Once upon a time, fear sold. Now outrage is the bestseller.
In 1938, Orson Welles broadcasted a CBS radio program called The War of the Worlds. There were no commercial breaks during the show, so if you tuned in after it started, you might have thought you were listening to an actual news flash about a Martian invasion of Planet Earth. This led to hysteria in various pockets of the United States, including some attempted suicides. The nation was stunned. Even a completely fictitious media message could trigger panic and cause people to make some seriously bad personal decisions.
Of course that debacle seems ridiculous now, but we’re experiencing the same if not worse from media messages today. Due to communication technology, we can know events in this world right after (or during) the time they’re happening. At light speed we can also hear a glut of views and opinions on those occurrences, usually powered by obvious political or social agendas.
The result is that we’re not more informed, just more outraged. Probably not since the civil war has the U.S. seen so much anger and cynicism, and yet the fracture lines are not settling between simple geographical divides of north and south, but between black and white, male and female, conservative and liberal. Along with these, rights groups and issues in the dozens are now seething pots of resentment.
And communications of every sort keep it all going.
Why do messages have this kind of effect on us? Part of the answer is the way God made us. We’re like smart sponges. We soak up information around us, which we convert into our own thought-life, which then influences our feelings, which then influences our decisions. The whole thing is like the process of digestion. As we soak up a steady diet of the negative messaging around us, it’s a non-stop binge on junk food.
If I told you I had caramel corn and Coca-Cola for breakfast and two rolls of Sweet Tarts for lunch and then a banana split with some Doritos for dinner, where would you think a diet like that was taking me? The answer is, straight to the cemetery. Likewise, our entire generation is currently being taken somewhere dark because of what it gorges on from day to day. Christians are in danger of being along for that ride.
Here’s the good news: God has provided an alternate diet for our spiritual, mental, and emotional well-being.
Matt. 4:1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Note that the Spirit did this deliberately. The temptation here wasn’t the outcome of a poor decision. 2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 And the tempter came…” Whenever the devil perceives a weakness or a need in human life, he always comes out of hiding to take advantage of it. He said to Him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” In essence he was saying to Jesus, “I see you have an appetite—feed it! You can do anything you want!” The Devil wanted him to work a miracle and take a short cut to help himself by using his power as the Son of God.
Ironically we Christians, at the back of our minds, think Jesus used His power as the Son of God to overcome this temptation. Of course He won the showdown with Satan, we think, He’s the Son of God, the second of the trinity, coexisting with the father from eternity past to eternity future. He is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. He could crush the devil like a termite.
Theologically we are correct, but if we only see it that way, we’ll short-circuit the picture the Holy Spirit wanted to show us here in the wilderness scene. What should we be seeing? Look at Jesus’ answer:
4 But he answered, “It is written,
“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
Man. Jesus was answering not as the all-powerful Son of God, but as a human being. Not only so, He was a man who was handling scripture. He said, “It is written,” and then quoted the book of Deuteronomy—“Man shall not live by bread alone.” This verse tells us there is a food beyond bread. There is a diet beyond earthly sustenance. Yes, we need bread, but not alone.
Speaking of the media, some people say, Don’t we need to listen to the news? Yes, but not alone. Don’t we need hobbies and entertainment? Yes, but not alone. What else is there, then?
…every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
That’s exactly what Jesus was doing in the wilderness—living on words from the mouth of God. This whole picture wasn’t about the devil confronting God. No, it was about the devil colliding with a man who was on a steady diet of the word of God. He tried to tempt Jesus in other ways, probing here and there, but ran into the word in those areas, too. Jesus was living on the word of God. The devil tried quoting Scripture as well, but he wasn’t living on it. He was proof-texting—that is, quoting verses out of context that would validate his twisted views. It didn’t work.
The devil had never met a man like Jesus. This human wasn’t a push-over, as if he had been feeding on Time magazine, CNN or Fox news. Jesus had been coming to Scripture, putting His ear to the mouth of God, and the message coming out of it became His nourishment. As a result, He held up out in the wilderness.
I once heard an old Texan preacher talk about growing up in West Texas, where it’s arid, like a lunar landscape. As a kid, he and his friends loved to play in dry gulches where they could throw rocks, and do boy things. One day he went to the gulch and discovered the railroad company had built a trestle all the way across it. Parked on top of the new trestle were four big diesel locomotives. He called out to a railroad worker, “Hey mister, are you trying to see if the bridge will hold up?” The worker yelled back, “No, son, we’re proving this bridge will hold up.”
This was what the Holy Spirit was doing when He led Jesus into the wilderness—proving that as a man full of the word of God, Jesus would hold up under the pressure of all the devil had to throw at Him. On a related note, if we abide in him today and let his words abide in us, we’ll also hold up.
So if you find yourself full of feelings that are downright unchristian, you might want to step back and take a look at your diet. Maybe there’s too much cotton candy and cupcakes in your daily life—too much news programming, or social media, or binge watching things on television that damage you. A friend of mine said that when he scaled back from political commentary, his spiritual health increased dramatically.
Think what would happen if we devoted some time every single day to feeding on the word, the same word that Jesus fed on out in the wilderness. I’m certain there would be fewer instances of embarrassment in the church, less moral failure, less in-fighting, simply because the devil would have a harder time getting in.
This wouldn’t necessarily mean trying to read a bunch of Bible chapters every day. In fact, it might mean reading less, because we’d slow down, making sure to interact with the content we’re allegedly reading. The Word would inform our thoughts and affect our feelings and influence our decisions.
For sure our prayer would change. Right now there’s basically only four things we pray for in Christian settings—money, kids, health, and jobs. But think how rich it would be if while we were reading, when something stood out, we immediately prayed it back to God with thanks or confession, or petition. Prayer itself would become something new, and worthy of thorough exploration, rather than the tired triteness it has often fallen into.
No junk food in the world can work these wonders.