Transformation


Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding,

   but he who has a hasty temper exalts a fool.

Proverbs 14: 29

Our culture’s ultimate source of knowledge, Wikipedia, defines anger in this manner,

“The emotion anger, also known as wrath orrage, is an intense emotional state. It involves a strong uncomfortable and hostile response to a perceived provocation, hurt or threat.”

Well, I agree with this except that it seems as if the part about provocation, hurt, or threat no longer applies, for people today become demonstrably wrathful without any sort of real provocation beyond what should produce mild irritation or slight annoyance. Today anger is a tool that is used to overwhelm, to oppress, and to defeat others. Although the use of this powerful emotion in this manner is prevalent today, I submit for consideration that it has always been employed in a similar manner. The writer of this proverb was speaking about something that was both cultural observation and probably personal experience. Almost all people from the dawn of creation have given in to anger’s ugliness and destructive presence.

Yet, that is not how it needs to be. There is another way to engage with people, even with people who really do tend to cause our blood to boil. Jesus certainly felt anger at the way that people were corrupting their worship of God and at the oppressive actions of those in power. God has expressed His anger at the disobedience and selfishness of people. Throughout the long history of Christ’s church, our ongoing disregard for God’s call to live in a just, loving, and other-focused manner has caused a form of anger to well up in numerous righteous followers of Christ. God’s anger, whether displayed by Him or by Jesus is tempered by a desire to bring about redemption and reconciliation to God’s way of truth and righteousness. Thus, the Lord demonstrates His understanding of the people with whom He is angry and with the circumstances that have caused their sinful actions. The Lord knows each of us as an individual, and He enters into our lives with our specific and personal identities in view even when He is displeased with what we are thinking, saying, and doing.

If we truly desire to break the distressing cycle of angry engagement in our world today, we can do nothing less than to follow our Lord in seeking to understand where others are coming from when they cause strong negativity to arise in us. We must seek to know them as people and to recognize that even the most troubling of personalities bears the touch of the Creator’s hand in who they are and in how they function. That does not mean that all actions and words are acceptable or that we should allow all of them to exist without comment, response, or rebuke. The righteous, the loving, and the God-honoring thing to do is often otherwise. Yet, even the sternest of responses needs to be tempered by grace, redemptive love, and a form of understanding that comes by and through the Spirit. When we live in this manner by abandoning the destructive tactics of our world, we have chosen to follow Christ in a manner much like the one that He taught us in the seventh beatitude,

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

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For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.

Titus 2: 11 

There was this rather simple thought that seemed to be just stuck in my mind when I got up this morning; It is one of those ideas that comes out of the fog of sleep and that begins to take on shape as the brain cells slowly start to warm up to their tasks. It is this, I try too hard to make what is designed to be simple and easily understood really complicated and obscure, and I am not even slightly alone in doing this. Now, I admit that this is something that I do in a lot of areas of my life; I do have an analytical personality, you know; thus, thinking through, over, and all around something is normal. This is different; this gets in the way of something much more important. 

My waking thought for today was this; God makes relationship with Him very simple, I tend to make it truly difficult. The Lord gives me an easily understood message to share with others; I turn it into a graduate-level seminary coarse. God opens His arms to everyone without reservation or hesitation; I create a list of qualifications and set up a screening system for access to Him. God loves all with the absolute love of that elusively perfect Father; I don’t even love myself all that well; even more so, I struggle with loving others. 

Thus, what is it that God has saved me from? He has saved me from the isolation that I would naturally create as my world; He has given me Himself as a gift beyond imagining, and He continually shows me how to live in the completeness of His overwhelming love. All of the thought and the consideration about who God is and of how He works and relates is fine; He created and empowers my mind; yet, the Lord still wants me to stay focused on the simplicity of His truth and on the accessibility of His saving grace. 

There is nothing that I can speak or write; no ritual, rite, or sacrament that I can perform; and none of my actions or works of my hands do anything to bring me or anyone else closer to God if they are not done out of love for Him and if they are not filled with His love for people. The singular thought on my mind this morning is that God graciously loves me, and He wants me to share that love with others without reservation, condition, or hesitation. Christ is much more interested in the relationship, and we can let Him worry about the details later.

“For behold, I will raise up against you a nation,

   O house of Israel,” declares the LORD, the God of hosts;

“and they shall oppress you from Lebo-hamath

   to the Brook of the Arabah.”

Amos 6: 14

God is the perfect example of the engaged and loving parent and also of a truly good friend. He is willing to enter into those hard conversations and deal with the issues that everyone else tries to avoid. This can be very unpleasant, and it can lead to relational tensions that are monumental in their scale. However, the Lord is fully aware of the fact that we all sin and fall far short of the righteousness that God’s standards set out for us to follow. He recognizes with equal clarity that these times and situations of engaging in the selfishness of sin are harmful to us and to the world around us if they are left unchecked. Departing from God’s path in small ways can start people along a course that grows ever further off track to the point that recovery becomes almost impossible. We can get to a place in our journey of life where there are no visible points of reference left to sight and to turn toward.

The Lord does not want to see any of His people end up on the far side of the world with no means of finding our way home again. So, He intervenes in our lives. This is what He is promising to do in the days of the prophet Amos. At the time when Amos wrote out these words, the Lord was still waiting upon the repentance of His people in Israel and Judah. Now, God was certainly aware of the fact that they would not listen to these pleas, and Amos was not the only human voice that the Lord inspired to speak out about the dangers of continuing to follow their own sinful ways. Still, stubborn is stubborn, and self-serving people can be very set in the path that they have chosen to take. We know that both of these Hebrew nations would be overthrown and the people taken from their homes into captivity and slavery in a foreign land. Sometimes, harsh measures are needed in order to bring wandering people back into relationship with God.

Are we in our world today in a place where this sort of extreme measure is the only thing left for God to do in order to get us to turn away from our self-determined journey and fall upon our knees in repentance before the Lord? I am not a prophet, and God has certainly not provided me with an image of His future plans or of the details of the way that He will work out His promise of redemption for our world. I do know that the Lord has a plan for the restoration of the purity and the glory of His original creative handiwork upon the earth. I believe that I am correct when I look around and see the angry, violent, and unloving nature of so much of what is happening upon the face of our globe that God is more than displeased with it all. For I am convinced that God’s heart is breaking and that His patience must be running out at the sight of our depravity and lack of just treatment of each other. So, the engaged father and the good friend that is the Lord is not likely to withhold His judgement for much longer. It is time for people who know Christ to speak up, to act boldly in love, and to become well known in our world as people who proclaim the truth of the gospel of Christ in order to bring a foretaste of the Lord’s redemptive work into contact with the world that we touch.  

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, but without sin.

Hebrews 4: 15

Let’s face it, there are days when I am not very strong. I don’t mean sore muscles or being weary from the drain of life’s activities, and I am not referring to emotional tiredness, either. There are just times in life when temptations of various kinds are more real than is the will to turn away from them. This is a challenging aspect of living in the skin that God has provided to me as a dwelling place for my heart, mind, and soul, and these are not times that make me feel especially good about myself when I look at what I am thinking and doing from the perspective of the cross that Christ allowed Himself to occupy for my sake. This contrast between my depravity and Christ’s holy yet bloodied presence makes me want to go away and hide in a dark corner with my shame and guilt covering me.

However I may feel about these things and in these dark hours of my soul, Christ calls to me to come out and to engage with Him in the truth of His gospel of love, grace, and redemption. My self-imposed cave of regrets is not the place where my redeemed soul is supposed to reside. My sinfulness does have consequences, and there is always human fallout to deal with, but isolation and separation are not the answers that Christ provides to me. Christ knows the intensity of the challenge that life in this world of brokenness and temptation provides as He experienced life in this place to its fullest without succumbing to those same temptations. Additionally, there is nothing that we can do or any place that we can journey that will take us beyond the grace and the forgiveness of the cross of Christ. Our Lord’s blood is more than adequate to cover any sin that we can commit.

Jesus wants each of us to live fully in His presence. He also desires for us to live out His calling to be people that proclaim the eternal glory of God in every aspect of our lives. We cannot do this if we allow our times of weakness to overcome Christ’s mission for our lives. However, we are directed by God to be people that recognize the destructive nature of sin and who, therefor, turn to God in repentance and with a desire to open up our areas of weakness to the restorative work of the Spirit. Sin does not need to win in this contest for our loyalty, for, in Christ, it has already lost the battle for the soul. Thus, our sins have been forgiven on His cross, we are granted mercy and grace by Christ, and His Spirit works within us to strengthen our resolve to live as holy and righteous people. As the writer of Hebrews went on to say,

“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4: 16 

For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Colossians 2: 1-3

There is wealth to be had in our world. Its availability is something that is spoken about regularly by various voices that are inspired and influenced by divergent sources. If any one of us is lacking, then there must be something amiss with the way that we are going about life, for there is abundance to be gathered up from the pavement of our streets. Depending upon the speaker, this bounty may be financial, positional, be defined by power, or be counted out in various types of spiritual currency. It is said that all that is really required of people in order to be wealthy is to follow the right leaders and to ascribe to proper teaching. Then, our accounts will be gorged upon the world’s abundance, and our lives will be lived out in the luxury and the comfort of plenty. However, this idea of easy riches and of universal wealth is mistaken, and it can lead people far away from the only enduring riches that exists in the universe.

This essential difference in what it means to be wealthy is one of the great mysteries of faith in Christ. God views wealth from a different perspective than do most of us that are looking outward from the earth. For we see only what is right before our eyes, and our depth of vision is restricted and cut off by the haze that is in the air around us and by the curvature of the earth itself. No matter how hard we may try to see or what aids or devices we might employ, we will never view the entirety of what is out there in our world or in the air above us. Additionally, when we consider wealth, we tend to think in terms of things that we can hold in our hands and that give us that desired position or power in our world. God contemplates what is means to be wealthy in far less tangible terms as His treasury is filled beyond imagining with all that has real meaning and that carries with it eternal significance.

In Christ we posses all that endures beyond the grave, and at the same time, we are blessed by and through Christ with the full extent of what is needful to live fully and joyously during our allotted days of life on earth. The luster and shine and the absolute beauty that radiates off of God’s knowledge and wisdom exceeds the glitter and the glow that is given off from this world’s brightest diamonds or its storehouses of gold. Nothing that we can acquire by way of earthly authority or by means of human wisdom can begin to replace the wonder and the blessings that are to be found in exploring the depths of a relationship with God. Thus, the great mystery that Christ reveals for us is the one in which all people can be equally wealthy as we stand on common ground at the foot of Christ’s cross and are filled by His Spirit with the love, grace, truth, and wisdom that define what it means to be blessed with riches beyond all comparison. 

For thus sys the LORD to the house of Israel:

      “Seek me and live;

           but do not seek Bethel,

        and do not enter into Gilgal

            or cross over to Beersheba;

        for Gilgal shall surely go into exile,

            and Bethel shall come to nothing.”

Amos 5: 4, 5

In a strange sort of way one of the markers of humanity’s creation at the hand of God alone is our long-standing ability to ignore the obvious in order to do what it is that we want to do instead. In the days of Amos, God was very real and visibly present with the people of Israel. The history of all that the Lord had accomplished in establishing them as a nation was rather fresh in their national and personal memories. They could name ancestors that were born during the wilderness days and had crossed over the Jordan in that miraculous moment in which God demonstrated His power and His grace. Now, they had moved away from worship of the Lord as their one and their only God as they were regularly going to temples to place offerings upon alters dedicated to various other gods. Thus, God’s own people were traveling to Bethel, Gilgal, and Beersheba in order to bow down before and to seek favor from these other forms of so-called deity.

Do we not continue to do the same sorts of things today? We may not build elaborate buildings to house stone, bronze, and golden images of our various gods, but we do worship at their altars. The fashion of the day may call them by names such as government, wealth, military might, social power, or career. We can usually make arguments as to the worthiness or even as to the essential nature of the attention that is given to these aspects of life. Yet, the sort of devotion that is often granted to them is much like that which is described by God’s Word as the form of worship that was to be given to God alone. At issue is not the fact that we have devised systems of civil governance, means of earning a living, or even an organized military presence that is tasked with standing up to evil in our world; rather, the issue is the importance that is given to any of these entities and activities. When they become primary in our minds and in our hearts, then they have taken the place of God in our individual and our collective beings.

God is patient with us, and His blessings continue to be poured out upon His people. But this will not continue indefinitely. When Amos wrote his words of stern warning, things were going well in Israel and in Judah. There was wealth and prosperity in that land, and the next great peril in the form of Assyria was a weak and incapable neighbor far to the north. Yet, all of that would change very rapidly, and before too long both Hebrew nations would be overwhelmed and made captive. Our fate today will not necessarily look like that of Israel and Judah; yet, God has promised that a day of reckoning is to come soon. We will each be forced to respond to Christ with an accounting for the conduct of our lives, and He is a judge that knows all and one that hands out true and complete justice. We each individually and collectively as Christ’s church have choices to make. We can reframe our hearts and redirect our minds so that our devotion and worship is focused on God alone or we can expect to answer to Christ for why we chose to leave our best selves upon those pagan altars instead.

Those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer.

Galatians 3: 9

Abraham was blessed by God in many ways, for he had a long, close, and very active relationship with God in which the Lord led Abraham to a land of promise, provided him with position and prominence in that new home, and gave him the greatest desire of his heart in the form of a family. Yet, greater than all of these blessings was the promise that God made to Abraham that he would be the starting point of a long line of people that held fast in their faith in God.

Although Abraham was a dynamic leader who exhibited courage and wisdom, for he was an astute manager of his business interests, and he was able to negotiate treaties and contracts to his advantage, the thing that he is remembered for is still his faith. Abraham trusted God, and he allowed that trust to grow under the continual influence of the Lord, too. He was also willing to accept the grace of God as a vital part of the blessings that he was receiving, for Abraham frequently put himself into situations where God needed to save him from himself.

Ultimately, the story of Abraham gets down to a very simple reality. It is one of continuing day after day to just put one foot in front of the other with the confidence that trust brings in the assurance that God will provide a solid place for that foot to land. Even on the days when the swirling winds of uncertainty and fear are trying to obscure the path, I know, as did Abraham, that the Lord will take my hand and that the light of His glory will penetrate any darkness. In Christ we can have faith that we will come through the moment whole, with no real injury, and stronger from the experience. As we journey through this often foreign land that is life in the world, we can join with Abraham in enjoying the blessing of God that comes through faith in His perfect will as we are sustained by the Lord’s infinite grace and love.  

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