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 

Advertisements

And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.

Mark 4: 39

The depth and breadth of God’s Word is truly amazing to me, for the Lord never seems to stop revealing new thoughts and applications of it. Thus, I admit that I had never thought of this well-known verse from Mark’s account of Jesus’ time with us on earth in human form in the following manner. In this moment in the gospel narrative we know that Jesus is demonstrating His Godness in that He possesses power over nature, and He also provides a tangible example of the way that He did then and continues to care about and for people in this world. Additionally, there is a strong suggestion of the fact that followers of His will encounter opposition and that He will engage with those forces for our sakes. These are all good things, and they do reflect God’s character and His nature. Yet, it comes to me, even the Holy Spirit seems to be an early riser, that there is something additional on display in the words and the actions in which Jesus engages here.

For a brief moment, short and transitory as it is, Jesus commands nature to return to God’s creation design intent. The natural world was constructed as a peaceful place where everything functioned perfectly and wherein the elements such as wind, water, fire, and rain were to be productive and supportive of the thriving of all of life. All of this, every aspect of nature, has been damaged and disturbed by the effects of sin. Those disobedient and rebellious acts that the first people chose to do have had a profound impact on the way that this world operates, and none of that is for the good. So, on that day and in that boat upon the sea, Jesus took back a piece of this world from Satan’s evil grip, and He set it right for the benefit of a few people and as an example of something much bigger by way of future promise and also in the form of setting out a part of His call and commission for His followers.

There is no question that God has promised that there will come a time when Jesus will again walk upon this earth. This will be a point in history when all of creation will be restored to the glory of God’s design. There will no longer be any grief and death, and all of the universe will exist in a form of harmonious peace. This is God’s promise, and it establishes a form of hope for all of us as we follow Christ in this troubled world. Yet, Jesus seldom left things with future hope as His only teaching point. It seems to me that He also wants us to actively engage with the created world with redemption and restoration in mind. People continue to do real harm to the place where we dwell, and we do this with little regard for the gifts that God has given to us by way of the resources in the earth and seas or that are contained in the atmosphere that envelopes us. I believe that Christ desires for us to join Him in rebuking the corruption that sin has produced on and in nature. He also wants us to care for what He has given to us for the sake of our thriving. Until Jesus returns, we are, in fact, His hands and His voice to be used for promoting peace upon this earth, even peace in the natural world.

Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.

Romans 6: 13

Now make no mistake about this, the work of transformation in our bodies is done by Christ. However, we are willing participants in this process of change. God has never wanted people to enter into a relationship with Him through compulsion or by means of coercion or force. There are beneficial consequences that come about when we do surrender ourselves to Christ, and there are also correspondingly negative ones if we reject or deny Him. Yet, even these earthly and eternal out workings of our relationship with God do not carry with them the idea of force or of compulsion. Just as we will live throughout our days here and on through the expanse of eternity with our decision regarding the person and the nature of Christ, so too we are allowed to freely choose to follow Christ or to not do so.

This is not just a singular or momentary choice, either. We will continually encounter decisions that involve our desires and will and their conformity to or deviation from God’s Word and His will. For, in all honesty, most people want to think, say, and do things that are pleasing to ourselves but not so to God, that are momentarily pleasurable for our bodies but are contrary to God’s law of truth and grace, or that satisfy inner desires and fill voids within our hearts that would be better filled by Christ and by His redemptive love. Some of these choices are small and the outcomes have limited impact upon the conduct of life; yet, they all matter for even these small things accumulate and grow in their aggregate into systematic ways of thinking, and they become wedges that drive us ever farther away from God’s heart and from serving His gospel. Other decisions that we can encounter in our journey are large and impactful at the level of reshaping the course of life, itself. 

As we are in Christ, all of the process of living belongs to Him. We have been purchased away from slavery to death and ownership by Satan and his worldly forces. This transaction was entered into by God, and the price that was bargained and sealed was the death of the historically singular innocent one, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As God’s great love for each of us was poured out in the form of sweat and drops of Christ’s blood that thus formed the medium for our baptism of grace, we are called upon to fully commit our hearts, minds, and bodies to following Christ and to serving His will throughout the moments and the years of our lives. This is a decision that we are given to make continuously along the way; do I surrender my flesh to Christ to be consumed upon the holy altar of service to the Lord or do I hold onto those aspects of it that make me feel safe or that bring personal pleasure and temporary fulfillment? Holy Spirit, inform and guide my choices today so that they will be pleasing to you, Lord, I pray.  

Gather to me my faithful ones,

   who made a covenant with me by sacrifice.

Psalm 50: 5

When Asaph set down this psalm, what he was discussing by way of sacrifice would have seemed clear. There were sacrifices that all righteous people were required to make, and they were done in a specified manner at certain designated times. Yet, even that formal or ritualistic idea of sacrifice would have been limiting and so only partially true for what the priest had in mind here. It is the general idea of sacrifice that is on display in this verse rather than the specifically assigned obligations that came due as a part of the calendar of events or occasions. This matters for us as due to Christ’s sacrifice we are no longer required to make the ritualistic sacrifices, but God calls us to follow Christ into the sacrifice of all in order to fully serve Him and to follow His will in proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ to all of the world.

The act of gathering before Christ leads to sacrifice. This act requires those who seek to do it to change direction in life and to set out on a new course that has its navigation oriented upon the cross and its objective established as eternity. This new heading may take its followers into dangerous waters and along the edges of deep and precarious precipices. It might cause us to travel far from the company of loved ones and outside of the comfort of familiar places and their customs. This journey might also be one in which relationships define risk and wherein entering into closely connected and caring interaction with strange or with difficult people is exactly what Christ is asking us to do. There is enormous variety in the places that He might send us and in the tasks in which the Lord might ask His people to engage, but their commonality will be found in the need to make personal sacrifice in order to follow Christ’s will.

However, we are not alone in this process as we are never asked to do something without the care and the support of the Spirit and by extension of His holy body, the church. Sacrifice is a personal decision and an individual act of faith in Christ, but it is generally carried out in the company of other followers of Christ, and so it is also supported and encouraged by those people through tangible support, words of truth and encouragement, and in prayer. It is in this way that the modern practice of sacrifice is most like that of the ancient world. In those times, sacrifices were made by individuals in the public setting of the temple. Now, we follow Christ and exercise faith in Him by means of living in a manner that leads to sacrificially giving up of ourselves in service to Christ and to His gospel; yet, we do this in the context of fellowship with others who follow Christ, and it is always best for us to make sacrificial decisions in relationship with that faith community. In serving God today, sacrifice is no longer an event, it is now a way of entering into the new life that comes to us in and through Christ.     

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

2 Corinthians 5: 20

This is the job title that everyone that follows Christ is given. We are the Lord’s ambassadors. He sends us out into foreign lands and commissions us to represent the Kingdom of God in all of our interactions with the inhabitants of those places. This is similar to what an official representative of a government is charged with in being sent to operate in a country other than that person’s native one, but there are certain important differences. Christ’s ambassadors may serve anywhere in the world, and our office is frequently found in our own front yard or at a table in local café. The diplomacy that we practice does not have a direct impact upon international trade agreements and seldom leads to the resolution of tensions that involve armies and the potential for large-scale violent engagements. Yet, the work that we undertake can be even more significant than that, for it contemplates the eternal destinies of souls.

As an ambassador that is sent out from a nation sets aside the rest of life and goes where dispatched by its leaders, so too, are we called upon by Christ to leave behind our concerns, fears, and issues of distrust and discomfort in order to engage with people who do not know Christ in a close and personal manner. We are to go to them with the message of Christ’s gospel of reconciliation, and we are to do this without regard for the potentially hostile attitudes of those to whom we are sent. We might be rejected and our message may even be ridiculed, but that is no loss to us, for Christ sends us out in the full confidence of our faith to speak truth into the lives of people that are lost and that need to know the loving grace that Christ desires to pour out upon them. The message that we are given to proclaim is one of peace between God and people, and it is the story of how any and all of us are brought into full and unfettered relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

This is a message of hope, of love, and of reconciliation. These truths are best conveyed as they are demonstrated through engagement with others, and this direct engagement aspect of the role of ambassador is both the most effective and the most dangerous one. The danger is found in the risk of rejection, ridicule, and even of attacks of various kinds and types. Yet, those are small concerns when it comes to representing Christ in the world, and they are mere wisps of shadows as compared to the sacrifice that the Lord made for us and for the people that we are sent to on His behalf. This calling to the role of ambassador is a holy one, and it is not for the weak of spirit or of heart and mind. However, in Christ, we are all conquerors over the world; so, our concerns, fears, and reluctance can be overcome by the presence of the Spirit with us in all that we do and everyplace that we travel in this world. As ambassadors for Christ we serve the Risen King, and we can go into every corner of our world with our heads held high confidently proclaiming God’s sovereignty, grace, love, and desire for reconciliation with all that reside there.   

Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matthew 5: 12

There exists a sort of mindless philosophy of life that says that people should ignore everything that is going on in their lives and in the world around them and so, “Just be happy.” This is not at all what Jesus had in mind here. He has just delivered the sobering thought that people who serve God by living out His righteousness to its fullest extent will be spoken of in harshly derogatory ways and will, in fact, be persecuted for their active faith. If this is the result of what comes our way because we choose to follow Christ and live out His direction for how we are to love others, care for them, and enter into redemptive peacemaking in our world, then it seems to be something very different from a state of being that could be viewed as mindless happiness. In fact, the pain that Jesus promises will be ours if we do seek after His path through life in this world is great as we might actually be choosing to walk in Christ’s footsteps all the way to the excruciating agony of the cross.

Yet, there is more to that prospect, for the Lord also gives us a a brief view of what comes beyond the sacrifices that He is leading us into in this life. Christ tells us that there is a reward to follow. The idea that we are to endure all that life throws at us in anticipation of some form of benefit in an afterlife may be hard to grasp during those hours of tears, fear induced sweat, and grief that we may be experiencing today. Still, the place that we occupy in this world is temporary and the days that we have to dwell here are short, and the other end of existence is infinite in its duration and in its wealth of blessing. However, there is more to what Jesus sets out as the promised heavenly response to our faithfulness to God’s holy will and righteous way of living it out. For the reward that we receive during the course of dwelling in the center of God’s will is also real and tangible. There is perhaps no experience in this world that is greater and more fulfilling than that of the sense of the presence of the Holy Spirit with you as you think, do, and say what is right in God’s eyes, even when this is done in the face of strong and persistent opposition from those around you.

This is the sort of thing that those prophets of old experienced. They spoke out and their words were frequently rejected by the world around them. They were also subjected to physical threats and harm and they often had to watch as the dire things that they foretold became reality. Still, the Lord walked through it all with them, and His Spirit was their companion and their guide for every step of that arduous journey. We may not be called upon by God to deliver words of prophecy to our world in the same manner as those people were, but each of us who knows Christ is called into unceasing service to our Lord and into a life dedicated to living out Christ’s grace, love, mercy, and truth in every aspect of life. Doing this to the best of our ability is cause for rejoicing, and the Spirit of Christ is present during these long hours of service to carry the weight of the burden and to encourage our failing hearts and confounded minds to continue the journey. Jesus knew that we were frail beings and that we would likely falter under the pressure and the strain of following Him; so, He also gave us His Spirit to travel this path with us, and He grants to us a form of joy that flows directly from the throne of heaven to wash our weary hearts in the knowledge of Christ’s delight in our faithful service.      

Jesus therefore said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent me, I also send you.”

John 20: 21

The presence of the living Christ in our world can be highly disturbing. He asks for a lot, and He isn’t really willing to compromise on the things that He wants from people, ether. So, it almost seems like a paradox that these were the first words He said to His disciples after He left the tomb and appeared among them. Now Christ was certainly wishing for them to be at ease and to realize and understand that the person who stood among them was the same Jesus that they had known and loved and who had loved them over the last few years, but I think that Christ had much more in mind than just that reassurance. He wanted them to embrace the fact that they were called to continue His work of bringing the reconciling love and grace of God to and into the world. So, the disciples were to go out and to bring the essential message of peace between people and God and, thus, that of peace among people in our world.

Jesus knew that bringing peace was never going to be an easy task, for it requires hard work and dedication to the purpose at hand. It is a relentless process, for there is an enormous amount of energy in our world that is dedicated to creating turmoil, separation, and animosity. People tend toward self-protection and fear of others, and these are emotions that run so deep within us as to be almost fundamental to who and to what we are. Our own natures tend toward the troubled, self-protective, and fearful sides of behavior. Still, Christ wants His deep-seated peace to rule our hearts and minds so that we will interact with others with the clear headed inner calm of Christ. When we do this, we can make a difference in our homes, neighborhoods, and communities, and that difference will be a tangible expression of Christ’s love.

With this eternal peace well settled on us, we can speak the hard truths of God’s Word and still be heard as compassionate. When we interact with others, the peace in our hearts will help to filter out our human defenses and it will allow a true dialogue to begin. The peace of Christ is something to accept and it is something to diligently seek after, for as humans, we just don’t naturally settle in peaceful places. Yet, in response to our tendency Jesus says, “Peace be with you.” True peace is not something that is created by treaties, by force, or by governments. True peace is the result of individual people who choose to believe Christ and who are willing to set aside their worldly human responses and thinking in order to allow the Holy Spirit the opportunityto transform our hearts and minds into ones that more accurately reflect God’s intent in creation; thus, Christ sends us into our world as committed peace makers.