Category: How We Grow

DMV Hell and Anger

dmv hell final

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. (James 1:19-20)

Recently I had to renew my license in person at the DMV. While I was waiting, a gentleman got his turn at the supervisors help desk. He was aggrieved. Somehow DMV had lost the title to his car. Gradually, he grew enraged as they could give him no satisfaction. “It’s a 65-thousand-dollar car and you lost the title!”, he bellowed.

“Sir, do not raise your voice.” He wouldn’t calm down.

The supervisor summoned the police (who always have an officer on duty at DMV — for moments like this!)  “Sir, you’ll have to leave the building.” The police escorted him out.

It sure is easy to feel anger when things screw up. Stuff does not work the way it is supposed to. Things get lost. It sure is easy to want to blame someone. Directing the rage towards the nearest target — the supervisor at her desk…. even if she was doing the absolute best job she that she could.

If only a raised voice could make what we need and want come true. But, that’s not gonna happen. After seeing the DMV incident, I must admit I can still feel unrighteous anger. (I can’t pat myself on the back if I keep it inside more than the Yeller at DMV did).

So, today’s scripture provides a wonderful antidote to wanting my will to be done now and feeling furious if that does not happen. To be slow to get enraged, and fast to listen, shows patience that is a spiritual gift from God. It’s part of us getting a new heart. I note 3 truths about progress in my battle with anger:

  • When I do get wrongfully angry, I repent of it more quickly than I used to.
  • Fewer things that used to get me angry get me angry any more.
  • The work is not complete yet.

So, Jesus doesn’t give us anger management, but instead, anger replacement: over time Jesus replaces our rage with more of him.

Don’t Cross That Line

wetlands.jpg

But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.        (Hebrews 5:14)

There are acres of woods across from our house. Some of that land is zoned for development, and so townhouses and condos might replace some of the woods. But the rest of the woods is wetlands and can never be developed.

The woods are shown on our town zoning map, but the exact line of demarcation of the wetlands was unclear. It did not much matter if no one was interested in building on the land.

But recently, surveyors went out, marking ‘wetland delineation’ on the wetlands boundaries with pink tape.

The tape now traces a squiggly line of separation between what can be developed and what can’t.

Our Lord uses demarcations too. You might think that the book of Leviticus is a bunch of boring rules. But the overall goal of the rules is quite important: You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean, (Leviticus 10:10 ESV).

Today, we are not bound to follow all the rules and regulations of Leviticus, but the goal remains: to discern the line of demarcation between what God says is good, worthwhile and noble and what is trashy, junk, garbage.

How do we tell the difference? It’s not always obvious, especially if there is no specific rule or verse in the Bible for the situation we have a question about. Indeed, today’s opening verse has nothing specific about what is excellent in 2018. It doesn’t tell us whether it’s OK to watch a certain R-rated movie or whom to vote for.

But the verse uses three helpful it-takes-time words: “mature”, “practice”, and “trained”. We really do get better at discernment over time as we continue to walk with Christ and his people.

Just as the experienced wetland surveyor was trained to know where to put the pink tape, we learn where to put our own boundary line between what is worthwhile and what is junk.

You’ve got to hit the red button

red button

Our worship service at The Chapel 1ended.

You can exit the sanctuary down the crowded main aisle. Or go out the side exit – that’s a nice shortcut.

On a recent Sunday, quite a few people, eying the shortcut, headed over to the side door.  But the door was locked.

A crowd began to build up and mill around. Some people got discouraged, gave up, and headed over towards the main exit. But — then — someone reached up to the left of the locked door and punched a red button. The door swung open! Those folks who waited now began to stream out.

When we are faced with temptation, we have a choice, just like the people by the door. Do we trust that there’s a way out — or do we give up?

It’s likely that this verse is familiar to you:

 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13).

But less familiar is the following verse:

Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. (1 Corinthians 10:14).

Note, an idol does not have to be an actual figure that we bow down to. Rather, it is anything we are tempted to make more important than Jesus. If we give in to temptation, we are worshiping an idol instead of Jesus. But we have a choice: we can flee from our tempting idol to something else.

I hereby confess one of my own idols: vastly overestimating what good politics can accomplish.

To worship my idol, I was spending way too much time watching MSNBC and Fox News. The former was enraged that our president was ruining our country. The latter was enraged that our wonderful president was being destroyed by his enemies. Both sides were making an idol out of how the correct politics would cure so much of what is wrong with our country.  I was getting sucked up into their anger; all their futile arguing was giving me agita; I gave in to the temptation to enter their vitriol instead of doing something worthwhile.

So, during Lent, I started a fast from those two networks. Lent ended several months ago but…my fast has not ended yet.  Sometimes I do miss the fights, and I am tempted to hear how the two sides are reacting to the latest Presidential tweet; but don’t think I am missing something of lasting value by not tuning in.

Now, if politics is the idol I am fleeing from, I need to flee to something else.

So, I have fled from politics to…. more of Jesus. This sounds spiritual, but it’s not only spiritual: On a visit for a routine checkup the nurse took my blood pressure—and, not knowing about my FOX/MSNBC fast, she said, “Your blood pressure is way down; have you started taking a drug for it?” Nope — it wasn’t a drug; it was what I stopped taking — exposure to angry arguments!

I encourage you to reflect on what your own idol might be. Yours might be politics, too; but it could be sex, money; or something else. When our idol tempts us — we know that God not only gives us a way out but also provides something to flee to.

When we hit our own red button, we’re turning from our idol to the satisfaction that only Jesus can provide.

  1. https://www.thechapel.org/

Wise Idiots

How do you like meeting someone who likes to let you know how wise they are? They are so far above the follies of ordinary folks; they never screw up. When they talk, do you want to roll your eyes because they sound so unreal, or do you start to take them seriously and feel inferior because you aren’t totally together like they are?

To answer this let’s explore what true wisdom is…

Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you;
    love her, and she will watch over you. (Proverbs 4:6)

In today’s Proverbs verse wisdom is personified as a woman. Note, though, how much the description parallels Jesus. In the revised verse below, see what happens when you swap He for she, and Jesus for wisdom:

 Do not forsake Jesus, and he will protect you;
    love him, and he will watch over you.

Solomon, who wrote most of the book of Proverbs, started with a precocious grasp of how valuable wisdom is—he asked for it above all other requests as he began his reign as king. But he went backwards — spending years doing foolish things—-being into polygamy big time, accumulating riches, etc. So as an old man, as Solomon reflected and wrote Proverbs, he would know ways that he had been an idiot (or a fool as the Bible puts it) …Now, in view of his past follies, he could give an authentic warning against falling into his same trap.

True wisdom means I am learning to see that the Lord is wise — and to see how easy it is for me to be an idiot! (And how wonderful it is that when I do mess up and act like an idiot, our Lord mercifully forgives me of my idiocy when I repent).

Look at this verse—is it a threat or a promise?

 For your ways are in full view of the Lord,
    and he examines all your paths. (Proverbs 5:21)

If  I am seriously following Jesus, then the verse is a wonderful promise that
he will lovingly watch over me. On any given day: which of my choices were crappy and wasteful? Which were sound? It’s the kindness of Jesus that shows this to me.

Jesus woos me, as opposed to saying, “You better obey or be crushed.” His attitude is not harsh, even though his discipline can temporarily sting. By nature, I don’t enjoy being contradicted, yet I am learning to be more welcoming of Christ’s correction.

Because when Jesus gives me a course correction: This cretin has less crud and more of Christ!

christ is wisdom personified

Did you take the right fork?

  Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. (Psalm 25:4)

paths-2

What a wonderful path in that pastoral scene! It’s a delightful walk, and it would be obvious if we started to wonder off the path into the brambles.

Not so obvious was when my wife and I were hiking with another couple through the woods in Harriman Park in New York State and got seriously off course. We had no idea that we were taking the wrong path when we came to the fork. By the time we came to a clearing which overlooked the New York Thruway, we realized we were miles from where we were supposed to be.  Eventually, though, we got back —- without a searching party having to be sent out.

Today we’ll talk about a trap for our Christian walk that is similar — where you think you are on the right path—you are not deliberately disobeying —- but you have made a wrong turn.

Today’s menace is called moralism.  It’s the idea that the Bible is mainly a list of moral principles and rules that it depends on our own best efforts to follow. When these efforts appear to be going well, we start to think that this shows how wise and good we are being, instead of how amazingly sustaining and empowering the Lord is!

We subtly give ourselves the credit for how well we are doing—we are such experts at doing the right thing!  And a feeling starts to sneak in that we are just a little special, being a little superior to those who are not doing quite as well as we are.

Moralism also has the opposite danger: when we realize we are not so good at following the principles and rules after all; and we know darn well that we are falling far short — then, instead of feeling superior, we start to feel like a piece of filth.

True wisdom, empowered by the Lord, enables us to keep clear of the twin pitfalls of moralism. This wisdom knows to focus on the Lord and who the Lord is before we try to follow his paths.

Our Lord:  Awesome, majestic, holy, just, loving, powerful. Totally worthy of our worship! If we have an encounter with almighty God — and with his son Jesus— and with his Spirit which he has sent to live in us—then we know that we are empowered to live wisely before him.

What loving compassion our almighty Lord has, who knows how often we mess up by wandering off his path. He offers us repentance — we can turn away from being too arrogant or from being too beat up.

Any time I wander into in the brambles, I just need reminding of this truth:

 I can’t even begin to live out the principles in the Bible, without first having a persistent prayerful personal encounter with the Lord that calls on his power.


God Is Our Refuge

God is your refuge

You may have learned the definition of metaphor as a direct comparison without using like or as, and seen examples of it in novels and poems. You may be surprised that someone could write a whole book about metaphors (or read one!) But yes, I read Metaphors We Live By by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson.

Parts of the book went to one of two extremes: either very obvious or very technical.  But, while not a Christian book, the book made one amazing claim that relates to our own Christian lives: we each have our own personal metaphors that can impact how we live!

Yes, our personal metaphors are story lines that we believe about our lives, and whether we realize it or not, we are living out these stories. Some of these stories can be quite worthwhile and biblical; and others quite destructive, unbiblical, and horrible.

Do you ever complain about your job?

My attitude when working on my last job was “Oh, I’m a Christian; I don’t complain.” I started my last year at the job with a very nice metaphor: My job is an endurance race that I will finish well……But without realizing it, I exchanged that good metaphor for a crummy one —

Yes, after I retired, the Lord used the metaphor book to show the metaphor that was really in my heart that last year: “My job is a prison”.  If I had seen that real attitude earlier and repented of it, then I would have had more joy in my last year at work!

Scripture provides great antidotes for crummy metaphors. Here’s an example of how that works. The crummy metaphor is: “My life is a wilderness.”

Remember, the Israelites wandered for 40 years in the wilderness—until Moses finally led them to the promised land. Similarly, our own life without Jesus is a wilderness.  But Jesus, the greater Moses, leads us out of the wilderness ….

And when he leads us out of the wilderness, that leads straight to today’s metaphor from Psalm 46:1:
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
When we leave our wilderness, God is the place of refuge in today’s picture.

Here’s another example:  If you think “I am a victim”, then Jesus says you can replace that with “I am a light”.

I could go on, but can you think of a destructive metaphor you have that can be traded in for a worthwhile and helpful one? To choose to walk in this new metaphor would influence how you live.

And note well: It’s the power of the Spirit that allows us to live our new metaphor, giving it far more impact than a mere self-help slogan.

 

Jesus Is Enough

jesus is enough

Keep my decrees and laws, for the person who obeys them will live by them. I am the Lord. (Leviticus 18:5)

This Leviticus verse is a typical Old Testament command.  Very direct. But doable? Unfortunately, throughout the Old Testament, people’s obedience was too poor to be able to live up to this directive. They would try and fail. Try and fail. Over and over.

But there is one great Old Testament character, Abraham, who shows us a different and better way :

 So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”  So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. (Galatians 3:6,9)

This truth started with Abraham 4,000 years ago. Then 2,000 years later, Paul showed how we can get that same credit. We get it through faith in Jesus Christ—if I believe God through Christ, that gives me a turbocharged deposit of righteousness credited to my own account.

That free deposit is the exact opposite of the default mode that I work in: a voice inside me asks whether I am doing “enough” good deeds. How easy it is to drift into the bogus view that being a Christian means that we must do more and more and more and more—- rather than having simple faith. When I get caught up in the “more and more” mentality, sometimes it is so exhausting that I am tempted to say, “Why bother?”

Paul knew how impossible it is to keep the commands on our own. We must die to our futile attempts at law keeping.

 “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God (Galatians 2:19)

If “do more and more and more” Christianity is my law, I must die to that law so that Christ may live in me.

Then, I can discern what it means to live by faith in exactly the body, time, and environment that I have been placed into. I can then walk in the freedom of being set free to do good things because of the faith Christ has given to me and the power of Christ working in me.

What a delightful difference – – – instead of struggling to do “enough” good deeds as a slave to the law, I can now cheerfully do just the good that Christ tells me to.

Living by grace instead of law is a wonderful way to live! Today, dwell on this beautiful paradox: we are simultaneously personally bankrupt and fully empowered to have an abundant life through Christ.