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REFLECTIONS: Lent serves as good time to consider our weaknesses Bishop Woodie W. White, Mar 7, 2012
Bishop Woodie W. White
By Bishop Woodie W. White UMR Columnist
Some further thoughts on sin! Perhaps we visit a discussion of it during Lent more often than in any other season of the Christian Year.
In some ways Christians have grown tired of hearing about sin. In other ways, we tend to dismiss the subject though we cannot ignore the reality of it.
Last month, during my annual visit with United Methodist military chaplains serving in Europe, the director of the denomination’s endorsing agency and I were part of a retreat held in Ettal, Germany. Ettal is a picturesque, mountainous area in the state of Bavaria.
The resource for the retreat was a book that is new to me, Walking With God, by John Eldredge. He is the founder and director of Ransomed Heart Ministries in Colorado Springs, “devoted to helping people discover the heart of God.”
The book is essentially a collection of “stories” of his walk with God. Simply and candidly written, the stories reflect on events and circumstances in Mr. Eldredge’s life where he sought or found God in the midst of the experience. There are no chapters, but each story has a title.
One of the stories is titled, “The Devil is an Opportunist.” I thought, how relevant for Lent! Among the popular Scripture readings during this season is the temptation experience of Jesus in the wilderness. The accounts in the Gospels find Jesus in a confrontation with the “devil,” who offers him three “opportunities”—all of which seem to have great appeal and promise of rewards.
Temptation is like that. It is always tempting!
Mr. Eldredge’s insight is creatively drawn in those words, “the devil is an opportunist.” Temptations always seek to capitalize on our weaknesses or vulnerabilities, and sometimes our “blind sides.” Mr. Eldredge puts it this way: “He [Satan] is always looking for open doors, opportunities, a chink in the armor.”
Temptations to sin are different for each of us. Because we are unique, temptations are often tailor-made. And of course, they seem to come when we least expect them. Sometimes they come not when we are feeling low, but when we are riding high! Sure of ourselves, self-righteous, beyond the pale of wrongdoing. Insulated. And then, “Gotcha!”
Unlike self-sufficiency, self-awareness is a characteristic not too often heralded. Yet it is utterly important. So is awareness of one’s surroundings, especially when something that appears good is actually evil. Jesus talked a great deal about that as well!
Perhaps this is why walking continually with God is so essential for us. We can so easily get distracted, “let our guard down,” as Mr. Eldredge puts it. A life in the Spirit is not to be underestimated, although it may be the first thing we cross off our busy schedules, especially when we serve in positions of great importance and responsibility. In a sense, then, even our individual strengths lead us into vulnerability.
Lent really is a good time to take a genuine spiritual inventory of our lives. Seek to identify your vulnerabilities, or even a waiting predator. Remember that no one, absolutely no one, is exempt. Perhaps, that is the real lesson of Lent.
Retired Bishop White is the denomination’s Endorsing Agent for Chaplain Ministries and bishop-in-residence at UMC-affiliated Candler School of Theology, part of Emory University in Atlanta.