The Secret to Success









On the third day of a seven day fast I started to have day dreams about cake. I had taken a week off between jobs and committed myself not to eat for seven days so I could discern God’s Will for my life. I didn’t get any huge, life changing revelation from the experience, except that I quickly found out the things that controlled me. Day dreaming about cake and Chick Fil A it was hard to focus on God. The season of lent is traditionally a time of fasting for Christians. We give up this or that as a sign of our devotion to God. But in our culture where every appetite is satisfied it is hard for us to understand what Jesus meant by;

“Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

It is hard for us to understand the type of fasting that Jesus has undertaken for this testing, this tempting, with the Devil. This is not just denying himself the earthly pleasures of life. Bread was the basic food of provision for the Ancient Middle East. Jesus isn’t challenging us to ask what things we can live without. He is challenging the basic notion of why we live at all. Since bread is the basic ingredient for survival in this culture Jesus is basically saying to the Devil;

“Man does not live just to survive but he lives to hear every word from the mouth of God.”

After a forty day fast, Jesus is emaciated, he is physically weak, but he is spiritually strong. He is fasting in a wilderness dotted with rocks of every size and shape, so the temptation to turn a rock into bread is all around him. And if he has the power to feed the masses, as we will see latter in the Gospel of Matthew, he certainly has the power to turn rocks into bread. But to use his power to satisfy his own needs and not to follow the Will of his Father would betray the mission for which Jesus was sent. He was sent to point us to a greater truth. Man cannot live without bread, but there is more to life then just surviving, there is a purpose for which we were made that is more than to eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.

Jesus refers back to Deuteronomy chapter 8. Deuteronomy is another telling of the familiar Exodus story of God’s people being freed from Egypt and wandering in the wilderness in their journey to the promised land. Think of the book of Deuteronomy as a deeper reflection on the spiritual implications of the nation of Israel’s time in the wilderness. In this particular passage the writer explains that God provided, Manna, bread from heaven, that would go bad after a day, so that his people would know hunger, so that what controlled them would be revealed, to teach them that though their minds were set on survival in the wilderness, there is more to life than getting what is yours. He does promise them a good land, a land full of milk and honey, but to steward this land they must love the giver of the gift more than the gift itself.

To quote Russel D. Moore, author of Tempted and Tried: Temptation and the triumph of Christ; “God breaks the illusion of temptation by showing us why the appetites were created in the first place and why they’re so powerful. The appetites don’t exist for themselves but for a deeper spiritual reality. The Israelites of old probably thought the manna and the water were simply all about sustaining them through their trek through the desert. That’s partly true. The more spiritually aware among them probably recognized that God was also teaching them something about his character, about life in his reign. And that’s even more accurate. But in the fullness of time the mystery of Christ unveiled what was really at the core of God’s feeding people.” (pg 73)

As Jesus said after he fed the five thousand in the Gospel of John, “ Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, For on him God the Father has set his seal.” Jesus goes on to say, “ I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35)

Jesus reminds us of our dependence upon him every time we celebrate communion in worship. It is a strange fact of the Presbyterian ordination process that you can neither officiate the Lord’s Super or baptize people until you are ordained. You may then ask, “Well Will then how do potential minister’s practice?” The answer is we don’t really. And thus for much of my time preparing for the ordained ministry I always valued the preaching of the word over the sacraments. I was a preacher first and I would do the sacraments if you asked me to.

But officiating my first communion here changed my perspective. The first time I broke the bread before you something broke in me. I saw, as John Calvin believed, that this meal we remember is more than just a symbol, that in a mysterious way we are spiritually fed by Christ in the most simple of elements. As Moore, points out, every meal we have in this life, every joy, every pleasure, is only an echo of the marriage super of the lamb that we in faith say is coming when we come to the Lord’s table. To quote Moore, “ There’s a table on the other side of death’s end, a wedding feast in fact, in which there is “ a feast of rich food, a feast of well aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined (Isa 25:6). Jesus knew that he would eat bread when “it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God” (Luke 22:16). Until then, the future king was willing to feast or to fast, whatever seemed best to his Father.” (pg 71).

As I study the temptations of Jesus I often wonder what I would do if my faith was really tried? If I really was to suffer for Christ? I don’t think I know. I have gone through far less and I have reacted far more poorly than other saints I know. I once met a man who was from Liberia. He told me his story of surviving the civil war, making his way to South Africa, and then came to the states to study at Seminary. He told me about how in the refuge camps he and his family often had only a cup of rice to survive on a day. Yet, somehow he made it here to study to be a pastor. He even got a position in a church. But when he challenged his congregation to give generously to missions they said it didn’t make financial sense. And then he was pushed out of his congregation because the senior pastor felt threatened by him. But he never stopped smiling because he knew God was faithful. He knew what it was to live by his daily bread, and he knew there was more to life then just his career

Our own Julie Mckeighn, our former pianist, and current missionary at an orphanage in Liberia, has this to say about God’s provision for her mission. “ •We have seen on a number of occasions God orchestrate a plan to bring a hungry, sick, alone child to us to provide for their daily needs.  With children each one has a story.  Our most recent children to come to the village were Joshua and Samuel, twins. They were living in a remote village in the bush.  Their father was dead or gone and their mother believed to be mentally ill wondered into the bush and died.  The babies were less than 18 months old and were crawling around the village eating whatever scraps they could find with no one to care for them.  •No one would care for them because of a stigma about mental illness. But God sent a caring woman to that village and she picked them up and took them to the city.  She saved their lives and they were brought to us.   A miracle? Perhaps.  Not every child is delivered from death, illness and starvation.  What plan might God have for the lives of Joshua and Samuel?

  • We have seen God provide for the Rafiki Village through the Ebola crisis in many ways.  To give you an idea of what it has been like I would go back to September when things were the worst.  Three hundred people were contracting Ebola each week.
  • During this time the only thing they could do safely was to cremate the bodies. The only crematorium in the area was just two or three miles down the road from Rafiki.  Daily, pickup trucks and flatbed trucks travelled passed our gate with sirens blaring from police escorts. .

The smell of death was in the air not far from our village and many people had to move away from the odor.  Inside Rafiki we would stand on our doorsteps and watch death pass us by and wonder, who and where and how many this time.

I believe during this time God’s provision came in that peace that passes understanding.  It came in His revealing information that needed to be made known to keep this village safe from anyone who might expose our little community to Ebola. •It came in an ability to confidently make dramatic changes to our lifestyle in order to stay safe. Thankfully things are better now but we still wait for His guidance for decisions of safety. “

What does Paul say in the letter to the Philippians 4:12-13, “ I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

I’ve learned a lot of things about ministry during my schooling and life experience. I’ve probably learned more about ministry in the past four months here at Pierceton Presbyterian than I have in the past four years. And I confess to you that I desperately want to be a success. I see the numbers on Sunday go down and I go down. I see the numbers on Sunday go up and I go up. I criticize the mega church down the street but part of me wants to be them. I know the faith you have put in me and I don’t want to let you down. You learn a lot from failure but it doesn’t make fore a good resume. But the Lord has been showing me that I have to let go of success, I have to  be faithful with where I am now and what I have been given. I don’t know what the secret to success is but I know what the secret of the Gospel is;

Man does not live by bread alone.

But by every Word that comes from the Mouth of God.

The Question is.

Are we listening?

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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