character being corrupted by money or sex or power. Like the new The Black Panther film [which I won’t give away] or The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien when Boromir believes that if he wielded the ring of power he’d use it for the good of his people. Yet in that same instant he immediately becomes resentful and suspicious of those he cares about. Our arts reflect the truth that power can corrupt people in an instant. What it elucidates is this: Do we want to wield power through our own control, or do we desire to do “only what we see the Father doing”, to quote Jesus in John 5:19-20.
Evil in our world at its most basic level is a corruption of the human desire for money, sex [the desire to be desired], or power [the desire to control things].
The Scritpures tell us that God-the-Holy-Spirit drove Jesus into the wildnerness for forty days for the purpose of being tempted. Why? To confront these human temptations head-on and defeat them. What does Satan tempt Jesus with? Money. “Sex.” And power.
“Turn these stones into bread.” Money. Resources. Unlimited wealth. Instant riches. Jesus rejects that temptation.
“Throw yourself down off the Temple. God will save you.” “Sex.” This needs a little unpacking to understand what I mean. What’s the temptation for Jesus here? The moment Jesus would have throw Himself off the Temple, the most God-centered and public place possible, what would everyone do? “Oh! Look! It’s the Messiah! The Son of God!” Jesus would have instant fame. It would’ve been the first century equivalent of everyone taking out their smartphones and livestreaming Jesus proving He’s Messiah. It’s a form of lust: the desire to be desired. Not truly loved, just desired. Fame. It’s part of an inordinate “sexual” desire to desired to be desired without being truly loved. So Jesus rejects the lust. Jesus rejects the desire to be desired.
“I will give you the kingdoms of the world if you worship me.” Power. Jesus finishes His confrontation with Satan by rejecting unholy power saying “Away with you Satan! For it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.'”
If anyone in human history was smart enough…or strong enough…or wise enough…or loving enough to rule the world…it was Jesus. Satan offers Him all the kingdoms of the world [whether or not the kingdoms of the world were actually Satan’s to give is another sermon]. And if anyone in human history has the “resume” to actually rule the world…it is Jesus…and only Jesus. Yet even Jesus says, “Away with you Satan! For it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.'”
This is at the heart of what it means to reject evil. Not just evil out in the world, but the evil in ourselves. Rejecting evil is our willingness to say with Jesus…
“Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise.” [John 5:19-20] Are you willing to live with no agenda of your own and only what God leads you to do? If not, why? Who’s in control?
Here’s a shorter version of the same thing, “Not my will, but yours be done.” [Luke 22:42]
I want to suggest that any time you feel the need to control something or someone, you have said “Yes” to Satan’s invitation to possess the kingdoms of the world. You may as well have. Because when you function in freedom you don’t need to control a thing. And if you’re aligning yourself with your Father’s will, the outcome won’t matter because God will accomplish His outcome if you cooperate with Him.
Any time you desire to direct attention or notoriety or fame to yourself what you’re really saying is you are the one who wants to be worshipped. You desire to be desired. Not truly loved. Just lusted after. And Jesus response is “Away with you Satan! For it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.'”
Any time you think there is a magical fix that money or things can make you happy you’ve said “Yes” to Satan’s invitation to turn stones into bread. We have to call it what it is.
Please hear me. I simply say all this as a loving warning. The issues of money and desire and power are things we all wrestle with. Sometimes I struggle to trust God to provide. Sometimes I struggle to trust God and not be in control of a situation. Sometimes I struggle to trust God when I’m being slandered because I want my notoriety intact. And I just have to let go of it…and you do to.
Jesus was driven into the wilderness to confront these things head-on in order to show that it can be done. And to do it on our behalf. And to defeat them. Claim that victory for yourself.
I encourage you during this Christian season of Lent to pray what’s called the Litany of Penitence [click here to link to it & scroll down to page 267], it’s in the Book of Common Prayer on page 267, as a way to begin or end your day. It will help you examine how you’re doing with temptation and with money, sex and power. And will help you let you go of them. Because you have a choice. You can say “Yes” to God and let God be in charge. And you’ll know freedom unlike you’ve ever known. But God forbid you want to be in charge. Because what your saying then is “Yes” to Satan.
Beloved, choose freedom! Choose freedom! Every time, choose freedom!
Remind yourself daily to choose freedom. Some days you’ll blow it. Some days you’ll clamp down in your desire for control and treat people badly. Just immediately stop and say you’re sorry to them, and to God, and wake up the next day and ask God to be in control. Some days you may need to pray “God, all I can do is hold onto you because I’m so worried about money or my reputation or this thing falling apart if I don’t control it.” That’s OK. Then pray it. Cling to God. Don’t cling to money. Don’t cling to sex. Don’t Cling to power. Choose freedom.
Choose freedom! Choose freedom! Every time choose freedom!