Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Peace or Anger? (Letter to a Brother) Page 4

“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” [Philippians 4:4-7].

“And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all…” [2Timothy 2:24a].

We live in a world of tension and aggression and if we buy into this world, this way of living, we will exhibit tension, anxiety, and aggression in our relationships and communications with others. Anxiety is the power that energizes the world, including the business world. From executives to employees, high-tension lines transmit fear, pressure, aggression, and anxiety throughout organizations. It’s not limited to business, we see it in government and politics, in entertainment, in sports, in education, in churches. It’s all about making things happen the way we want them to happen and making them happen yesterday. While we would not consider placing our hands on a high-tension line belonging to a utility company, knowing that the shock would kill us, we are accustomed to living with high-tension lines connected to our minds and hearts virtually 24/7 – and we seldom realize that they are killing us – killing our souls, our bodies, our families, our relationships…killing those around us. If we get zapped by someone or something we are conditioned to respond by transmitting a stronger and more violent zap back down the line. No wonder relational meltdowns occur with increasing frequency.

As we consider Paul’s words to the Christians in Philippi and to Timothy, lest we think that Paul is writing from an ivory tower, in both instances he is writing from prison, and in both instances the possibility of execution is present. Paul is not a motivational speaker picking the pockets of the gullible by giving them a shot of positive thinking, he is a man facing death sharing with others how to live life with one another in Jesus Christ.

Our passage in Philippians begins with, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” We are called to worship and love God with all that we have and all that we are. Worship begins with praise and thanksgiving; the psalmist exhorts us to “Enter into His gates with thanksgiving and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name” (Psalm 100:4). When we walk through the gates of each day that our Lord has made do we do so with thanksgiving and praise to Him? Does worship set the tone for each day? Do we approach our heavenly Father and Lord Jesus with praise each morning…before we check our email, before we watch the news, before we check sporting results, before we begin our work?

Paul is not writing about what to do in an emergency, he is writing about how we ought to live life. Of course when things get tough we can remind ourselves of Philippians 4:4 – 7, but this passage should not be in a box with the words, “In case of emergency break glass,” this passage should be woven into the fabric of our lives. A life in which the peace of God guards a heart and mind is a life that rejoices in the Lord. Paul writes to rejoice in the Lord always, and then again he says rejoice! A man or woman who learns to rejoice in the Lord always is a man or woman who will experience the peace of God guarding the heart and mind.

This isn’t a rote exercise or “name it and claim it”, rather it is the cultivation of a life of thanksgiving and worship, focusing on God and not on ourselves.

Then we’re told, “Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.” There are two biospheres on this planet, the Kingdom of God and the world in rebellion against God. Followers of Jesus Christ are citizens of the Kingdom (Philippians 3:20) and as such we are subject to the King, our Lord Jesus. As Jesus says in John 17, we are in the world but we are not of the world. Since we are not of the world our lives, in obedience to Jesus Christ, are by their nature (which is His nature) countercultural. In a world of harshness and anger we have the opportunity to demonstrate the peace and gentleness of Jesus. This is a great calling, a calling to surrender control of our lives to the Lord Jesus; a calling to be identified with Him in our attitudes, words, and actions; a calling to introduce others to the Prince of Peace.

The fact that “The Lord is at hand” (Matthew 28:20) gives us assurance of His presence and also reminds us that our lives are not our own but that they belong to Jesus and that we are accountable to Him. At work I am mindful of my boss throughout the day; his office is down the hall from mine and we talk from time-to-time. When I send him an email or copy him on an email I am even more mindful of him. When I am with him in a meeting with others or working with him directly on a problem I am even more mindful of him. Should I not then be mindful throughout my life of Jesus Christ, who is not only with me but who lives within me? Whatever I say, whatever I think, whatever I do…the Lord Jesus is at hand.

We’ll pick this passage up on Page 5.

Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God.” 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Another Irony of the American Civil War and WWII

To teach the American Civil War – or to film a documentary about it – without teaching about Reconstruction and its terror, and post-Reconstruction and Jim Crow and discrimination elsewhere in the country (and their terrors) is to take a text out of context.

To teach WWII – or to make a film documentary about it – without teaching about the Iron Curtain and its horrors is also taking a text out of context.

Of course, if we teach historical texts in their contexts then we are often confronted by our collective moral failures. We may pat ourselves on the back at Appomattox and the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment – but that can only be done if we ignore the context and we treat the 13th Amendment as the conclusion of the story. We may glory in victory over Nazism and leave it there, but at what price?

Speaking of Nazism – the basis of Nuremberg was “crimes against humanity.” How can there be such a thing if we are the products of time plus matter plus chance? If we buy into the idea that there is no transcendent truth, if we buy into the idea of the survival of the fittest – then we are faced with the truth (a false truth) that might makes right and that there is no moral basis for judging anyone or anything and therefore Nazism’s only failure was a failure of ultimate strength. But alas, we still think we need some kind of justification to do what we do, or our leaders think they need to give the masses a moral justification – and alas again…we don’t see the contradiction. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

An Irony of the American Civil War and WWII

While the American Civil War was ultimately fought by many in the North to free the slaves, African-Americans were hardly free at the war’s end – and into my own lifetime there have been lynchings, segregation, and discrimination taking various forms.

WWII in Europe was fought when Germany and the Soviet Union invaded Poland and England and France honored their defense treaty with Poland. Yet at war’s end Poland (and all of Eastern Europe) was enslaved by the Soviet Union.    

Fallen humanity is not humane when it bumps up against self-interest – once the threat to ourselves is past we lack the will to persevere, to put our collective selves “needlessly” at risk; we do, however, have the will to rationalize away our failure to see things through to a moral conclusion. 

Friday, September 18, 2015

Peace or Anger? (Letter to a Brother) Page 3

“Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.

“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” [James 3:13 – 18].

The above passage forms the conclusion to James’s famous passage on the tongue and is a bridge to Chapter Four, where James continues to confront his readers with sin in their lives; James 3:13 – 18 is an oasis between the fire and bitterness of a tongue not subject to the Lordship of Jesus (Chapter 3) and the turmoil of lives pursuing their own desires and lusts, at conflict with one another and with God (Chapter 4). In the midst of madness is the wisdom from above – pure, peaceable, gentle, reasonable. Righteousness is not sown by ungodly anger, but rather sown in peace by those who make peace. Once again we hear the words of Jesus, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God.”

While I would like to excuse my unrighteous anger, and while I would like to blame it on someone else or on circumstances, I am sobered by James’s words that when I live outside the gentleness of wisdom that I adopt a wisdom not from above that is earthly, natural, demonic. James gives me no excuse, no justification, no rationale for ungodly anger – he loves his readers enough to tell them where such “wisdom” comes from – it is not from above, it is rather from below.  

We live in a world that is angry. Every week, if not every day, we have opportunities to choose whether to respond to others and events in anger or to make peace as we live in the Prince of Peace. The temptation to drink from the cup of anger is ever present – while driving, while working, with our families, with friends and neighbors, within ourselves. We can leave the island of the wisdom from above and dive into the tumultuous sea of anger – if we do the riptide will carry us away and we will crawl exhausted back onto the beach and wonder what happened, wonder why we acted that way and said those things. Worse yet, one day the riptide may carry us so far from the shore that we drown in anger – destroying both ourselves and others. We ought to fear what ungodly anger and ungodly wisdom will do, we ought to fear its source, and we ought to learn to love the wisdom from above that is peaceable and gentle.

In a world intoxicated with the madness of anger will we be the sons and daughters of the Prince of Peace? Will we hear Jesus say to us, “Blessed are you because you were a peacemaker – you have grown into sonship, into maturity as a son, as a daughter, of my heavenly Father”?

Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God.” 

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Peace or Anger? (Letter to a Brother) Page 2

The Apostle James writes (James 1:19 – 20), “…But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not accomplish the righteousness of God.” James has two passages that I recommend for meditation when considering peace and anger; two passages which can guide and disciple us when we are confronted with the decision of whether to pursue peace or anger.

When we are tempted to indulge in anger, tempted to inflict anger on others (for that is what we do, it isn’t just that “I’m angry,” for anger is not self-contained but rather something we inflict on others), our choice is whether to be quick to hear or quick to anger. Situations in which we are tempted to propagate anger are by their nature situations that require a quick decision for they are highly-charged situations. When things are happening quickly an initial quick response is needed. If we choose to turn down the path of anger everything that unfolds from that point on will be quick – our actions, our words, and the damage we do will all happen quickly; the damage we do may take on a life of its own.

However, if we are quick to choose peace then what follows is a s-l-o-w-i-n-g down of our response - we are quick to hear, quick to listen; but then we are s-l-o-w to speak, and s-l-o-w (if the situation calls for it) to anger; for remember, there is righteous anger and there is unrighteous anger.

James writes, “…the anger of man does not accomplish the righteousness of God.” When I read this statement I mentally strike the word “man” and insert the word “Bob”, in some of my Bibles I have lightly lined through the word “man” and written above it “Bob”. I need to be reminded that my anger does not produce the righteousness of God; in fact, my anger comes from my self-righteousness and not from God’s righteousness. We’ll pick this idea up later in James when we come to the second passage on peace and anger that lends itself to meditation.

As in all passages, the context of James 1:19 – 20 is critical for a fuller understanding of what James is writing. James begins his letter with, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing,” (1:2-4). Then we read, “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved (by passing the test), he will receive the crown of life…” (1:12a); trials provide part of the context of James 1:19 – 20. No one gets angry without a reason, people get angry when there is pressure, and trials bring pressure – the question is, “How do we choose to respond under pressure?” When we are under pressure we are often tempted to indulge in anger.

James writes (1:13 – 15), “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.” When we are in the midst of trials we can be tempted in a number of ways; we can be tempted to fix the problem without submitting to God in the trial, we can be tempted to alleviate the pain of the trial through self-medication (which can take a number of forms), and we can be tempted to anger – our own lust, as James writes, can carry us away – our lust to be our own god, our lust for self-medication in various forms of pleasure, our lust for destructive anger.

We get “carried away” and we justify our actions and emotions and thinking. We are “enticed” by rationalizing that the trials we are in justifies our thinking, emotions, and behavior. Our fulfillment of our lust results in sin and our sin results in death – the death more often than not is not physical but spiritual – we bring death into our own lives and sadly bring death into the lives of others. Recall that Jesus linked anger to murder.

Then we come to verses 16 – 18, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.” We are not to look to our self-will and lust for solutions in our trials, but we are to look to our heavenly Father who never changes, who is eternally trustworthy, and who gives us good and perfect gifts. We are to remember who we are, a kind of first fruits of His creatures.

After verses 16 – 18 we have verses 19 and 20 - we need to be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for the anger of man does not accomplish the righteousness of God. Let’s continue to pursue the context by reading what comes after verses 19 and 20: “Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.”

We can become so accustomed to our way of doing things, and so accustomed to the world’s way of doing things, that we no longer see things the way God sees them. The words “filthiness” and “wickedness” may shock us when associated with “the anger of man”, but perhaps they are meant to shock us. Our lusts, including our lust of unrighteous anger, is filthiness and wickedness, and again, as Jesus says, it is akin to murder. I admit that when I consider the countless times I’ve displayed unrighteous anger, “the anger of Bob”, that I wish I had realized that what I chose to engage in was filthiness and wickedness. I am good at making excuses for my unrighteous anger – I imagine I’m the only one with that talent.

And then we have verse 26, “If anyone thinks himself to be religious (or spiritual, or a disciple, or following Jesus), and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.” When we next consider what James has to say about peace and anger it will be in the context of his famous treatment of the tongue in Chapter Three. Until then, we have a taste of what is coming in his linkage of the tongue to following Jesus Christ. The heart and the tongue are inextricably connected, Jesus teaches that it is what comes out of the heart that defiles us, not what we eat. Our words communicate our hearts; if the eyes are the windows of the soul then the tongue is the mirror of the heart. A heart submitted to the Prince of Peace will speak words of peace (Colossians 3:15-17).

We live in a violent society, not just physically violent but verbally violent. Much music is violent, much “humor” is violent, much automobile driving is violent (aggressive), the way companies do business and politicians do politics is often violent – might makes right is the elixir of society. The pace of society has a rhythm of violence. It is little wonder that we are tempted to the violence of unrighteous anger, but it is no excuse to choose to follow that lust and sin.

And so I meditate on verses 19 and 20, knowing that should I choose to drink the cup of unrighteous anger, the anger of Bob, that I am drinking from the cup of the enemy and not the cup of my Lord Jesus. This passage has been something on which I’ve meditated prior to entering a tough situation; I have also meditated on it in the midst of a tough situation; and it is also one that has convicted me of sin after I’ve resorted to unrighteous anger. O how good to know that we can find forgiveness in our Lord Jesus when we have sinned, and how good to know that His grace will enable us to ask forgiveness of others to whom we have directed our unrighteous anger.  

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God,” Matthew 5:9.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Peace or Anger? (Letter to a Brother) Page 1

Dear Brother,

You asked me about anger, about how to deal with it, how to avoid it. I told you that I’d write some things down for you to ponder, I apologize for the delay, it isn’t that I haven’t been thinking about your request, but it takes time for seeds to germinate – I think our time with our friends last night helped the sprouts break through the soil; there is nothing quite like koinonia to encourage growth.

Of course the anger that we’re discussing is destructive and sinful anger; there is a righteous anger. Our collective problem is that we have too much of the former and a dearth of the latter. To ponder anger is not enough however, we must also ponder peace, for after all we are the sons and daughters of the Prince of Peace. Our lives should reflect who we are, not who we aren’t.

Isaiah writes (Isaiah 9:6 – 7a), “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace…”

Elsewhere Isaiah (59:8) writes about people who “do not know the way of peace.” We might say that on this planet there are two highways, two ways of life, and while these two ways of life have many designations, in our context the designations are “the way of the Prince of Peace” and “the way of sinful anger.” Consider that in the Sermon on the Mount, which was, as far as we know, Jesus’ first recorded public sermon outside a synagogue, that early in His message (Matthew 5:21 – 26) He deals with ungodly anger – placing it on the same plane as murder. Perhaps anger is the door through which murderers enter? Perhaps a perpetually angry heart is a perpetually murderous heart? Perhaps ungodly anger kills not only the soul of the one who nourishes it, but perhaps it also deals death to those to whom it is directed? Certainly Jesus’ words in Matthew are a wake-up call to us who desire to follow Him, a sobering warning that we’d better pay attention to who He is, who we are in Him, and whether or not we are living as “the light of the world and the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13 – 16).

Aren’t Jesus’ words in Matthew Chapter Five what we might expect from the Prince of Peace announcing His Kingdom and setting forth the principles and constitution of His Kingdom? Jesus goes on in the Sermon on the Mount by teaching about peace in sexual purity, peace in marriage, peace in our language, peace when wronged, and peace with those whose aim is to harm us. Jesus is teaching us what “the way of peace” looks like – it looks like Jesus, and no wonder for He is the Prince of Peace.

Isaiah writes, “There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace…” We are called to live under the government (lordship) of Jesus Christ, and in so doing we are called to be His agents in the increase of His government and of His peace. Therefore, the life and peace of Jesus Christ is to displace anger in our lives and we are to share His peace wherever we go. His peace is to increase in our lives, in our hearts and minds; our souls are to be souls of peace – and we are to be ambassadors of peace in a world of anger and violence.

Paul writes (Colossians 3:15), “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.” Who is to rule my heart? What is to rule my heart? Will it be Jesus or me? Will it be the peace of Jesus Christ or will it be my selfish anger? Every temptation to anger presents me with a decision, will my heart submit to the peace of Christ or will my anger and self-will rebel against His peace and attempt to dethrone Him from the rule of my heart? Will I be a rebel or a disciple? Will I be a wise son or a foolish son? Will I deviate from the way of peace and follow the tsunami of the world’s anger? Will I be an agent for the increase of His government and of His peace?

When we drive a car we ought to drive only when sober. When we live life we ought to live soberly – aware of Christ, aware of ourselves, aware of others, aware that He is the Prince of Peace.

Back to the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:9) where Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” This is Jesus’ call to us, to you and to me and to our brothers and sisters – any opportunity for anger is an opportunity to make peace, to infuse the peace of Jesus Christ into a relationship and a situation.

What opportunities await us today?