Category: The Christian Life

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.

When to Slurp

out of service

So Gideon took the men down to the water. There the Lord told him, “Separate those who lap the water with their tongues as a dog laps from those who kneel down to drink.” Three hundred of them drank from cupped hands, lapping like dogs. All the rest got down on their knees to drink.

The Lord said to Gideon, “With the three hundred men that lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands. Let all the others go home.” So Gideon sent the rest of the Israelites home but kept the three hundred, who took over the provisions and trumpets of the others. (Judges 7:5-8)

When my run is hot and sweaty, I go into the St. Clare’s Hospital entryway. There’s an ice-cold fountain and a restroom. I’ll drink at the fountain and splash my face in the restroom. On a recent sweltering day, however, there was a sign on the fountain: Sorry, Out of Service. So, I went into the restroom and decided to drink at the sink. Unfortunately, it had an auto shutoff, so I could only get a tiny swallow at a time.

But then an incident from the Bible came to mind. So, I cupped my hands under the water, made them into a little basin, and slurped.

Yes, the details of the incident I remembered are in Judges 7. This is how Gideon narrowed down the number of his fighting men. The purpose of him having a small fighting force was to let him know that the real power comes from God. So, only the limited number of guys who lapped went into battle against a much larger foe.

My slurping leads to a good reminder for any day. Sure, we do go out and put forth our best effort. But we should not forget that the real power to run well … or to do anything in life…. comes from God.

Water in the Desert

small bub spring

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
   and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
   and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
   and streams in the desert.
The burning sand will become a pool,
   the thirsty ground bubbling springs
 (Isaiah 35 :5-7a)

Do you ever feel a certain unease even when things are going well? Somehow there is something missing, just knowing life should be more than this.

In today’s passage, Isaiah wrote to his fellow Israelites who were being exiled, but who would later be allowed to return to their homeland. His powerful poetry shows marvelous things that God has done, is doing, and will do.

Not only did Isaiah speak to his Jewish compatriots, but as prophet he gave a preview of what Jesus would do at the cross and will do when he returns.

Yes, a major part of Isaiah’s promise has already been fulfilled …  but much remains to be completed. We call this the already and the not yet. Understanding the difference between these helps keep us from two misunderstandings of how God is working today.

Misunderstanding # 1. We overestimate how much of our problems and ills God will heal now…….and get disheartened because he has not lived up to all our expectations. We expect our best life now, so we get embittered when we lose a job or have declining health or family feuds. We focus on what has not gotten fixed and are discouraged because God seems so slow at answering our prayers.

Misunderstanding # 2 Is underestimating how much the Lord wants to do now. We get so discouraged by what happened in #1 that we neglect how God is on the move now and does care for us. We forget that God says: “Fear not, I am with you.”

Even though there is no guarantee that all our burning sand will be cooled in this lifetime, it is guaranteed that God transforms how we react to the heat we face in this life. Our tongue does start to shout for joy.

And we warmly anticipate that one day our Lord Jesus will return and the rest of the “not yet” will become “now”.

 

Too much cheese !

too much cheese 2

In the 80’s I had a part time job delivering pizza for Cedar Lane Pizza in Teaneck, NJ. Delicious pie, promptly transported to your door, piping hot. But, there was one complaint the owner received that was so unusual I remember it to this day. A customer called up to complain that there was too much cheese on their pie! Since extra cheese is an expensive extra, this was a startling complaint. The shop’s owner told the pie-makers, from now on you need to dial it back a bit on the cheese ……

Anyway, this memory made me think of when people complain that there is too much grace. They’ll say, dial it back with all this talk about grace; giving the people so much grace means they will do whatever wild thing they feel like doing anytime they want. They need to have the law laid down to them, else, they’ll just have the attitude of “I love to sin, and God loves to forgive me.”

This anti-grace complaint is nothing new. When Paul explained how Jesus frees us from Law to live under grace, he anticipated this exact same objection. As people accused Paul of freeing people to sin to their heart’s content, he said:

May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? 
What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! (Romans 6:2,15 NASB)

Here’s two big problems with laying down the law instead of teaching grace:

First: Did you ever not care whether you did something or not, but when someone said you were prohibited from doing it, that made you want to do it? Recently, I read that Major League Baseball was removing a video of a fight the Mets manager had with an umpire from the internet.  I thought “Oh yeah? You don’t want me to watch it?” I went online and found the video.

Yes, laying down the law can incite me to disobey!

Second: Laying down the law brings fear of punishment.

It makes Jesus seem like a stern lawgiver. If I do a good deed, I am doing it reluctantly, under compulsion. Uncertain of Jesus’ love, I anxiously try to stay on his good side. 

The answer: The true result of grace.
Jesus died to kill the hold of sin in me. Now I am free: I love doing good in the name of this savior who has already accepted me.

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.

Was God Lonely?

rosko

You may remember an FM Disk Jockey named Rosko. Before FM radio became homogenized and commercialized, he had a free-form show on WNEW-FM in New York. He was free to make his own playlists, read poetry, and give monologs. One night, while playing the theme song from 2001 A Space Odyssey, he gave a monolog about why God created man. His theory:  God created man because he was lonely.

But I’d like to respectfully take issue with Rosko.

My reply springs out of what the Trinity is like.  When I first heard about the Trinity, God in three persons, it was presented as dry and abstract. It was a theological puzzle that was hard to either understand or explain.

But I have learned that a much better way of looking at the Trinity is to see it as a love story instead of an enigma.

The 3 members of the Trinity have always strongly loved each other.  Its three members —Father, Son and Holy Spirit, were more than happy with the love and fellowship they had amongst themselves since before the beginning of time. And they could have just stayed in that 3-way love story forever. There was no loneliness inside the Trinity!

But, wonderfully and amazingly, the love among the 3 members of the Trinity was so great that it overflowed into them deciding, out of their love, to create the universe — and us.

But despite that love we rebelled against God. Did God dump us? No, out of the abundance of love from this same triune God, came the decision to redeem us by sending God’s Son Jesus:

 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Colossians 1:19-20)

And showering even more love upon us, Jesus the Son blessed us by sending the Holy Spirit:

 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. (John 14:26.)

I could never please a lonely, needy God, but because his Son and Spirit live in me I am able to please our loving Father.

Surprising Flowers

Processed with MOLDIV

I expect to see daffodils in people’s gardens in early spring. They are welcoming signs of the change of seasons.

But this spring I saw something unexpected while walking in the woods across our street.

Wild daffodils in the middle of the woods.  

My surprise flower encounter led me to reflect on what is expected and unexpected in how God works in our lives.

When we watch how God works does it look like a garden that is well ordered, predictable, manicured, and under control?   Can there be surprises or unpredictability in the kingdom of God? Let’s check in with Paul:

For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (1 Corinthians 1:25)

Personal testimony: My own life was struck by the Lord’s unpredictability. Back when I was a teenager and knew everything, I decided that Christianity was just a bunch of myths and fairy tales; I was too intelligent to believe such nonsense. But in my 20’s I was stunned to be knocked upside the head to see that Christ’s story is true.

For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.   (1 Cor 1:21)

I heard this foolishness and suddenly it started to make sense to me.

Of course, Paul is being ironic in his use of the word “foolishness”. It’s only foolish from the perspective of modern rational logical scientific enlightened thinking.   But from God’s perspective becoming a Christian is the wisest thing that could possibly happen. Even though we can’t prove Christian faith beyond the shadow of a doubt, it is not unreasonable… Indeed, what stunned me was that there is evidence 1 that an individual who claimed to be God was executed, came back to life and was seen by many.

Dear readers, you are in one of two camps. You may already believe Jesus’ gospel is true and life-changing. Or you may be a skeptic as I was. Every day God challenges skeptical people…maybe you are being wooed today.

I refused to believe until Jesus showed me he is truth and love and said, “Come on in.” What about you?

1.  Evidence That Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell