Unwell Wishing

Click here to read Psalm 108-109 on BibleGateway.com

“Appoint someone evil to oppose my enemy…may a creditor seize all he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor.” –  Psalm 109: 6,11

Thanks to invulnerable yet unpredictable green men, anger has taken on a more positive spin in recent years. It used to be that anger was seen as a negative – only the weak lost their cool and became angry. But now, what with all the good the Jolly Green Giant has done, not to mention the comedic gold of anger management classes and enraged fowl, anger has taken on almost positive tones these days.

Christians, for the most part, still have a lingering distrust of anger. After all, if we are truly close to God, doesn’t that mean that we should be happy and well-wishy all the time? Hard to reconcile that with the desire to take batting practice to the car that keeps parking in your spot, or that quick desire to “accidentally” spill hot coffee on that one co-worker. We know that we should be kind, yet we have this frequent tendency for the most unkind actions.

HE LIKES YOU WHEN YOU’RE ANGRY

The thing is – God understands.  He even put it in his best seller, just for us to see.  God is not surprised by our frustrations, nor is he surprised that maybe we have less than honorable wishes for those that hurt us.  Want that ex-spouse to lose their house? God understands.  Want that embezzling boss to get caught so you can have his job? God understands.  Mystified why that girl keeps getting all the guys even though everybody knows what a backstabber she is?  God understands.

The Old Testament is full of examples of people being angry with other people – sometimes even God’s people.  The Psalms in particular have some pretty detailed descriptions of exactly what the author wants done to his enemies, and we’re not talking wedgies here. Various psalms ask God to visit violence, infertility, treachery, and of course death to their enemies.  Hardly the stuff you’d think you’d find in God’s songbook.

God understands – but He doesn’t accept it.

MARVELOUSLY MORE

God knows that you want that business competitor to fail, yet He asks you to do what you can to help them succeed.  He knows you want to merge that reckless driver right off the bridge, yet He asks us to yield to them instead. He knows you hope that guy at the meeting who got the last custard-filled pastry chokes on a doughnut bone, but He asks you to offer him the fresh coffee as well.

God understands who we are, and knows our desires, probably better than we do. Yet, we are called to live beyond those desires. We are sinful and broken creatures, after all, and so we wil have struggles in this life; yet through God’s Spirit, we can be more than who our desires say we are. That anger and frustration is part of what we deal with, but they are not who we are.

It’s ok to acknowledge them, even in song apparently.  But it’s not ok to act on them, or even to dwell constantly on those thoughts.  We are to take those things to Jesus, and release them.  We don’t plan our revenge, we trust God to bring justice; and if He doesn’t, if that person just keeps on succeeding despite their cotton-headed-ninny-mugginess, we are to celebrate with them.

God understands that we desire the worst for them – but He requires that we love them anyway.

Because while you were the worst you could be, that’s what He did for you.

 

The Christian Clique

Click here to read Deuteronomy 20 on BibleGateway.com

“Then the officers shall add, “Is anyone afraid or fainthearted? Let him go home so that his fellow soldiers will not become disheartened too” – Deuteronomy 20:9

Visit any high school (or, if you dare, middle school) in the United States and you will see two things – consumption of copious amounts of caffeine, and groups separating themselves from other groups. Academics, Goths, Emo, Drama, Athletes, Student Councilors, Artists, Musicians, and so forth and so on – they all have their own place to hang out, their own assigned dress code, often their own dialects, and their individual group attitudes. Like oil and water, the artists and the jocks cannot and shall not mix – that leads to oily art and no one wants that. We call these divisions “cliques,” because it’s catchy and vaguely French, so you know it’s kind of vaguely negative. Most of us could probably look at our high school days and quickly identify one person from all the different cliques, and remember in detail how that person/group made us feel, either included or excluded. It can have an important effect on our lives in such a crucial time of self-identification, not to mention lifelong fashion choices.

CLIQUE CLICHE

Unfortunately, one of the primary complaints that outsiders make of the Church is that it is “cliquey,” that is, it tends to separate itself from the world, or to exclude other people. This is seen as unloving, and to a great extent, unChristian. If people were truly Christian, so goes the argument, then they would truly love all people and not be so judgmental all the time. Generally, the sense is that if the church is so exclusionary, that it must be a bad thing; that is, if the church is representing Jesus, than they should be more willing to accept everyone. So, as Christians, if we want to live our lives and fashion our ministries around the Bible, we have to ask ourselves if excluding other people is Biblical.

As it turns out – it is.

The Bible is full of examples of God and his people excluding others. In several books in the New Testament, including Titus and Corinthians, Paul instructs the churches to warn a “divisive” person or person who is blatantly sinning, and then to disassociate with them. In our chapter today, Moses tells the leaders of Israel that if someone is afraid to fight in a battle, they should be allowed to leave, lest their fear spread to other soldiers. Unity of belief and purpose is essential to the ideals God has established for his people, and high standards are part of that.

A HOLY AND SEPARATE PEOPLE

Notice the emphasis here – the problem is not the person themselves, but the way in which their attitude and/or actions will lead others astray. The assumption is that those “inside” will be loving each other and submitting to each other – that being “inside” is preferably to being “outside” the fellowship of believers because of the love/support/encouragement within. Along with that, comes the responsibility that part of loving each other is to lead each other closer to Christ. If you’re not doing that, then by definition you are not part of the body of Christ. The Bible says that influence has to be excised from the body, lest the infection spread. Sorry, all, but it appears that cliqueyness is part and parcel of serving God.

And yet the comparison to the “popular crowd” excluding people is not quite accurate, despite the repeated accusations. Here’s the difference – in a high school clique, there are people that desperately want to join, and are excluded because of family status, looks, or odor. In Christian clique, there is (or should be) only one requirement – are you striving to love God and others with all your heart and mind and strength? If so, you’re in. The only requirement is a choice you make; it’s actually the opposite of a clique where the choice belongs to others. Joining is entirely in your hands.

The question is – are you in…or out?

By the Will of God

Click here to read Ephesians 1 on BibleGateway.com

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God…” Ephesians 1:1

Think of an animal that starts with K.  Now think of a continent.

Did you think of Australia?  Why?  Is it because I have eerie powers and I can read your mind?  Possibly, if you’re a weak-minded fool and are susceptible to old Jedi mind tricks.  But for the rest of you, if you were just asked to think of a continent out of the blue, would you automatically think of Australia? Probably not.  But the previous question gets your mind thinking Down Under (since most people think of kangaroos or koalas), and your mind (at least most people’s minds) will keep going down the same path.  That’s how our minds work; we get an initial starting point, and everything that comes after reflects it.

WILL POWER

Have you ever thought about the way Paul opens his letters?  They almost all start with Paul identifying himself, as well as the church/person he is writing to.  But he doesn’t just say, “hey Goobadiah, it’s me Paul.”    In the case of the Ephesians in our chapter today, he opens by saying “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God.”  Notice how Paul sets the initial frame – what he is doing with his life at that moment is not just his decision; it is by the will of God.  Everything that he writes in the letter after that is framed by that knowledge and self-identity.  That is his basis for viewing the world.

If you wrote a letter, would you be comfortable say that what you are doing now is by the will of God?  Are you confident you are where God wants you to be?  Are you “Dave, a plumber by the will of God.” Or “Denise – a lawyer by the will of God.” Or “Francis – changing poopy diapers by the will of God.”   If you saw everything in your life as doing it for God and by His will, how would your attitude or actions change? Do you think that might affect the way you view your job, or education, or ministry?

When you think of yourself, or when people ask you one thing about yourself at those ice-breakers that we all love so much, does your identity in Christ come to your mind first?  If someone were to ask you to write a brief paragraph about you, what is the first thing you would say?  Would it be “parent,” or “doctor,” or “unicycler”?  Or do you know that you are Christ’s first and foremost?

FOR ALL IN TENTS AND PURPOSES

Of course, you may have to do things for a season in order to pay the bills; nobody wants their mac and cheese to get repossessed.  But just because you’re delivering pizzas, you could still say “Bill – teaching Sunday School by the will of God.”  Your vocation doesn’t necessarily sumup who you are;  Paul was a tentmaker in addition to being an apostle after all.  But his identity was in Christ; he didn’t start his letters by saying “Tentmaker Paul.”  His first identity, the initial impression by which he sees the world and others, is through the lens of Jesus

Our first identity, before the job title, before the spouse, before the family name – our very core identity needs to be rooted in Christ.  If (and probably when) most of those other things disappear or fade, we are still His; we still remain who we are, because He remains who He is.  Forever, unchanging, unwavering, unquestionably the same Jesus you met that first time.   No matter what you do, or where you go, or who you’re with, Jesus is still the one by whom and through whom we all have our being.

Even the wallabies.