Friday, March 09, 2018

Minutes that Matter: March 2018

I have the privilege of recording talks for broadcast on RTHK Radio 4 here in Hong Kong.  A series of talks I recorded recently for the Minutes that Matter programme are being broadcast on Fridays in March.

This is the transcript of the first with a link to the programme in the Radio 4 archives.

Talk One: Tested

We are in Lent and counting down to Easter.  Lent lasts 40 days based on our Lord's time in the wilderness.  St Mark tells us that after Jesus was baptized, the Spirit 'drove' him into the wilderness, where he was tempted by the devil (Mark 1:12).  The three temptations are well-known: to turn stones to bread, to throw himself off the pinnacle of the Temple, and to worship the devil to gain earthly power and glory.

We could say that our Lord was tempted to focus on material satisfaction, to show off, and to seek position and power.  Put like this, they are temptations that are common to us all.  For our Lord, however, they got at the heart of what sort of Messiah he would be.  If he had given into them, he would not have been thought a bad person necessarily, and may even in his time have been popular and successful.

For example, would our Lord have appeared to be bad, if he had made his priority feeding the hungry?  If he had demonstrated who he really was in an obvious and dramatic way?  If he had tried to gain influence politically to further his goals?

Our Lord, however, saw the temptations as coming from the devil.  We know this in advance, so when we read the account of them in the Gospels, we assume that he was tempted to do something that was clearly wrong.  The danger of our Lord's temptations, however, was not that he was tempted to do things that were obviously wrong - quite the reverse.  It could easily be argued that what he was being asked to do was right.  The danger in doing them lay in the fact that this was not God's way.

We all know that lying, cheating, and murder are wrong.  We may still be tempted to do such things, but we know we shouldn't.  The far greater temptation comes when we are asked to do something that is not necessarily wrong in itself, but which reflects an outlook and attitude that is wrong and not of God.

An alternative, and probably better translation of the word we translate as temptation, is 'test'.  In a test, the answer is often not obvious and certainly not one we can know in advance.  It requires us think and to work it out.  It is a test!

We can all expect to be tested.  The only way we can hope to pass is by revising hard beforehand.  Our Lord, in each of the test questions put to him, replied supporting his answer by quoting the Bible.  Knowing the Bible won't guarantee that we get the answer right when we are tested, but we won't get it right unless we do.

St Paul writes that naturally our minds are hostile to God.  We don't think the way God does or the way God wants us to.  We are conditioned to think the way the world around us thinks and has taught us to think.  And, of course, the world will naturally praise us, and even call us good, if we do what it wants.  This is what makes it so especially difficult to know what God's will is: doing what is wrong so often seems so right.   

If we are to pass the test, we need learn to think the way God wants us to.

St Paul writes in Romans 12:2:  'Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.'

For us to think the way we should, our minds need to be renewed.  This happens as we start to put God at the centre of our lives rather than ourselves.  It happens as we model our lives on Jesus Christ, who the Bible tells us, is the image of God.  It happens as God’s Spirit works in us.  For God does not leave us to get on with it by ourselves.  Jesus promised his disciples that while he was going to leave them physically he would return to them in the person of the Spirit.  The Spirit would dwell in them and lead them into all truth.

With the Spirit’s help, we can pass the test.

Here is the link to the audio of the talk:

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