Beloved and Tempted: When God Takes You to the Wilderness

White Dove Beloved Son

Beloved and tempted—is that you?

If so, there’s no shame in it. Because you can be both at once. Jesus was.

Sorely Tempted And Dearly Loved

This post has one point and this is it: Don’t ever doubt when you are in the wilderness and sorely tempted that you are still dearly loved.

The flow of these three little verses in the beginning of Matthew’s gospel assure me this is true:

And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 

Matthew 3:16-4:1 (ESV)

The direct connection escaped me, because the chapter break between Matthew chapters three and four interrupts the flow. But chapter breaks are not inspired.

In Matthew’s mind the dove and the devil—the pronouncement of Beloved Son and temptation in the wilderness— were intimately connected.

His Well Pleased He Leads Into the Wilderness

From heaven the voice of God boomed, This is my beloved Son. Then without skipping a beat, the Spirit of God led the beloved with whom he was well pleased straight into the wilderness.

The seventeenth-century Bible commentator Matthew Henry observed, Great privileges, and special tokens of divine favour, will not secure us from being tempted. 

I hope it’s becoming obvious. That if there is any connection between spiritual condition and “temptation factor” it is not that God’s children are spared. The opposite seems true—those walking closest to God have been the longest and hardest tempted in the wilderness.

Jesus, one with the Father, was fiercely tempted for 40 days.

Not Immune From Temptation

Something MUST be wrong, my friend said. I still struggle with the same sins that I did ten years ago. I struggle to forgive the same old things and sometimes I still get so mad at the kids. And just when I think I’ve got my discontentment nipped, a new envy blossom buds. No matter how hard I try and how much I pray, I just can’t master these things. Something must be wrong. This stuff should be overcome by now. 

Really? I read Matthew 3 and 4 and I’m just not so sure. If the very Son of God, was not immune from temptation, we will not be either. It’s a sort of suffering that I think we’ll have to face until we leave these old tents.

In fact, I like to think, as I’m tempted yet again to envy or discontent, that the very fact I’m feeling the struggle against it, feeling it as a temptation to sin, means not only that the God-life is in me, but that I am God’s beloved.

That even with tempted and sometimes failing me—it feels audacious and tears me up to say—God is well pleased.

Beloved And Tempted

Because it was God, God the Spirit, who led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted. Therefore, Thabiti Anyabwile explains, we know that the temptation of Christ was not random or without purpose. The Sinless Lamb of God endured temptation both so that He could identify with us (Hebrews 2:18, 4:15) and to showcase the beauty of His holy character. That is why the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness.

Here’s the point: Jesus proved that you can be God’s pleasing and beloved child and still be in the wilderness and tempted. So please don’t assume the next time you’re tempted, or even the next time you fall, that you are unloved. Please, please don’t.

Instead draw near to Jesus. Run to the One who knows temptation far better than you do and died and rose again to forgive all who flee to him. Go receive mercy where you failed and find refreshment in his grace.

And don’t ever assume when you are tempted that you are unloved.

Beloved and tempted—both.

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Hebrews 4:14-16

If you’re still curious about why your struggle might be exactly right, you might like this.

Truth In Love? Or, “If You Love Me, You Would…”?

Friend helping friend climb, love defined

Asking you to tolerate whatever I do or say because you say you love me is a fundamental misunderstanding of what love is and what love does. Much of what we think love is simply isn’t love after all.

-Paul David Tripp, New Morning Mercies

If You Love Me, You Would…

Have you ever said that? Has anyone said it to you? If you love me, you would ___________. Fill in the blank: scratch my back, stay up late, wear a mask, don’t make me wait.While it’s absolutely true that love is kind and seeks not its own, love does not mean anything goes.

We know this intuitively. Which is why I don’t bite when my 13 year-old says loving him means I allow him take a phone to school. Or when the 15 year-old insists loving him means I let him go deep with an ominously named gaming stranger.

But, as helpful as are, the love languages they might hurt us here. Because if I assume that for love to be love it must always come in my preferred language—and feel good—I’ll miss and misinterpret a whole lot of love.

I know this because the Lover of my soul doesn’t always speak my preferred language or love me how I would choose to be loved. He didn’t with Mary and Martha either.

Jesus loved them enough to let Lazarus die—yes, to die—so that he could raise him up in a majestic way and so that they would see the his glory. And I guarantee that Mary did not say, Master, if you love me, please wait to come until Lazarus dies.

I Wanna Know What Love Is

We’ve got to know what love is. And Jesus can show us.

Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was (John 11:5-6). Jesus loved them so much he didn’t save Lazarus from dying. He didn’t spare Mary and Martha that pain.

Love is doing whatever you have to do — or whatever God has to do — at whatever cost, in order for the glory of God to be shown. If that sounds like no definition of love you’ve ever heard, like it’s straight out of left field, please reread John 11:1-6. (If that definition is still confusing, you might listen to “Even When It Hurts,” where John Piper explains this definition.)

Because seeing the glory of God is the greatest good. And love, we know, is helping the beloved enjoy the greatest good.

5 Things I Know About Love

1. Love Is Anchored In Truth

I know it must be anchored in truth. It cannot contradict truth. It cannot exist without truth.

Real, biblical, self-sacrificing, God-honoring love never compromises what God says is right and true. Truth and love are inextricably bound together. Love that compromises truth simply isn’t love. Truth without love ceases to be truth because it gets bent and twisted by human agendas. If love wants and works for what is best for you, then love is committed to being part of what God says is best in your life. So, I am committed to being God’s tool for what he says is best in your life, even if that means we have to go through tense and difficult moments to get there.

Paul David Tripp, New Morning Mercies

This, for the record, is one of the marks of a true friend. And lest we misconstrue Tripp’s words, it’s not as if one person in the relationship is always the “truth tool” while the other is always the “project.” Holding out the truth in love, or “truthing it in love” ala 4:15, is to be reciprocal. The subject and object are not fixed. Heidi truths it with me and I truth it with her.

What’s more, speaking the truth in love is not the main point. It’s not. The grammar of Ephesians 4 is clear. Truthing it in love is not an end in itself. Me correcting you or you proving a point factually true, or even us rooting out our idols together, is not the point.

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…

Ephesians 4:15

Do you see the purpose of Ephesians 4:15? The end for which “speaking the truth in love” is but a modifier?

It’s grow up. We are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ. That’s the goal.

Speaking truth in love is not the endpoint. Growing up into Jesus is.

2. Reasoning Frankly Averts Hate

Jesus may have quoted Leviticus 19:18 more than any other verse (Matt 5:43,19:1922:39Mark 12:31). You probably know it by heart:

You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

But what you might not know off the top of your head is what comes right before it. Here’s the famous command in context:

You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

Leviticus 19:17-18

That jumped off the page when I read it last week. Because most of us are conflict avoiders. It’s so much easier to walk away when we see a brother do wrong. And if the wrong hurt us, well, we might walk away and nurse a grudge. Because, if I’m honest, to hate my sister in my heart takes less effort than to reason frankly with her.

When conflict comes we are tempted to think God has left the building. In peacetime we feel God’s presence; his providence is sweet. But the moment a fellow sinner hurts me, we imagine God left. But God said Love, don’t hate. And God said the way out of hate and the way into love is reason frankly.

Speaking truth in love includes “reasoning frankly.” And, done right, it not only benefits my sister it also helps me. Because the alternative to reasoning frankly with her is “incurring guilt” myself. The guilt could come if I take vengeance, bear a grudge, or get passive-aggressive. And she could be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness (Hebrews 3:13). In both cases, reason frankly is God’s preventative against incurring guilt, against harm.

But this is hard. Because reasoning frankly and holding out truth in love can cost a lot.

3. We All Need Influencers

But I’m learning that silence is costly too. To the extent that I feel I can’t speak truth—because a friend is that sensitive— it is equally hard to feel love. My closest friendships are the ones who truth it love, side by side, with me. They say, “Smile more, talk less.” They ask, “Do I hear discontentment?”

I read this paragraph last night. It doesn’t use the word truth and it doesn’t mention love, but it’s on point. Here, a main character—The Man in the Wing Chair— describes his mother.

She just has her own opinions, and they’re the only tribunal that’s permitted to judge her when she makes a mistake. Can you imagine what you would be like if you didn’t have anyone close who was capable of influencing you? Anyone to point out your flaws, to confront you when you went too far, to correct you when you did something wrong?

Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera, The Awakening of Miss Prim

Isn’t that so sad? When I read the paragraph, I dropped the book and asked myself, Who is close enough to correct me?

Now I ask you, Who in your life is close enough to dare correct or confront you?

4. Speak Soft Words And Give Hard Reasons

I won’t grow if I stay blind to my faults, blind to my sin. As a Christian, I know that the Word of God and the Spirit of Christ can convict me. I don’t always need a fellow sinner to show me my sin. Sometimes it comes to light without him.

But.

But God uses means. I wrote about the large chocolate spot I obliviously sported one night. The lesson: friends tell friends.

But how we hold out truth matters. And I’ll be first to admit that I don’t always get the how right. My family and friends will tell you that. But I do aim to apply C.H. Spurgeon’s advice:

If you see that a stick is crooked, and you want people to see how crooked it is, lay a straight rod down beside it; that will be quite enough. But if you are drawn into controversy, use very hard arguments and very soft words. Frequently you cannot convince a man by tugging at his reason, but you can persuade him by winning his affections.

That might sound like this: Kelsey, your voice is gorgeous. And I know you want us to be drawn to worship Christ not be focused on your clothes. That’s why I wanted to tell you I was distracted by your clothes the last few times you led singing. But I don’t doubt your love and I thank you for your hard work.

Gentle words, with gratitude and hard argument, rooted in truth. We speak this way so that we will grow into Christ and not incur guilt.

5. We Love People When We Love God

That was a big takeaway for me as I studied 1 John. Since God is love (1 John 4:8), it stands to reason that if I don’t understand God rightly, I won’t understand love rightly. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.

But isn’t that out of order? Hasn’t John explained that the main way show our love for the God who we can’t see is by our love for our brother we do see (1 John 4:20)? Yes, he did: We cannot love God without loving His children.

But that answer just kicks the can. How do we love people? In 1 John 5:2, John explains that we love others by loving God and keeping his commands.

That brings us full circle. So what about, If you love me you would…? Jesus is the only person who could say with impunity, If you love me you would.

Do you know why? Because he and the Father were one. The God-Man had no sinful nature to taint his If you love me you would. He knew with certainty what would help us see His glory. So he said, If you love me you will keep my commands.

Truth without love is abuse. Love without truth is neglect.

The doctor that conceals a cancer diagnosis is not “loving” his patient. Remember the prophets who “healed the wound of the people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14)? Perhaps out of self-love or fear of disappointing, the prophets did not act in love for God’s wounded people.

Love covers offenses and sins (1 Peter 4:8, Proverbs 10:12). But it also exposes and rebukes (Matthew 18:15, Proverbs 27:5-6). Soft, gracious words do not abuse and hard, biblical reasons do not neglect.

Paul David Tripp writes,

Love doesn’t call wrong right. Love doesn’t ignore wrong and hope it goes away. It doesn’t turn its back on you because you are wrong. Love doesn’t mock you. And love doesn’t go passive and stay silent in the face of wrong. Love moves toward you because you are wrong and need to be rescued from you. In moving toward you, love is willing to make sacrifices and endure hardships so that you may be made right again and be reconciled to God and others. God graces us with this kind of love so that we may be tools of this love in the lives of others.

Love moves toward you because you are wrong and need to be rescued from you. Jesus did that for me. He—Love—covers a multitude of sins, but also shows me my faults.

And as much as I want to be a tool of this kind of love, sometimes it’s hard to discern which path love takes.

What I Don’t Know About Love

There are so many things I don’t know about truth in love. The God-Man alone, could rightly say, If you love me you would… Because he knows all things. He alone knows all that is good.

I do not. Which is why I can’t always tell if my friends and sons are right when they say or imply, If you love me you would….

And I don’t know how much truth love tells. I’m not always sure when love conceals and when it reveals. I often don’t know the best, the most loving way to hold out the truth in love or if I should say a thing when I don’t feel the love.

But I do know that I want to be pure for the day of Christ. And I know I need a discerning love.

Thankfully, there’s a prayer for that.

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is best, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ…

Philippians 1:9-10

Redeemed: How Milky the Cat came Back

The day the cat came back.

It’s a strange feeling that comes when you must pay for what is already yours; when you must buy back to keep what you own.

There’s a story about that with a boy and boat. But I’m going to tell a different one, about how Milky the cat came back.

Losing Milky

I admit: it was my great idea to take Milky and Oreo back to their barn of origin while our family vacationed in Florida. So a month ago, we carted the cats back to Mom and Dad’s farm.

Mom thought crating them a day or two in the barn would be good. Then they could acclimate to their former home.

I didn’t think that’d be necessary. Milky and Oreo wouldn’t need that. They’d remember their old kitten haunts and the smell of the sheep and the hay and their cousins.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The Stray Cat Dirge

The second the boys left the van, was the second the cats exploded in a mad dash from their hands. Milky south through the corn field, Oreo north through the garden. Like spooked cheetah cubs escaping a lion, they ran.

Gabe raced after Milky a few steps, but in the dusky light they were instantly out of sight. And as he burst into tears, Sam shook his head.

It’s all your fault Mom. You ruined vacation.

I miss my cats. They’ll never come back.

Those were the words to the song. The dirge that Sam and Gabe sang as I packed the van for a sunny spring break away.

They sang them again ten nights later, upon our catless return.

Fast forward 20 days from the day the cats escaped.

The Cat Came Back

Your cat has been found, the voicemail said. Please contact Lakeland Animal Shelter at 262-741-1000.

I did. And learned,

A trucker found the cat at a rest stop [10 miles from Mom and Dad’s] and picked him up. But he figured a cat so cool must be someone’s pet so he took him to a shelter in Milwaukee. They read his chip and called us and the trucker brought him back down. So your cat is here.

And just so you know, it’ll be a $20 handling fee and a $25 repeat occurrence fee when you pick him up. (Yes, repeat. But I’ll save that story for another time.)

Milky Is Redeemed

Jim redeemed Milky from the shelter an hour later at a cost of $45. Our “free barn cat” was worth much more now than he was when the boys found him behind between bales in the haymow last fall.

Milky was our cat. But he had strayed. Milky needed to be redeemed. And the cost to buy him back was infinitely- any amount is infinite from zero- more than the cost to own.

But now he was ours. Because we loved him. Milky was worth it.

And you, Christian— you are worth it too. The way you’ve been redeemed is proof.

We Are Redeemed

The Greek word for redeemed in Titus 2:14 and 1 Peter 1:18 is “lutroo.” It means “free by paying a ransom, redeem…set free…rescue.”

Titus 2:14 shows Jesus’ death has rescued us from a life of slavery to sin: “Who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from lawlessness and purify for himself a people for his own possession, zealous for good work.”

The same word is used in 1 Peter 1, “knowing that you were redeemed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things such as silver or gold but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without spot or blemish” (1:18-19).

We redeemed Milky with an infinitetesimally smaller price. Jesus gave himself for us. Himself. As a lamb without spot or blemish. He gave himself.

We only gave 45 perishable, measly little dollars for Milky the cat.

We’ve been redeemed by the blood of the lamb.

More Sinful Than You Know, More Loved Than You Imagine

Do you know this? That the only thing you contributed to your salvation was the sin from which you had to be saved.

God redeemed you from that.

Which means,

You are both more sinful than you know and more loved than you imagine.

Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God

That is the Gospel.

It’s the priceless key to both true humility and truly feeling valued. You- we are more sinful than we know and more loved than we imagine.

After all, it took the precious blood of Christ to redeem us.

And our Lord Jesus Christ did do that.

Redeemed from the Curse

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us (Gal. 3:13). We can have peace with God because Jesus became the curse for us.

Which also means nothing in the life of the redeemed soul is wasted: no trial (they make us mature), no wait (God works for those who wait for him), not even sin (who is forgiven much loves much). God can even redeem the years the locust have eaten, the lost years, someone said.

And when he does that, just what are the redeemed to do?

What The Redeemed Do

Well, Milky lapped up two bowls of milk then purred loud and long in Gabe’s arms. But Milky’s just a cat.

Just what is the redeemed soul to do? The Psalmist wrote, Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.

Or sing so: Let the redeemed washed by his blood come and rejoice in his great love.

O praise Him!

Alleluia!

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

Galatians 4:4-5

P.S. -As of 4/20/19, Oreo the cat is still on the lam.

Known: Why This Knowledge Matters Most

Known gifts

What matters supremely, therefore, is not, in the last analysis, the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it- the fact that he knows me.

J.I. Packer, Knowing God

Gevalia Gold Coast coffee, dark-chocolate covered almonds, and Downton Abbey CDs.

Two friends recently gifted me with these. Then came the rush.

Do you know this rush?

The Joy of being Known

It’s the same rush I felt when my friend Jen nailed my game clue. “Fleeting” wasn’t too veiled for Jen, because she knows how much I love sunsets.

It doesn’t matter if you know the game. What matters is someone else playing the game knows you. When that happens, there’s that rush.

It’s the surge of joy, of feeling loved, that comes from being known. I felt it last night, too when my friend Jen guessed my card right, in a Dixit game where it pays to be known.

But there’s a flip side.

The Pain of being Unknown

Back to gifts for a minute. My favorite gifts are not the ones that cost most. They’re the ones that show that the giver of the gift knows me. I mean knows me.

Which probably has something to do with the fact that most of the gifts I give are far from a perfect fit. I’ve given plenty of duds: whole-bean coffee to friends with no grinder or who don’t even drink coffee and milk chocolate to those who much prefer dark. Then there are the musical mismatches I’ve made. Just because I like I folksy, hymnsy doesn’t mean my friends do.

Recalling those poorly chosen gifts makes me cringe because I know how some gifts I’ve received have hurt my own fragile little feelings. I won’t tell you which ones. Let’s just say how I felt opening them was probably how someone with a deadly nut allergy would feel if a good friend made him a very special peanut-butter cup birthday cake.

Painful.

But it’s not only gifts. Questions sometimes do this too.

When Questions Miss the Mark, or the Heart

We all long to be really known and truly loved.

I think the reason misfit gifts hurt us is that they reveal that we are not really known, at least not as much as we thought, or wish, we were.

But sometimes gifts show us that we’re not and sometimes well-intentioned questions miss the mark. They miss our hearts.

Like when a friend asks about your work but it’s your kids that are heavy on your heart. Or when she inquires about your sore knee, but really it’s a trouble at work that that’s got you losing sleep.

Failure to read minds is no fault. Credit goes to any friend who gives a gift or cares enough to ask.

Still, when gifts and questions miss, we’re disappointed. Because deep down we want to be known and the misses show we’re not. And since we can’t love something we don’t know, feeling unknown often leaves us feeling unloved.

But maybe you’ve got secrets that you don’t want known, because if they really knew you, they wouldn’t love you.

The One Who Matters Most Knows Most

Maybe it’s not so much that you want to be known as that you’re afraid that if you really are- if you stop hiding- you won’t know love. And you’ve been hiding your “stuff” from everyone.

But Jesus sees it. Which is actually a good thing.

The person who matters most knows most. The person whose judgment about you is all important knows all. Let that sink in. You are totally known. Totally. There is not the slightest part of your heart unknown to Jesus, at this hour, and every hour.

Therefore, there is always at least one person you must relate to who knows everything about you. You may be able to look at others in the face and know that they do not know certain things about you. This shapes your relationship. But there is one who when you look him in the face sees totally through you. If you relate to him at all, you relate as one utterly laid bare. Utterly known. What an amazing relationship!

There is one, and only one, who actually and totally knows you. Nobody else even comes close. Your spouse’s knowledge of you, or your best friend’s knowledge of you, compares to Jesus’s knowledge of you is like first-grade math to quantum mechanics. You are fully known by one person — Jesus Christ.

John Piper sermon, “He Knew What was in a Man,” bolding added.

Yes, do. Let that truth sink in.

Known By God

This truth grips me: that my God knows me. I am known infinitely better than even my husband and best friends know me.

Here’s some proof:

  • “But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.” (1 Cor. 8:3)
  • “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matt. 7:22–23)
  • “But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?” (Gal. 4:9)
  • “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Cor. 13:12)

It blows my mind to think we can know the Holy, Almighty God. It blows my mind more to think that He wants to know me.

Which might suggest that He loves me.

What Matters Supremely

J.I. Packer wrote Knowing God two years before I was born, but I missed it till now. I’ll close with this wise man’s wise words.

What matters supremely, therefore, is not, in the last analysis, the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it—the fact that he knows me.

I am graven on the palms of his hands [Isa. 49:16].

I am never out of his mind.

All my knowledge of him depends on his sustained initiative in knowing me.

I know him because he first knew me, and continues to know me.

He knows me as a friend, one who loves me; and there is no moment when his eye is off me, or his attention distracted from me, and no moment, therefore, when his care falters.

This is momentous knowledge.

There is unspeakable comfort—the sort of comfort that energizes, be it said, not enervates—in knowing that God is constantly taking knowledge of me in love and watching over me for my good.

There is tremendous relief in knowing that his love to me is utterly realistic, based at every point on prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery now can disillusion him about me, in the way I am so often disillusioned about myself, and quench his determination to bless me.

Certainly, there is great cause for humility in the thought that He sees all the twisted things about me that my fellow-men do not see (and I am glad!), and that He sees more corruption in me than that which I see in myself (which, in all conscience, is enough).

There is, however, equally great incentive to worship and love God in the thought that, for some unfathomable reason, He wants me as His friend, and desires to be my friend, and has given His Son to die for me in order to realise this purpose.

Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 36-37, emphasis added.

Do you feel the rush now? I hope you do. Because you are fully known and deeply loved by the One who matters most. You are never out of his mind.

In fact, He even wants you as His friend.

The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant.

Psalm 25:14