Monday, November 28, 2016

Worth the Wait

 I recently finished the novel 'I Heard the Owl Call My Name' by Margaret Craven.   It was a magnificent book.  In the span of 160 pages, Craven managed to draw me in with subtle nuance and simple writing the way not many authors can.  More modern works of fiction seem to talk a lot, but say very little.  I can think of a handful of best-selling books that hit a thousand pages, but cannot hold my attention past chapter one.  This book was special.

The author writes about a young vicar who is dispatched by his Bishop to a remote Indian village in the Pacific Northwest.   Craven crafts a pitch-perfect montage of what it is like for the young preacher to show up with an American set of expectations, and discover a rich (though often confusing) set of old native American traditions instead.  In this village you see, there are elders who still teach the old ways.  They don't trust the vicar yet.  He represents an intrusion into their way of thinking.  A culture clash is in the works.   

Craven often mentions a feeling of "cautious waiting" that is  present in the indigenous people.  The vicar can see it in their eyes, and hear it on their lips.  He is never quite certain, however, just what they are waiting for.  That reason lies always just out of reach.  Maybe someday they will tell him.  Maybe when they trust him a little more.  

I was astonished as I came to the realization that the author had actually constructed a reading experience that matched this curious notion of 'cautious waiting' that her characters were feeling.  As each chapter unfolded, I found myself both wanting to finish the book in one sitting, but also a bit afraid to discover too much at once.  Almost like it would be cheating to skip ahead too quickly.  As if it would somehow defame the characters in the novel if I learned too much too fast.  

What does it mean  to wait on something like this?  I suspect it happens to many of us in our daily life.  We go one day to the next, never quite sure what is around the corner.  Sometimes fearful ... or at least cautious.  When we are in a position like this, I believe that to wait means that we cannot proceed in any direction until something occurs.  In essence, we are stuck for a period in time.  At least until whatever it is we are waiting on (whatever chapter we are reading through) unfolds such that we can again press forward.  We wait until we are rescued from our holding pattern.

Allow me to illustrate  further with an example from my own life.  Once I was at a family reunion out in the country.  It was beautiful and serene; many places for kids to run and play.  My middle son Gavin was doing just that.  He was maybe four or five years old at the time.  He is bright and energetic, and he was following the older kids around ...  running through the narrow foot trails on the steep side of a hill.  At one point I remember spinning around just in time to see him falling head over heels down the side of the embankment.  I couldn't get to him in time to stop his fall.  It was like watching something in slow motion.  When it was over, he stood back up, seemingly no worse for wear.  We drove him home later that day, not thinking much more about it.

The next day he began vomiting and exhibiting signs of a concussion, so we rushed him to the local E.R.  As anyone who has been to the emergency room knows, sometimes you are forced to wait for hours until you see a doctor.  During this time, my wife and I literally felt 'stuck.'  It was as if time stood still, and everyone in that small hospital room experienced exactly what Margaret Craven was writing about when she spoke of cautious waiting.   Sometimes, you simply aren't allowed to see what lies at the end of the tunnel - at least not in the way you want.  And not in the time frame you would prefer.  

What is it about physical pain and suffering that often brings about character building?  At times like these, I really wish that something else (anything else) would suffice.  But, it appears that God in fact uses these situations to get our attention.  I'm embarrassed to say, sometimes it takes physical pain to get my attention.  

The young vicar in the novel finally gains the trust of his native-American  congregation after suffering alongside them when one of their children passes away.  Craven writes on page 87, "But there was a difference now.  The cautious waiting was over.  That night he wrote to the Bishop and the Bishop's answer affirmed it.  'You suffered with them, and now you are theirs, and nothing will ever be the same again.'"  

We are waiting all the time on this planet.  We wait for a graduation date, or a birthday perhaps.  We wait for a friend or family member to come visit us.  Sometimes we wait for that certain something that we cannot quite put our finger on.  It is a cautious waiting, akin to the feeling you get when you know things aren't right in this world, but you aren't quite sure what will fix it.  In fact, I think we often find ourselves waiting on a savior.   

Isaiah 53 is one of my favorite passages from the Bible.  It shows us what Jesus the savior had to go through for our sake.  Listen to the words from the Old Testament writer as he recounts what the Son of God had to suffer through in order that his flock might come to trust him.  Verse 4 says, "Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.  But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed." 

It would appear that much like the young vicar in Craven's novel - we have a friend in God, willing to suffer not only with us, but for us.   He is the Savior that everyone needs, but not everyone has met. 

Eventually the E.R. doctor cleared Gavin that night, and all of us got into the car and headed home.  We were tired, and it was late.  What we had waited on so desperately and needed to hear so vehemently, finally came to pass.  We were told that he would be okay... just keep an eye on him.  We could now move forward as a family and continue living our lives.  That memory of having to wait for hours will be etched in my mind for some time to come.  

Similarly, when we encounter Christ as someone who meets us in the midst of our suffering - as someone who knows first hand what it means to endure and prevail - I think it changes us.  We can allow our cautious waiting to come to an end.  Somewhere deep down in our hearts, a veil of fear has been lifted.  The waiting can stop, and the living can begin.  

In a famous account from the Gospel of John, Jesus meets with a Samaritan woman next to a well.  When she comes to draw water from it, he engages her in conversation.  John 4:13 says this, "... Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst.  Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life."    

When we find God, we are truly found.  The wait is over, and there is no need to go thirsty anymore.  No need to wander aimlessly through life from one day to the next without purpose.  Jesus is the last chapter in a novel dedicated to pointing people to eternal life.  We will no longer be stuck.  We have been cleared by the E.R. doctor; the nightmare is over. 

Gavin is older now, so are all my kids.  I frequently get a kick out of watching him run and play with the other kids.  He has almost no recollection of that day in the  emergency room years ago, and I am grateful for that.  But as he gets older, he will face the same difficulties we all do in life.  My job (so far as I can tell) is to show him that he may suffer sometimes in this world, but he need not suffer alone.  He may be forced to wait on God occasionally, but he will not wait in vain.  And when he is older, I will have a book for him to read.  It's a story about a young vicar who visits a remote village and learns how to live an abundant life in Christ.  I wish this same abundant life for everyone reading this article.  It is worth the wait.


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Monday, October 10, 2016

So, What's the Catch?

Nothing beats a family vacation when it comes to candid moments.  A recent trip that my family and I took to the east coast was no different.  There were many destinations and tourist attractions along the way, but one place stands out from the rest.  From the minute we pulled into our resort in Williamsburg, Virginia everyone was impressed.  Lush accommodations and sprawling architecture were the norm, not to mention the ivory spiral staircase which greeted us as soon as we arrived in the lobby.  We were all very grateful to be there after the long drive from Iowa. 

My wife had found this little piece of paradise for us as part of a timeshare program.  In order to stay three days rent free, we had to attend a two hour seminar hosted by the resort sales staff.  I typically abhor this type of thing, but we both agreed that it was only two hours of our life, and well worth it for the free stay.  So we unpacked our car and checked into the condo.  

The next day we showed up at 9:00 a.m. sharp for our meeting.  We were greeted by a nice young man with a Manila folder.  He ushered us over to a table where we quickly exchanged polite introductions.  After asking us some questions designed to figure out what type of vacation we liked best, the game was on.  We were first set in a room and required to watch a twenty minute video.  You know the one: where Bob and Jane Smith go on camera and talk about how life changing and wonderful the resort is.  We were then escorted around one of the model homes so we could see what awaited us for only $300 - $600 per month.  I didn't like those numbers.  I don't think that mattered however, as our tour guide didn't miss a beat.  


I exchanged glances with another couple across the hallway during our little walk-about.  I think they were on the same type of tour because the man's facial expression matched my own.  Both of us wanted nothing more than to leave this place immediately and begin our real vacation.  I gave him the all knowing wink as we walked by. 

The two hour sales pitch quickly turned into four hours, and the more often I said "no", the longer the tour went.  When it finally became clear that we weren't going to buy a condo, my wife and I were shown out of the building via a small back door (out of public view no doubt).  I secretly wondered if we were going to be forced into some type of vehicle with tinted black windows and whisked away to a special room for guests who didn't cave into the pressure.  No matter, it was finally time to hit the beach!

This engaged my mind however, and I thought about how many other things in our world might inspire this type of suspicion?  We are always asking "what's the catch?"  If you go to an amusement park or a museum for example, you are forced to exit through the gift shop.  If you visit the used car lot looking for a vehicle - you are often sized up in the first five minutes by the salesman.  

This produces inside of us a hard, cynical edge I think.  After a while, I wouldn't be surprised if everyone began to resemble a well dressed man with a manila folder, or a used car salesman.  Advertising is a billion dollar industry in our country.  Television commercials nowadays must be brighter, louder, and more shocking in order to capture our attention.  Always a sales pitch, and always a catch. 

What about when we turn to the arena of spiritual things?  Do the same rules apply?  Must we approach every spiritual truth claim with the same dogmatic mistrust?  I would say a degree of prudence is usually wise at any given moment, but what if there really are  churches out there that don't just want your money?  What if there is actually a holy book that can change your life for no money down?  

I often think about the promises of Jesus in the Bible.  Love him or hate him, the one thing you cannot do is maintain an impartial distance regarding the things he says.  In fact, Hebrews 4:12 says, "For the word of God is alive and active.  Sharper than any double edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow..."  And the words of Jesus of Nazareth are certainly no exception to this.  Try reading the Sermon on the Mount for example, without being changed in some way.  

But then there is the good news of the Bible itself.  It claims that we can be saved from our sins.  That there is much more to life than just this world.  It would appear that the promise of salvation has no catch.  But it does have a cost.  That cost was described to us in all four Gospels.  It is the fact that Christ was crucified for our sake, and that he took our punishment upon himself.  You see, even this cost was paid by someone else on our behalf.  

In a matter of speaking, it appears we really can stay rent free in the timeshare condo after all.  No monthly cost, and no twenty minute video.  The only requirement is that we decide for ourselves in His favor.  They used to call this 'making a decision for Christ.' 



Romans 10:9 is one of my favorite verses in the Bible.  It is kind of scary also, because there isn't a catch here either.  It simply says this, "If you declare with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord', and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."  It's hard to find fault with this type of divine simplicity.  God offers a gift, we demonstrate acceptance through what we say and what we believe - and He will do the rest.  No trial period or up front deposit necessary.  


If the young man at the resort had this type of promise waiting for me, the end result may have been different.  One of my greatest fears is that many will miss the forest for the trees when it comes to God's offer of salvation.  People may view it with the same type of suspicion we are so used to applying elsewhere.  They may invoke cynicism instead of acceptance.  In short, I worry that many will miss the proverbial boat.

God is good, and He is patient.  But He will not wait on us forever to make a decision.  It's time to think seriously about Romans 10:9.  A sales pitch without a catch will invite either skepticism or gratitude.  When it comes to God, I believe gratitude is usually the best option.


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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

A Place to Call Home

My family summer vacation this year was superb.  It had all the bells and whistles a person could ask for.  My wife did a great job planning the excursion, and even went so far as to outline each day's events on an excel spreadsheet.  We had decided to travel by car across country to Virginia and Washington D.C.  The scenery was breathtaking as we traveled through the Appalachian mountain range.  God knew what He was doing with the American landscape in this part of the country.  I suddenly felt very grateful to be alive.  In fact, I remember one day where we followed a looming thunderstorm in it's early stages of development, all the way to our first hotel.  The reflection of the setting sun against the tall, billowing cloud was like something out of a National Geographic magazine. 

Our stay in Virginia was also picturesque.  Only an hour away from the ocean and boardwalk by car.  Not to mention some plush accommodations in the resort itself.  From there, we turned the car toward our nation's capitol.  The whole family was excited.  There were monuments to visit and photos to take.  Once we arrived at the hotel in downtown D.C., it was time to unload and get checked in.  Up until that point things had gone very well.  Probably a little too well.  It was time for a good vacation story;
time for one of those Chevy Chase moments. 

You see, when you travel to a large metropolitan city from rural Iowa, you forget that buildings are often constructed in a way that focuses on conserving space.  We had now exchanged the solace of wide open mountain ranges for the concrete jungle.  And from this point forward, I would become intimately acquainted with the hotel's underground parking garage.

From the moment the gate went up and I pulled the car in, stress and claustrophobia took hold.  There was barely enough room to maneuver my mid-sized SUV around the corners, much less fit into one of the parking spots.  It felt difficult to breathe.  The painted lines were practically stacked on top of each other; or so it seemed.  Most of the signs read 'compact vehicles only'.  Oh to be driving a Volkswagen Beetle just then!

Things became worse as I met another vehicle attempting to exit the garage.  The driver had the same panicked look on her face as I did.  "Lucky people" I thought to myself.  They were allowed to leave this underground shop of horrors.  I estimated maybe two or three inches between our cars as we glided past each other - too afraid to make eye contact.  And then soon after, the sound of people arguing followed by a loud crunching noise that rang out from the other bay.  No doubt one of the other vehicles over there didn't quite make it around the bend as safely as I did.  Did I mention it was hard to breathe down there?  

The pinnacle of anxiety came when I finally gave up and tried to exit the garage, only to find that there was no way out.   You heard me correctly ... it was a dead end at the very back of the ramp.  In order to leave, you had to turn your vehicle around completely or go in reverse out of the gate.  I tried twice to do this but my car was too big.  I had to admit defeat and eventually pulled over into a corner next to a stack of wooden pallets.  I cannot remember the last time I had felt so out of place.  There were literally (and figuratively) no available spots left for my white SUV.  No safe recourse available.

I think many of us have a story like this from our past.  One that we can whip out at a party or some similar gathering of friends and family.  One of those "you should have been there" type of stories that becomes more and more embellished upon each re-telling.  But the feeling stuck with me, even after my family and I returned home to Iowa.  That feeling that something isn't right, I don't belong here.  No safe place.

Famous author and philosopher C.S. Lewis wrote often about the notion that the physical world points to the more celestial (yet still very much existential) plane of existence.   If we are hungry, there is food to eat.  If we are tired there is sleep to renew us.  So in this particular case, Lewis may well have argued that if people don't feel like the world they inhabit is quite right ... then it may just be because we aren't home yet.  Not our real home at least.  Our hearts give an inner testimony to the fact that there is something greater beyond our current existence.  A place where the thin painted yellow lines of a parking garage don't overlap the spot next to it.  A place where we will finally feel like we belong.  An ultimate safe place to come home to.

I remember vividly a job interview I once had years ago with a large factory.  I was applying for the job of on site technical trainer, and the human resources person was very excited to have me that day.  From the moment I entered the building, however, I knew it was a bad fit.  They were interested in hiring someone who would drive a forklift and wear a hardhat.  Instead, I write articles and work with computers.  I remember being taken on a tour of the plant that ended very abruptly once they realized I wasn't wearing steel toed boots.  I wasn't allowed beyond a certain area without them.  I was out of place, and we all knew it.  There was something not quite right ... that feeling of being displaced began to surface once again.  

Job interviews and parking garages are one thing, but what happens when these feelings give rise to something a little more serious?  What happens when people allow that feeling of being lost to turn into feelings of hopelessness and despair?  It is easy to do I suspect.  On facebook for example, everyone looks so happy all the time.  They show photos of vacations and grand kids and new cars and big houses.  Only occasionally does real life sneak in, and someone posts something about a tragic event or an addiction they are struggling with.  I believe it is often the same way with churches.  People who are hurting and feeling lost may show up seeking after something, only to look around and see the Sunday morning facade of well dressed, upper middle class people singing and smiling.  "No one here is struggling the way I am" they might think.  After the third or fourth song about God's glory and spiritual renewal, this same person may feel like turning around and running for the door.  They don't fit in here, something isn't quite right.  They thought church would be more ... real.   They had hoped people would show their brokenness a little more openly.  They had hoped to fit in.



So what does God say about preparing a place for you and I in this world of displaced hope and fear?  John 14:1-4 relates some of the most comforting Scriptures out there.  It says, "Do  not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God; trust also in me.  In my Father's house there are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you.  I am going there to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.  You know the way to the place where I am going."    

These are beautiful words, and the world needs to hear them.  Not only does Jesus tell us that he has a place for us, but he has also provided a road map on how to get there.  It is the gift of salvation offered freely to anyone who wants it.  An important stop marked on this road map occurs in the book of Romans, chapter 10 and verse 9: "That if you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."  

We live in a world where we can feel things aren't quite right.  We often feel out of place, alone, or displaced.  The Bible identifies this truth and then God provides an answer to it.  Something you and I can cling to in times of difficulty.  His offer stands to anyone who seeks after Him with all their heart, mind, and soul.  A mansion with many rooms awaits those believers who take seriously God's road map, and who listen to the command in the book of Romans.  No one stays lost in the parking garage unless they want to be.  It's better to follow the map.

After my failed attempt to park my vehicle underneath the hotel that day in Washington, I had decided to walk back up the ramp to the lobby and ask for assistance from the front desk.  I am perfectly aware that men don't ask for directions or for help when driving, but this situation called for me to swallow my pride and become humble.  The gentleman behind the counter was nice enough to leave his post for a moment and accompany me down into the coffin-like expanse of the garage.  It took us about twenty minutes, but we finally got the car parked.  I managed to squeeze into a spot next to one of the support beams that looked just big enough for a skateboard.  We even had to fold my rear view mirrors inward against the car doors in order to fit!

It appeared that asking for help and having a little faith was exactly what the doctor ordered.  I believe that the same prescription applies to the world we live in as well.  We need never feel alone or hopeless.  There are people in churches all around us willing to listen and help.  There is a God who loves us and who has prepared a place for us in Heaven.  A place to call home, where we will finally feel a sense of eternal belonging.  A place where we can finally find our way out of the parking garage.  A mansion with many rooms.  

Sermon Sunday: 'Building Your Theological Roof'

Last Sunday I had the privilege of presenting the sermon at my local church.  I addressed the importance of building a strong "theological roof" through the study and exegesis of Scripture.  If you have 20 minutes or so, please take the time to watch and listen below.  It is more important than ever that the church adheres to the teachings of Christ.  Hope you enjoy it:





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Monday, May 16, 2016

Building a Roof that Lasts

I had no idea how much work it would take to replace the old, crumbling roof on our one hundred year-old house.  Soon after we moved in, my wife and I began to notice small areas of soft wood, where the water could sneak through and cause damage to the  ceiling and surrounding dry wall.  This was disturbing, but not uncommon in old houses I'm afraid.  Water finds a way.  If there is an entry point or weak spot anywhere in your house, chances are good that mother nature has begun working on that area in some way.  This is the natural way of things of course - if you don't fix it in the beginning, you will certainly have to fix it later.  The only the problem with waiting is that it can be larger, cost more to fix, and probably take longer.  All things considered, we knew it was time for a new roof.  


After a month of sawing, cutting, sheeting, and hard labor, the team of roofers that we hired were finally done.  Cleanup was minimal due to the conscientious manner in which the workers toiled.  My thanks go out again to the Amish for the quality job they did.  Our home no longer leaks during Spring storms.  This raises a certain analogy in my mind as it relates to Scripture and the human search for truth.  I don't believe it is too much of a stretch to consider a pedagogy in which a new roof can be viewed in a similar way to theology.  Certainly the directional metaphor applies:  we look up to God in heaven, and we also look up to the roof on a house.  It is the top most section of a home.  In fact, if we cannot stop our roof from leaking and letting in rain and snow, eventually everything else in that building will be at risk.  Images of the Clarke Griswold character from the movie National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation come to mind.   Who knew people could actually fall through their ceiling while installing Christmas lights?  I'm sure it happens.

But what if you and I don't take the time to cover ourselves in solid theology?  What if the outside, brackish water has found its way into a weak roof?  I am sorry to say, it is  possible to become accustomed to placing buckets under the ceiling at various parts of the home to catch leaks.  We can even become comfortable doing that.  When it rains outside, you can always run to the kitchen and select your favorite piece of Rubbermaid, right?

The Apostle Simon Peter from the Bible was really good at providing a reality check for the early Christian church.  There were no leaky theologies on his watch.  He gave this warning to the early Christ followers in 2 Peter 1:16, "For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty." There isn't much wiggle room here.  You see, the early church often had problems with letting in occult-like beliefs and bad ideology just like we do today.  We are surrounded by divisive teaching in the twenty-first century.  People don't know what to believe anymore, and I can't say that I blame them.  The notion of God has become more of a buffet-style, 'take what you want and leave the rest' framework.  If it works for me, then I accept it.  If not, then I reject it.  Who knows if it is really true or not.

Peter saw this back then, and I'm certain modern pastors see this today.  It may be time for us to replace our theological roof.  The only problem is there are too many contractors to choose from.  It is a confusing landscape out there.  It begs the question: how do we gird up our theology to be both accurate and strong?  How do we stop the leaking roof in a way that will last for generations to come and provide for our children?  How do we know what is true?

Fortunately Peter answers this question in the same breath.  In 2 Peter 1:19 he says, "We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts."   In other words, he was reminding the church to hold fast to their original teaching as given to them by Jesus.  Do not fall prey to the latest, most interesting (yet aberrant) teaching that may be floating around at the time.  

So how does the modern believer begin the task of replacing his or her roof?  We must  search out the completely reliable message Peter was talking about.  We must pray, seek after God, read the Bible, and attend church.  These things can work together to keep us focused and attentive to the things that God is telling us.  Omit just one of these four things, and the tendency exists to backslide into picking and choosing what we feel like believing in.  In effect, creating our own version of what is right and what is wrong.  A makeshift theology often based more on emotion than truth.  Fortunately, the real God has given us the tools to repair our roof effectively, and He helps guide us as we begin the process.  But we must allow Him to do so - it is a two-way street.

By the way, cleaning up ruined dry wall and picking up drip buckets isn't always easy.  It involves rooting out the damage already done by the brackish water.  Likewise, strengthening our theology can be just as difficult.  It's always easier to rest on what we have already learned (good or bad), and simply accept the status quo.  God however, requires us to dig a bit deeper.  He desires for us to challenge ourselves against what Jesus says in the Bible.   To come to grips with the fact that Jesus really is the way, and that God really can transform lives.   


As I mentioned earlier, my Amish friends did a great job on our roof.  It will last for years and years to come.  I believe it will allow us to weather all manner of rain and wind.  The process itself was difficult - I watched them work every day and I saw firsthand what it took.  It was often windy and cold, and at times the weather itself even seemed to purposely thwart our efforts.  Still they pressed on.  A good roof is worth the trouble I suppose.  So is good theology.




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Thursday, March 17, 2016

Anger Management and Easter Sunday?

As I write this article, the Easter holiday is fast approaching.  In fact, it will be here in a matter of days.  I wonder what God wants us to think about as this most important  Christian celebration approaches.  It is an interesting time to be alive I think.  A presidential election looms in the near future, and the national debates have been quite interesting to watch.  Some of them are very heated, and from time to time - the candidates are simply rude.  Name calling is often the order of the day.  It made me think about how our society handles anger and frustration in general, what has become acceptable on a public level, and what God might have to say about these matters as the countdown to Good Friday begins.  It really comes down to how we treat each other.
  
For many years someone in my family was a guidance counselor for an elementary school (two of them actually). She ran an anger management group. Guess what the average age of the attendees was? Between 5-6 years old.  Kindergarten! Does the world need to hear what the Bible might say about anger management? I would say so.  It is clear that this problem can start early.  Equally clear is what can happen to these kids if they grow up under this type of duress without ever having adequately addressed the problem of anger.

When I first began thinking about this, I searched the Bible for Scripture references about anger, and I noticed an over-abundance. As I list out some of the verses below, try to read them with an eye toward the action statements contained within the Scriptures themselves. There is something that God requires us to do when it comes to the subject of anger I think.  There is an action step we must take.


For example, Psalm 37:8 says, "Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret-it leads only to evil."  Proverbs 20:22 says, "Do not say, 'I'll pay you back for this wrong!' Wait for the LORD, and he will deliver you."  Romans 12:21 likewise tells us, "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
And the following two pieces of Scripture seem to stress personal action as well.  Collossians 3:8 says, "But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips."  And 1 Peter 3:9 tells us, "Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing."


Did you notice something? All of these Scripture passages (and many more that I haven't listed) require us to make a choice. Words and phrases like, "refrain, do not, you must..." tell us that God wants us to manage how we handle anger. I think God is telling us that although you can have a gut reaction when you are offended or slighted, the amount of time we allow this frustration to boil is up to us. How we deal with anger is an act of the will, not simply some automatic response or animal instinct that we cannot control. We are active participants in how well we propagate peace.  But don't try telling that to our current roster of presidential candidates during a debate!

There is no shortage of evidence linking physical violence to anger and frustration.  They often walk hand in hand.  But I think difficulty can especially set in when we excuse violence as simply the uncontrollable result of something that someone said or did to me in the heat of the moment.  "I had to punch him in the mouth, did you hear what he said to me?"  Yes I did hear what he said.  And no, you didn't have to punch him in the mouth.

I teach martial arts to a group of wonderful and devoted students twice a week.  We practice kicking, punching, and board breaking ... and it has nothing whatsoever to do with violence.  Instead there is courtesy resulting from discipline, and self-restraint by way of mutual respect for one's opponent.  Anger must not factor in - only personal growth and spiritual development.  This is not philosophical nonsense.  Traditional martial arts have understood these truths for years. It is a lesson we can take into all other areas of our life as well. 

Obviously this is easier said than done at times, and I cannot say with any amount of truth that I never get mad.  But hopefully, if we are good students of Scripture and followers of Jesus, we can learn to deal with anger differently than the rest of the world.  Or at least react differently to each other when it happens.  Because believe me, the rest of the world is watching.


I personally hope those kindergarten kids come to grips with this truth as well, as it is the same truth that you and I struggle with.  It will take spiritual maturity to grapple with this idea; that anger is controllable. Perhaps many of us didn't have parents that modeled this for us when we were younger, or maybe we simply lead frustrating lives without any choice in the matter and no perceivable way out. But when I think of situations like this or when I lose my own temper, I must remember to ask, "where would I be without the Bible's teaching on peace?" And just as important: where are you with regard to anger in your own life?  How would you do if you were up on stage at one of the presidential debates, with someone bringing up your every mistake publicly?  How would you react?

I will resolve to view the things that make me angry in light of Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  Easter is a celebration of the essence of Christain living.  The joy of the resurrection coupled with the hope of all things made new in God's image.  In this realization there also exists, I think, an attitude of forgiveness as opposed to anger.  I appreciate it when I see this attitude in others, and I'm ashamed when I don't see it in myself.  I may as well get used to the idea that peace is better.  After all, there is no going back to Kindergarten once we are adults.  We shouldn't have to.



Thursday, March 3, 2016

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Many people are dying a slow death because their hope lies in the traditions of the church only, and not in JESUS! Have a relationship with Him, not a building. Make sure wherever you assemble, that the foundation is Jesus!    - Keyondra Lockett










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