Distraction … (Again!): Matthew 4.1-11

This is a weekend for grads. Congratulations to each of you!

But especially in your happy time, there’s a message for you (and the rest of us, too): Somebody wants to distract you. Using morally neutral stuff, like technology, or using what the Bible calls your “flesh,” there’s an enemy who wants you to lose your first love, to make you unfruitful and unproductive for God …

At Woodland we’re spending these late-spring weeks helping each other think about what our responses to distraction say about where we put our trust. Are we truly trusting God, or do our responses to distractions indicate a self-dependence that needs to be confessed and made right before God?

Jesus knows about distraction. And He’s the only one who has ever responded rightly to distraction. In Matthew 4.1-11, the passage we typically call The Temptation of Christ, we encounter a recasting of the ancient struggle between God’s people and God’s adversary. This battle started (as far as humanity is concerned) in the Garden of Eden where our first parents were distracted and failed. God’s people fought another round in the wilderness when Israel complained and failed. Now, on the way to the cross, Jesus will be allowed to entertain the possibility of taking what is rightfully His, but without having to die. That’s distracting!

Will Jesus be successful where Adam failed? Will Jesus obey God where the Nation of Israel wandered for forty years? In Jesus’ encounter with the Devil the plan of redemption seems to ride on the edge of a knife.

Read Matthew 4.1-11, why don’t you? When you do you’ll see Jesus in the wilderness, preparing for His mission of redemption, but “hungry” and vulnerable to distraction. You’ll also see that Jesus’ obedience to God, despite distraction, is why He is worthy to represent sinful humanity to God. 

Satan’s strategy unfolds with three distractions.

Distraction #1: Desire of the body (:3-4). Satan begins his attack in verse 3: “… if you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” Notice that Satan assumes the truth of who Jesus is. It’s like he’s saying, You are the Son of God. I know it, and you know it; so just take what’s yours? Exercise you rights!

“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God,” Jesus responds (:4). Notice that this is a direct quote from Deuteronomy 8.2-3 where God has allowed Israel to be tested, but the Nation wouldn’t be satisfied in God. In contrast to Israel, Jesus is saying, If my Father wants me to endure this test, I won’t satisfy my need apart from Him. Real life is obedience to God and His Word. And God will meet all my needs, even in ways I don’t expect.

Notice also that Eve’s distraction resulted in her taking the fruit that she deemed “good for food” (Genesis 3.6). Jesus passes the test where both Israel and our first parents failed; and not just because He didn’t act on His own terms, but because He actively took refuge in God and God’s Word.

Distraction #2: Desire of the eyes (:5-6)—including the desire to be popular and spectacular. Jewish tradition at the time, based on Malachi 3.1, said that when Messiah arrived he would appear in the sky over the Temple. So, Satan (mis)quotes Psalm 91.11-12:” … on their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” Make yourself spectacular, and the people will follow you, he says. Notice that Satan passes over verse 1 from Psalm 91, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.”

This doesn’t surprise Jesus. He responds from Deuteronomy 6.16, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test,” a verse that rebukes Israel for failing to praise God when God really did do something spectacular in providing water  from the rock at Massah. It’s like Jesus is saying, I’ll not do something outrageous thinking that God has to bail me out in a way that will impress everybody. I’ll obey God on His own terms; I’ll take refuge in Him and His Word. Then God will give me my inheritance in His time. Notice also how Eve became distracted by the fruit from the tree that was good for food and saw ” … that it was a delight to the eyes”.

Are we ever tempted by the desire to be popular or spectacular? Jesus knew the temptation to accomplish His end by catching everybody’s attention, but he passed the test where Adam and Eve and Israel all failed. Jesus took active refuge in God.

Distraction #3: Desire for glory and abundance. In a last effort Satan offers Jesus everything that belongs to him but in exchange for worship. He’s really suggesting that Jesus claim everything that’s his, but by-pass the cross. And where would that have left us? Dead in our sins, right? And where would that have left Satan? Continuing to reign as the “god of this world” (2 Cor 4.4). Satan’s quarrel is not with us, but with God; he wants to share God’s glory.

Jesus responds by quoting Deuteronomy 6.13 and 10.20, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.”

Where Israel showed what was in their hearts by turning to other Gods, Jesus will honor His Father alone. Where Eve knew that the fruit of the tree was ” … desirable to make one wise” (according to ones own estimation), Jesus embodied true wisdom and took refuge in God.

Jesus’ obedience to God is why He is worthy of my trust in my distraction. There’s one more layer to this textured account that involves Eden and Israel, because it also involves us.

First John 2.16 reads, “For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and the pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.” My struggle with distraction is also a recasting of Eden—only, when I respond rightly, I get to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, not Adam and Eve.

We’re saved by grace through faith in Jesus, who responded rightly to distraction and went to the cross. My growth in holiness involves a struggle, while we wait for Jesus to return for us.

How is the battle going for you? If you’ve trusted in Jesus by faith, then you get to occupy the high ground Jesus has won for you. Still (thinking Ephesians 6.10-20), you still have to stand and fight.

Below are some questions that will help us evaluate where we are in our struggles with distraction:

Am I taking refuge in Jesus and His cross in my distraction? You and I will be distracted, but when we are we need to return to the cross and go on in obedience.

Am I laying claim to something I believe God has given me, but on my own terms? Does God want us to be comforted? Yes, but not in any relationship. And ultimately in Him.

Am I fighting distraction with my body? We’re not souls with bodies, we are bodies and souls, and fighting distraction often means putting our bodies in certain places and putting them on their knees, so that there’s no confusion whom we serve.

Am I laying down boundaries that put me in the right place to hear from God? If you struggle on the internet a smartphone may not be the device for you.

Am I growing in my desire for Christ and His things? Jesus didn’t respond to distraction just by not doing things. His obedience was a positive seeking after God through His Word.


So, grads and everybody. Have a great Memorial Day weekend, and a great summer, and a glorious life. But, remember there’s a real battle going on, and make certain you find your refuge in God alone, because He wants to be God of your distractions as well …


Distraction! 1 Kings 11.1-13

Some years ago our family sat in our Honda minivan at an ordinary intersection in our medium-sized Midwestern city. My fellow drivers to my right got their yield light and the lead car moved out. Only, this driver didn’t drive with purpose as you’d expect; he kinda jerked his way in the direction of his destination, like the wobbly, unsteady way a turkey buzzurd flies. A glance at the driver diagnosed the problem: he was staring (mouth open) at his phone, only generally aware of his other responsibilities. A second car moved through the intersection; same thing, only this driver was (not making this up) driving with her knees and composing a text with her thumbs. A third driver rolled through staring at a piece of paper.

“Is anybody really driving today?!” I said, turning to Amanda. But before she could respond the fourth driver rolled through. We recognized him as a friend of ours from church, and (oh, joy!) he had both hands on the wheel and was watching the road!

Today we live sixteen miles from the nearest traffic light, but the lesson of that illustration holds true: we are a distractible and often distracted people, are we not? And, as we move into the summer months when we’re out of our regular routines and thus vulnerable, we need to help each other think about what our response to distraction says about where we put our trust. Are we truly trusting God to order our lives, or does our fiddling around in the world of distractions indicate a self-dependence that needs to be confessed and made right before God?

We get help here. From the biblical accounts of Adam and Eve, to Lot, to Esau, Jacob, Moses and the Nation of Israel, we have rich material from which to study what our responses to distraction say about our heart conditions. But, my favorite study is King Solomon. Consider the heights from which he fell. Solomon had received wisdom from God (1 Kings 3.12); Solomon’s subjects flourished under his practical wisdom (4.20); Solomon even served as a kind of priest-king, thinking especially of his intercessory role in the dedication of the Temple (8.22-23). Still, he got distracted, and he fell, badly.

My response to distraction shows my heart! Solomon’s desire to order his kingdom through his many wives was revealed in his heart-response to distraction (1 Kings 11:1-8).

That Solomon took many wives would not have been considered unusual for a king. Kings did this to show their virility, but also to manage their material holdings. Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites (peoples to the east) are mentioned; then Sidonites (to the northwest) and Hittites (to the northeast) are mentioned. Israel had either conquered (1 Samuel 8,10) or begun trading with these peoples (1 Kings 8,10).

Conventionally wise as this might have been, God had told Israel, “Don’t do it”: … you shall not intermarry with them (Deut 7.3-4) and [your king] shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away (Deut 17.17).

So, it should not surprise us that Solomon’s distraction with his many wives (and their gods!) moved from the material to the spiritual, but not all at once and not right away: When Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God … (:4-8).

That’s a frightening statement for me. It means that Solomon served the better part of forty years becoming more distracted with his heart growing colder toward God and God’s things.

What are the distractions of our age? We’re in a hinge of history, aren’t we? As a Gen-Xer I can remember a world without personal computers, without cell phones, without email. (My family’s first cordless phone was exciting.) But, today, some futurists are predicting that the day is coming (probably in about 2050) when virtually nobody alive will be able to remember what it’s like to live off-line.

Theological David Wells writes,

There is no doubt that the pings and beeps of the internet are highly distracting. But the real question is, What is this doing to us? What is it doing to our minds when we are living with the constant distraction? How do we live in this parallel universe? It’s a universe that can take all the time we have. So how do we share our time between the virtual universe and the real universe? What happens to us when we’re in constant motion and addicted to visual stimulation? 

My response to distraction matters! Solomon’s desire to order his kingdom through his many wives was met with consequences for himself and for others (:9-13).

And the LORD was angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods. But he did not keep what the LORD commanded (:9-10).

The story is a sad one. The most prosperous of Israel’s kings, who had been been given wisdom by God and who had been promised that obedience would result in an everlasting throne, had the kingdom torn from him and from his son: … I will tear the kingdom from you and will give it to your servant (:11).

Even so, there’s good news here. Like a tiny trickle of water that bubbles into a brook and then widens into a mighty river of grace, God will fall back on His previous promise to David, recorded in 2 Samuel 7.14, in which He had promised David an eternal throne. Look at verse 13: However, I will not tear away all the kingdom, but I will give one tribe to your son, for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem that I have chosen (:13).

This is all Christ-language, isn’t it? The tribe is Judah, and Jesus will come from Judah to be Israel’s king (Isaiah 11.10). Solomon’s failed response to distraction resulted in a Savior, by God’s grace. And Jesus, as the final son of David, will not fail his people but will respond to God with whole-hearted devotion, winning salvation for us who trust in Him.

But, again, what does it look like to respond to the particular distractions of the Digital Age in a way that shows that we’re whole-heartedly devoted to God? We in the Digital Age are often dealing with technologies that are morally neutral. Smart phones can be used to draw people together for Christ’s purposes, or they can enable us as we waste vast amounts of time. Theological Dougles Groothius, writing in The Soul in Cyberspace, reminds us that, “Everything is a trade-off … A wise person will not shun technology but will ask what are the benefits? And what do I lose? And what do I gain?”

For us, thinking about distraction does involve evaluating moral content. That was the case with Solomon, since God had warned him off the gods and women. But, our situation also requires us to check our hearts to see what our responses to technologies says about whom we’re really allowing to order our worlds. It could be that we’re attempting to order our world in a way that indicates we’re not content to trust God.

My salvation is not in managing all the different realities of my life but in being changed by faith in Christ. My response to distraction shows me where I put my trust. 

Try this exercise in what I call “real space”:

Spend an hour reading a book. I get it. This will be hard, but feel your mind relax as it follows a sequence of ideas, and you give your mind time to process ideas one after the other.

Then, take a walk. And, as you do, ask the LORD some questions:

“How am I doing?

Are my affections (heart) being turned so that I’m trying to find my happiness in anything other than You?

Do I need to limit my use of technology to put it in its proper place? (Maybe shoving my phone in a drawer during dinner, or when I’m relating intentionally to my family or friends?).

Do I need to “fast” from my device for a time?

Then, read Psalm 46,

Be still, and know that I am God/ I will be exalted among the nations/ I will be exalted in the earth!

The LORD of hosts is with us/ the God of Jacob is our fortress. 




Stand in Warfare: Ephesians 6.10-20

This week at Woodland we finish up a good journey. We come to the end of our study in Ephesians.

We’ve seen how God has called out a people to be His church (chapters 1-3), and we’ve seen how we’re to respond as God’s “called out” ones (chapters 4-6): by walking … in unity, holiness, love, light and wisdom.

And now, suddenly, we’re to stand. Big bump of a contrast, isn’t it? While feeling like we ought to be advancing, we’re suddenly NOT to think about moving forward. The reason is that we have an enemy. And this brings us to our next and final unpopular idea—maybe even more unpopular than the submission and obedience we’ve been considering in recent weeks.

We westerners like spirituality. Who among us would ever get criticized for really living for something we can’t see, feel or touch? The problem we have in our culture is that we like to define the boundaries of our own spiritual experience. We like to be in charge, to manage things.

And now, suddenly again, we meet God’s enemy. And, he and his legions are a lot more than we can handle! For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (:12, ESV).

And God’s enemy (with his legions) hates the church. He hates us because while we rebelled with him, he isn’t made in God’s image, and he isn’t redeemed. We who have trusted Christ are.

So what are we do? We’re to put on God’s provision (:10-13)  … be strong in the strength of his might (:10) This not only describes how we’re to contend, but where our strength lies and whose strength we’re relying on.

Superb! But even while our salvation comes from outside us, we’re not passive in this. There’s still something for us to do.  … Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil … that you may be able to withstand in the evil day and having done all, to stand firm (:11 … 13) In other words, having been chosen in Christ and placed in the church, we’re still about to be attacked. The purpose of making use of God’s provision is to be ready for the particular attacks of the Evil One.

So … stand with God’s provision (:14-20). What follows is a description of a fully outfitted and equip soldier. While some have thought that Paul might be modeling his description after a Roman soldier (he might have been chained to one while he wrote), he isn’t describing a Roman soldier. He’s describing you! (if you’re trusting in Christ). And he’s describing God’s provision you and I must equip ourselves with BEFORE we’re attacked.

Before the particular attacks of the Evil One we are to take up truth, righteousness, peace and faith. These are likened to the belt, breastplate, boots and shield of the soldier. All these implements of warfare helped ancient soldiers stand TOGETHER. Then, just before combat the “helmet of salvation” and “sword of the Spirit” must be snatched up. These complete the soldiers defenses and give him an offensive weapon.

A picture of ancient warfare helps. Soldiers would stand side-by-side in an interlocking formation called a phalanx in which they would guard one another with their shields. The enemy would hurl pitch-drenched and flaming javelins into the wall of shields hoping to ignite the defenses, or at least disable the defenses so that the shields would have to be abandoned. Once members of the phalanx had been disarmed the enemy would rush in carrying short swords called  gladii. Hand-to-hand combat would result. If the soldiers could be separated from one another, the enemy would prevail.

Fascinating history lesson, isn’t it? But, we’re not talking about history, we’re talking about the church and our lives and right now. What does this warfare look like for us?

A good rule of application is that the response to any passage is organic to the passage itself. So, in Ephesians, we’ve just been told to walk … in unity, holiness, love, light and wisdom. We’re to do this as God’s church, together. What does God’s enemy want? He wants to divide us, so that disunity, lack of holiness, consuming self-love, spiritual and moral darkness and the quenching of the Spirit of God result. Salvation isn’t hanging in the balance, but fruitfulness, blessing and God’s glorification in our lives are.

Can you sense when that’s happening? That’s the “evil day” (:14). Even so, the faithful follower of Christ will prevail in the day of temptation and attack, because she has been outfitted with God’s provision.

To stand in spiritual warfare, put on God’s provision. 

We’re either under attack or we’re about to be attacked. That’s life between Christ’s two comings. Even so, we have everything we need to flourish in the Christian life. And, we have one another in this remarkable creation called the church. That’s the message of Ephesians.

So, we pray  …  at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication (:18a). keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints … (:18b)

All of this allows Paul to end his letter like he began. Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible (:23-24).


Think a bit about what this passage looks like in your life. 

When are you (and God’s other people with you) most prone to attack?

What does putting on God’s provision actually look like for you, in your thinking, attitudes and behavior? 

Why is God’s enemy worthy of your respect but not your fear? 



Walk in Wisdom—Followers & Leaders: Eph 6.1-9

Last week’s message and post from Ephesians 5.22-33 dealing with the topic of submission took us through some emotionally-charged territory. This week’s passage, dealing with obedience, is not much different

Like we’ve talked about, both of these passage belong to the same basic unit in Ephesians. In 5.18 we’re told to ” … be filled with the Spirit.” The Spirit, then, equips us to submit to one another out of reverential awe for Christ Himself.

And, whether we’re submitting or obeying, it’s ultimately Christ we’re serving!

How then do we show this reverence for Christ in our various human relationships—as wives and husbands, children and parents, “bondservants” and leaders? That’s where we’re going with this …

Children … obey your parents, because this is right (:1-3). Have you, parents, ever given the because-I-say-so answer  to the adolescent-cheeky “why?” question? Paul shades in that direction here: Because God has set things up so that children serve Him by obeying their parents. That’s why. But, he really does better than that. He quotes the law, the Ten Commands, “Honor your father and mother (this is the first commandment with a promise)” (6.2; Ex 20, or Deut 5).

But, wait! says the teenager. That’s not the first commandment; it’s the fifth. Right you are. But how else are children to know the commandment “You shall have no others gods before me” (The First Commandment)? The Fifth Commandment (also thought by some among the ancients to be the first of the commandments dealing with human relations) functions as a kind of primary commandment for children. Honor and obey your parents and you will (generally speaking) live a long and prosperous life.

And, as with submission, Jesus honored this commandment with His own obedience to His Father in the work of redemption, didn’t He? It’s critical to see, how with the example of Jesus, both submission and obedience turn from the negative to the positive.

Parents … don’t frustrate, but disciple and instruct (:4). Now, fathers, in particular, are addressed with their own imperative. While our children are learning their obedience, we’re to make this obedience as sweet as possible.

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger …” How do we do this, Dads? Maybe, by demanding perfection according to some standard of our own. Or, maybe, by being passive and unemotionally unresponsive.

As I’ve pondered the connections within this teaching, it seems we frustrate most when we try to modify behavior without being concerned for the inner attitudes of our heart. Maybe, we can get away  with this when the child is very young: “Don’t run in the street!” But, as our children grow into the later elementary years, we get called out on this one.

Positively, “bringing up” has about it the idea of nurturing. And then “discipline” carries with it the idea of activity—doing something together where there is practice with correction. “Instruction” carries more of a verbal idea. Now, the child is being spoken to about what’s going on. The picture I get here is of a father with his son or daughter talking their way through life together. The father isn’t just aiming for right behavior, but the heart!

Certainly, the dad is realizing that power and authority isn’t enough to nurture children in wisdom. He is realizing that the Spirit of God needs to be at work too. And, the Spirit is the One whom the father is depending on to do that spiritual work in his child.

Dads, where are we doing this with our kids? Where are we (in activity and words) contending for our kids in those matters of the heart where we can’t obey for them? 

Those accountable to others … obey those who lead as you would Christ (:5-8). In the second half of this double-header passage, it’s important to identify what we’re NOT talking about. This is not chattel slavery (the horrific practice of our own nations’s past!), but bonded service. People in the ancient world could enter into bond service for a variety of reasons—like not being able to pay their bills, or not wanting to pay high taxes. And, sometimes, life might not be too bad for the teachers and accountants and household managers who found themselves in bonded service.

Still, they were not at their liberty. ” … obey your earthly masters … as you would Christ,” they are told. Significant here is the little distinction ” … masters, according to the flesh”. These are your overlords for now, in this life at the most, but not forever. You’re to serve them “as you would Christ”—with “fear and trembling … a sincere heart … not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers … doing the will of God from the heart … rendering service with a good will as to the Lord” (:5 … 8).

The reason given is that social status won’t be important in the future, but spiritual condition will. And, there will come a day of reckoning when our hidden service will be returned to us (Think: 2 Cor 5.10).

Curious, isn’t it, that Paul isn’t a social revolutionary. While encouraging bondservants to get their freedom when they can (for example, 1 Cor 7.25), he’s more interested in seeing individuals grow in godliness within the social norms that exist. Once again, emotionally-charged stuff for us Moderns.

Those accountable for others … don’t threaten, but know your own Master (:9). ” … do the same to them, and stop your threatening,” masters are told. In other words, all that has been said regarding bondservants is true for those accountable to God for them. And when the day of accountability comes, there will be no partiality with the judge. Partiality, “to have a face.” God isn’t going to give a pass because we had face recognition in this life.

To walk in wisdom (whether accountable to others or accountable for others) follow or lead in obedience to Christ. 


We move back and forth between following and leading, don’t we? Typically, we’re doing both at the same time in our different roles. But, whether we’re following (as a child or one who is accountable to another in a job or position) or leading (as a parent or in some supervisory role), we’re doing so in obedience or disobedience to Christ.

Whom has God given you to follow? Whom has God given you to lead? 

How is your heart doing in these different roles? Are you consciously aware that you are serving Christ?