Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?

1 Peter 3: 13

 

In Peter’s day, the answer to this question was, “Many people”; these included the Emperor, the District Governor, the local authorities in many cities and towns, and numerous ordinary citizens. Christ followers had a way about them whereby they had the ability to stir up trouble. They tended to stick their noses into the affairs of those in power and into the lively hoods of the general population, too. Because of the essential nature of following Christ, they possessed a special talent for causing the wrath and the anger of religious leaders to boil over at them. The world where Peter lived was especially dangerous for him and for the others who openly proclaimed Christ. Our culture and the society where most of us reside is more genteel and less prone to violent opposition than was his. Yet, there is real danger out here in our streets, and the opposition that we will face for our faith is truly present.

 

There are places on earth where confessing Christ and sharing His Gospel with others is quite literally dangerous to do, but most of us do not live in those places. Our governments may even speak to being Christian in some manner, and the practice of our faith in Christ is not constrained or legislated against. However, different gods and a separate gospel do exist, and their adherents are often quite aggressive in their defense of those beliefs and of the system of power, authority, and rule of law that has grown out of this ungodly foundation. In much of our world nationalism, wealth and power, military might, and selfish ambition form the tenants of this modern ethos and frame in the definition of its exclusive membership. Christ is invited in as a silent partner and as a nominally expressed adornment to be hung upon the wall but not granted a real voice or followed into points of conflict with the way that life is being conducted.

 

To follow Christ today will lead to that conflict with many of our modern systems and power structures. This has not changed significantly from Peter’s days, and just as it was for him, we will also encounter disagreement and opposition from individuals over matters of what is right, just, and in conformity with God’s Word. Yet, Christ assures us that doing what is good, in every sense that He sets forth as being His desire for all of Creation to experience, will not lead us to the sort of harm that actually matters when we face our Lord in judgement for the lives that we have lived. Seeking righteousness and calling out that which is not the true Gospel of Christ in the world around us will not be popular, and these actions will lead to conflict and to disagreements with others. Some of these disagreements will be with people who name Christ as Lord and even with people who fellowship with us in our home church. These harsh realities cannot stop or deter us from speaking forth what is righteous, just, loving, and in alignment with God’s Word, that is, speaking what is good. For, when the full goodness of Christ is proclaimed, life is breathed into the world around that place.

 

 

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One thing I have asked of the LORD,

that will I seek after;

that I may dwell in the house of the LORD

all the days of my life,

to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD

and to inquire in his temple.

Psalm 27: 4

 

So, David liked to hang out at church, in his case that would be the Temple, and while there, he enjoyed the beauty of his surroundings. This seems rather straight forward and simple to understand. I enjoy the architecture, the vivid colors of stained glass, and the richness of ancient tapestries just as much as David probably did. While the location has some value and the picture that we have of ancient temple appointments and décor is exquisite, none of that matters all that much; plus, the great Temple was built by David’s son Solomon. The beauty that is resident in that house of God comes from a source other than the building itself. The Lord was tangibly present with David there, and He is likewise with us today when we visit our own places of worship. However, He was also with David during all of the other hours of his days, and our Lord is in our midst throughout all times of day and night as well. David knew that wisdom and guidance for life came from the Lord and out of His Word, and for us today this has all become even more true and accessible. The Lord’s greatest beauty is seen in His nature and character, and He has provided us with untold millions of examples of this beauty to view and to interact with.

 

The beauty of the Lord is perhaps most profoundly visible in His presence within people. God tells us that He has created each of us in His image. Even with the remarkable variety that is present in those images, we are each and every one of us a reflection of God, Himself. This is true of our skin, eyes, and hair. This idea is also valid when it comes to the sound of our voices, the language that we speak, our personalities, and thought processes. There is nothing about who we are that is not touched by the hand of the Creator. The greatest challenge that we all face in dealing with other people and also with living in our own skin is that we have all been touched by the brokenness and the corrupting influence of sin. All people are born into life as fallen beings who are granted breath with that sinful bent in our hearts and minds so that each of us enters life as a person who is destined for the death of unending separation from our God. This brokenness and separation is the source for all of our anger, violence, disease, and other forms of strife and oppression. That is why Christ came and defeated sin’s hold upon us; so, now all people who choose Christ can be redeemed and brought into the unending presence of the Lord.

 

In Christ, David’s desire and request become our own reality, for the Lord takes our lives and relocates us from the world of our birth and places us into His unending presence. In that new dwelling place, the beauty of the Lord is with us in many ways. His Word provides comfort, wisdom, guidance, and encouragement, and the Spirit speaks all of that and more into our minds and hearts. In Christ, we are granted the ability to see the world around us with the clarity of righteousness as our filter and with Christ’s balancing love, grace, and redemptive zeal as our purpose. When we see with Christ’s eyes, the beauty of this world is found in its people as it is defined for us by our ability to see God’s image portrayed on and in each of them. As we reside in the presence of Christ, we dwell in the fulfillment of David’s desire, for we are truly surrounded by the beauty of the Lord when we see His Creation through God’s eyes of love.

 

 

 

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,

the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,

what is man that you are mindful of him,

and the son of man that you care for him?

Psalm 8: 3, 4

 

People may think that they can take control of the sky and have dominion over the moon, the stars, and the space around them, but this realm has already been claimed by another. We might consider ourselves to be the true captains of our destinies and plan out our days with that in mind; however, on even our very best days, we will arrive there a distant second to the Lord. God made everything that exists in the seen world and far beyond that. His creative handiwork was accomplished in order to fulfill His own purposes; so, none of the universe belongs to any other, and there is no way for any of us to take dominion over even the smallest corner of that place that we call outer space. It is the height of human arrogance and the pinnacle of folly to strive for such a thing.

 

The same God who made all of these wonders and set the massive clockwork that is the universe into motion cares about and even counts the hairs on the heads of each person on the earth. The Lord also made every one of us, and His compassion, mercy, grace, and love are poured out upon our lives and into our journeys through life. God desires to see justice tendered to everyone regardless of race, gender, wealth, nationality, or other factors. He seeks to bring each of us into a relationship with Him, and the Lord uses the love and care that we humans can provide to others as His primary means of exhibiting that precious redemptive zeal. We are to be diligent and self-sacrificing in our efforts to meet needs where they exist and to welcome home the stranger wherever those homeless ones are forced to wander.

 

When we care for the weak, provide a place of dwelling to the homeless, feed the undernourished, and grant lasting asylum to the oppressed, we are expressing the same loving attributes that we have benefited from in the sacrificial love that Christ has bathed us with by His cleansing baptism of redemption. The Lord has made it clear to us that He holds even the most insignificant of people as precious and as worthy of all care and protection. Thus, the Creator of the universe, the sovereign God over the heavens and the earth, desires to have each of His people join with Him in living out Christ’s calling for us to love others, to protect the weaker ones, and to grant the blessing of welcome to all who are needful of shelter and its rest. People may think that they can gain dominion over the earth and the heavens by might and by force, but in truth, that already belongs to God, and we enter into His purposes and embrace Christ’s calling when we set aside fear, self-protection, and false power in order to bless our world with the peace that comes through caring for others.

Kiss the Son,

lest he be angry, and you parish in the way,

for his wrath is quickly kindled.

Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

Psalm 2: 12

 

God is not to be trifled with, and neither is His Son, Jesus. Although the Lord does come to all people in love and with grace and mercy extended to the ends of the earth, He is also the God of righteousness and justice. He is Lord and Rightful King over all of the earth and the entirety of the universe beyond it. There are no limits to that authority, and there exists no end to God’s reach when it comes to redemption or rebuke. This reality is something to hold in great awe and with extraordinary respect. Christ has been restrained in His application of judgement upon our lawlessness and sin, but that restraint will end, and that end may come at any moment. People and nations should be ready to answer to their Lord from the depths of their hearts and with the ledger of their life’s thoughts, words, and actions opened and fully displayed for judgment.

 

Although this verse caries in it a strong note of warning, it also comes with the strongest possible one of hope. There is the absolute promise of blessing that God speaks throughout history over His creation. The Lord’s blessing brings life in its fullest sense. So, it carries with it peace, joy, care, compassion, mercy, comfort, love, and redemption. The Lord’s blessing provides those who place ourselves under His authority and inside of the law of His holy kingdom with understanding and wisdom to use in conducting the affairs of life in a loving and just manner. His Word brings us into the center of His will for all of the aspects of conducting life on this earth, and His Spirit guides us ever deeper into knowledge of that word’s author so that its wisdom can be applied to every circumstance and situation that we might encounter. There is nothing in this life or on this earth that does not fit within the guidance and the wise direction of the Lord.

 

So, there is no good reason to wait or to delay in turning to Christ and in giving all over to His authority and rule. In fact, it is both foolish and personally harmful to withhold anything or any part of ourselves from Him. God desires to bless our lives greatly, and He grants His blessings to us throughout all of the days of our lives in ways that impact every aspect of our journey through life. He also wishes to redeem and to bless the entire world in like manner, and Christ calls upon everyone that He has blessed with His presence to participate in this redemptive work. We are to seek after justice and to promote mercy in every corner of our world, and we are to do these things in the name of our Lord, the Savior of the World, Jesus Christ. There is no true redemption without Christ at its center, and there is no lasting peace absent the truth of God’s Word. In the end, all salvation comes from God, and His salvation with its unending blessings is found only in Christ who we are called upon by the Lord to continuously proclaim in all of His glory and might.

Be angry and so not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.

Ephesians 4: 26, 27

 

Anger is a natural and a normal response to forces, factors, and situations that do come about during the course of our days. The capacity to feel anger is something that God placed within us in His creation of our nature. We are told that God, Himself, feels anger. So, we cannot just discount these feelings as something that is wrong or that comes solely from some dark place within our fallen natures. Anger, itself, does not demand redemption; however, the way that it tends to play out in our lives is another story, indeed! For, anger is far too often something that we do not resolve. We carry it around with us and even summon it up again and again in order to fuel a particular need or desire to convey personal perspective or to gain an advantage in situations. This retained anger adds force and fury to words and expressions that might otherwise have gone unnoticed or under-appreciated, or so we think.

 

Yet, anger can turn from something that is a part of the nature that God gave to us and that is good and useful and become sinful in a very short amount of time. When we hold onto it and do not seek to resolve its causes it begins to eat away at our souls and to erode the love out of our hearts. The force and the power that may have driven us to seek justice and to demand righteousness quickly becomes a corrosive substance that defaces our understanding of the value and the beauty that God placed in others. We begin to see an enemy when we should see a sinner that is in need of understanding mixed with truth in order to bring about Christ’s redemptive work in them and in our relationship with them. That is why Paul places so much urgency in his directive about resolving our anger. Although there are some cultural aspects to what he says about not carrying anger with us over night, the more important aspect of this is the fact that resolving our differences needs to matter above and beyond all else as it is more important than sleep, itself.

 

Almost everyone will be angry from time to time, and there will be a number of different causes for this anger. Some of it will be generated by the injustice, violence, and oppression that are rampant in our broken world. At other times, anger will arise when people that we know are either harmed by the sinful actions of others or when sin is perpetrated upon us. Still, other anger boils up out of disagreement and dispute with others. Regardless of the cause, the emotion that is anger has a short life span as a healthy response to people. It needs to be worked through and responded to in a manner that leads toward resolution. Sometimes that next stage in its expression is found in prayer, in writing letters to governmental officials, in bible study that leads to the teaching of correct, Scripture-based responses, and in forgiveness of wrongs real or imagined. Sometimes anger is resolved by repentance and by entering into a dialogue with another person. Anger is powerful. It is a big emotion. It is best worked out in the much bigger power of the Spirit as that working out, that resolution, requires commitment and hard work to accomplish; yet, that end result leads us closer to Christ and to the center of His unfailing love and grace.

 

 

 

 

Know this my beloved brothers, let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

James 2: 19, 20

 

Speed kills, or in paraphrase, Haste lays waste. The point is simple, direct, and well-known. Anger can overtake us and when it does it operates much like a threshing machine in that it mows down everything in its path so that there is nothing except stubble left behind. I am not saying that there are not situations and circumstances that warrant anger, for there certainly are those times, and we all encounter them with too much frequency in our violent and oppressive world. I think that James makes an important distinction between the sort of anger that comes out of a foundation in God’s Word and one that is established within ourselves and that functions to establish personal power or dominance. It is in this distinction that lies the difference between that which is destructive and that which seeks to redeem.

 

For people, our first response is often to draw upon our own understanding and strength to attempt to handle whatever it is that we are facing. This is our go-to, fast response in many instances. When it comes to the highly charged environment that surrounds an angry response, rapid deployment of our words is frequently the first thing that we do. We toss out the most powerful and often the most caustic of remarks that we can summon up, and we do, in fact, intend to use this expression as a form of artillery barrage. We want the other person to be set back on their heels, fearful, and ready to concede to our point of view. We seek to win almost as much as we desire for them to lose. This is not the way that God operates, and it is very far removed from the manner in which God’s anger is known to be employed.

 

When we are counseled by the Lord to speak slowly, He is asking us to enter into His Word, especially as it is implanted in our hearts, and to listen to the prompting of the Spirit before we engage with other people. This moment or two of hesitation and contemplation can be truly valuable for both parties when we are face to face, and it can lead to saving us from the sort of ruinous written statements that flow far too freely in our fast moving world of electronic expression and communication. In most tense situations it is best to pause before speaking, seek the Lord in the moment, stopping to pray may seem strange to many of us, but it is never the wrong thing to do, and then speak with redemption as the intent of the words. The other thing that the Lord counsels us to do is to listen. Jesus was a good listener, for He knew the stories of the people that He engaged with. We, too, can allow others the space to tell us their concerns and let us into their journey before we pronounce judgement or attempt to solve the issues at hand. In all of this contemplative approach to conflict, Christ is glorified; for in it, Christ is revealed as the source of our strength as His love sooths the situation and seeks to redeem the relationship.

Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding,

but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.

Proverbs 14: 29

 

Anger is often a fast twitch sort of response. Everything can be calm one moment and then with the suddenness and the force of a storm that is driven by a micro burst of wind, all is fury and hot-blooded response or reaction that is poured out upon whoever is close at hand. Sometimes these outbursts are over in a few minutes and some last for hours and days. It is there suddenness, unpredictability, and nearly violent nature that make them so hard on both the recipient and the perpetrator. Anger of this sort is never good, useful, or beneficial. It is always destructive as it does leave damaged relationships and broken trust behind in its wake. Even when the people involved state that all is good between them, there is a cost to be paid for these encounters.

 

When Solomon preserved this particular proverb, I would guess that he was recording something that he had experienced in his own life. He also knew that the second line was especially true, for the most profound result of an outburst of anger such as this is that in these situations the ungodly human attribute of folly or foolishness is placed on a form of pedestal as if it were worthy of praise and adoration. For some people this sort of explosive anger becomes a form of expression that is used as a tool to gain power over others and so to dominate them. This is almost as far away from a Christ-like approach to engagement in relationships as people can go; so, this form of expressed anger takes people deeply into that part of our world where evil lurks and godless rebellion rules. This is dangerous territory to visit, and frequent travel there can lead to relational and even to literal death.

 

That is why understanding is so important in the process of overcoming explosive anger. It is important to know the impact of this sort of behavior, and acknowledging this reality also matters greatly. To borrow another proverbial expression, people are not rudderless ships. We do not need to respond to every impulse or emotional force that hits us or that comes upon us. We can make choices in this area of life so that we learn to control the feelings that fill us and that allow us to take charge of their expression. In general, this sort of control is achieved by slowing down the thoughts that start to race through the mind when we are involved in discussions with people who may hold a different point of view or perspective from ours. We need to listen and not react. We also gain control through caring about other people in a manner that reflects the way that Christ sees them. Thus, the understanding that helps to suppress and to manage anger is understanding of God and of His will and way. This is not always easy to achieve and this sort of control usually requires us to enter into repentance, a determined desire to change, and the accountability of others. It is a challenging road to take, but it leads us closer to the promise of glory that is ours in Christ.