Tag Archives: Anger

Jesus Goes “All In”; Seals Deal

Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!
Matthew 23:32 (NIV)

There are times when focusing on one chapter each day risks losing continuity of the story that is important for the sake of context. Today is one of those days.

When we left yesterday’s chapter, Jesus had been teaching in the public courts of the Temple in Jerusalem during His final, climactic week of earthly life. The leaders of the institutional Hebrew religion had sent waves of envoys to test Jesus with hot political and religious questions of their day. They wanted to get a sound byte they could use to discredit Jesus, who was a threat to their power and religious racket. Jesus deftly answered each question then went on the offensive and stumped them with a question of their own.

This is a high stakes game being played between Jesus and the religious leadership. They want Jesus dead and out of the way so that they can carry on with their lives of localized power and greedy luxury. Jesus knows this, and having successfully played the cards in His hand He now doubles down and goes all in.

Jesus turns to His listeners and begins to publicly criticize the leaders of religion, and many of them are standing there listening. He acknowledges their systemic authority and tells His followers to honor that authority while refusing to follow their example. Jesus then turns to face the religious leaders and goes off.

Today’s chapter records the most intense and scathing rant Jesus ever offered. It is angry, pointed and provocative. What is essential to understand is that Jesus’ harshest words and most scathing criticisms were aimed at the most conservative, upstanding, strict rule-following religious people.

Jesus repeatedly called them names: hypocrites, blind guides, snakes, brood of vipers, sons of hell. He condemned them for their hypocrisy, their judgmental ways, and the selective ways they used God’s rules to make themselves look good and justify their poor treatment of the marginalized. These religious power brokers had already said they wanted Jesus dead, now with every word and every public criticism Jesus is upping the ante and forcing them to see His call and go all in against Him.

Jesus knows it.

At the end of Jesus’ rant He reminds the religious leaders that it was their predecessors who had killed God’s prophets in earlier centuries. It was the High Priests and religious keepers of the Temple who had violently silenced the ancient prophets. Now Jesus ends His tirade by saying, “Go ahead, finish what they started.” 

Jesus was not a victim. Jesus was on a mission. He was pushing buttons. He was driving the action.

This morning I’m meditating on the Jesus who forgave the woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. I’m remembering that Jesus broke all social, cultural, racial and religious barriers of His day when He conversed with a Samaritan woman while she drew water from a well. I’m recalling that Jesus healed the son  of detested Roman officer and healed the child of a despised and “heathen” Gentile. It comes to mind this morning that Jesus hung out with “sinful” Tax Collectors and their worldly, sinful friends at loud parties where who-knows-what sinful things were going on.

I often encounter the misperception that Jesus is all about condemnation of sin and sinners. The record shows, however, that Jesus showed incredible mercy, tolerance and forgiveness to those we would terms sinners. Jesus reserved anger, judgment, and condemnation for “good” religious people who used religion to condemn sinners and make themselves look good.

Opposition is Inevitable

But the Pharisees said, “It is by the prince of demons that [Jesus] drives out demons.”
Matthew 9:34 (NIV)

One of the things I have noticed over recent years is the divergent poles of political thought on both sides of the political spectrum. One side thinks that everything they believe is “all good” and whatever the opposition believes is “all bad.” Those in the middle who desire to seek compromise are pulled apart by the extremes on both sides. No matter what good any one tries to do or say, they are immediately attacked, slandered, criticized and their thoughts summarily dismissed.

I found it interesting that amidst Jesus’ unprecedented display of divine power and love He experiences criticism and negativity on all sides.

  • Jesus extends forgiveness to a paralytic, then heals the man … and the religious leaders dismiss Him a blasphemer.
  • Jesus shows love in reaching out to Matthew, the tax collector, and his friends … and He is condemned by the religious leaders for being with sinners, and criticized by the disciples of John the Baptist for partying and not fasting.
  • Jesus arrives to raise the synagogue leader’s daughter from the dead … and He is laughed at by the mourners gathered there.
  • Jesus quietly heals two blind men, restoring their sight. He asks only that they keep quiet about it … and they do the opposite of what Jesus asked.
  • Jesus casts out a demon who had made a man mute … and the good religious people said that Jesus must be the Prince of Demons.

Along life’s road I have come to understand that you can do nothing worthwhile in this world without being criticized and condemned by somebody. Opposition is inevitable in this world, even to the things of God’s Spirit. Today I witness Jesus, who is healing, forgiving, loving, raising the dead and releasing people from spiritual bondage. At every turn He is being criticized, dismissed, ignored, laughed at, and condemned.

Why should I think that it would be any different for me?

This morning I’m reminded that no matter where Jesus leads and no matter what I am called to do, I will encounter some measure of doubt, criticism, hatred and opposition. My job is to press on, keep my eyes focused on Jesus, and to love even those who criticize me for it.

Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.” – Albert Einstein

There Will Always Be Naysayers

But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?”
John 12:4-5 (NRSV)

A few months ago I received a call from a person who had attended worship with our local group of Jesus’ followers a week or two before. The caller had taken issue with the message that had been delivered by another one of our members and was mightily upset about it. I listened to the complaints and asked a few questions to try and understand, but it became clear to me that what this person heard and what they read into the words that had been said were not consistent with the message I heard. I’m not sure where the vehemence was coming from, but it was unwarranted.

One of the things I’ve learned along life’s journey is that there will always be naysayers. For every person who tells me “great job” after I give a message, I know there is an equal (or greater) number of people highly critical of me and what I said. For every person who says they value my leadership, there is an equal (or greater) number of people taking pot shots at me behind my back. This is life. Even Jesus had critics. While He rode waves of popularity, there were always those objecting and arguing with everything He said and did. Raise a man from the dead and they want to kill you. But, that was nothing new. There were numerous times, from Nazareth to Jerusalem, that the crowds wanted to kill Him. In today’s chapter, we see evidence that the criticism and questioning came even among his closest followers.

Today I’m reminded that I can’t control what others think and say. There will always be naysayers. People get out of sorts for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes it is for conscious reasons, though I find that often a naysayer’s anger comes from hidden places in the heart which they have not explored. My job is to try to be understanding, gentle, loving and kind while standing firm in what I know and believe to be true.

Letting Go

At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them.
2 Timothy 4:16 (NIV)

The final section of Paul’s letter to Timothy reads like a bullet list of miscellaneous thoughts. Paul languishes in Roman custody. He is in the homestretch of his life journey and he sees the finish line approaching. It’s time to do some housekeeping. Paul both provides Timothy with a thumbnail sketch of his situation as well as instructions for his protege´.

Among the rambling bullet points, Paul alludes to three sets of interpersonal conflicts:

  • Demas, Crescens, and Titus have all left Paul. The departure of Demas, in particular, does not sound to have been a good situation.
  • Alexander the metalworker caused Paul problems in Ephesus and he warns Timothy to be wary of him (the story is in Acts 19).
  • Paul recalls that when Alexander stirred up trouble for Paul all of his friends deserted him and left him alone in his defense.

One of the things I noticed this morning was that the situation with Demas appears to sting. I could almost feel Paul’s bitterness in the subtext. While in the latter two situations, Paul specifically mentions that he has given the Alexander situation over to God’s judgement and he does not want his friends’ betrayal held against them.

As I’ve read Paul’s story and his letters, one thing has become clear to me. Paul was a temperamental man, and I’m not sure he was easy to be around or to work with. As with a lot of people who accomplish great things in their lives, Paul was a driver. He was passionate, focused, and intense. The history of the world was changed by Paul and all that God accomplished through him. At the same time, Paul’s story is littered with interpersonal conflicts in which good men walked away (or were driven away) from Paul.

So now Paul raises three of these conflicts in his final words to Timothy. The older situations Paul has processed and he has come to a place of letting go. He’s not demanding justice of Alexander, but has given the situation over to God’s justice and timing. He is not hanging on to resentment of his friends whom he felt abandoned him. With Demas, however, it would seem Paul’s feelings are still in process.

I am reminded this morning that interpersonal conflict is not always resolved in a moment, even by the greatest of saints. When our lives are troubled by relational problems with others, it often requires time and space to process the issues and to let go of our anger and resentments. We must, however, process and let things go. Refusing to do so will wreak havoc in our spiritual and emotional lives. The ripple effect of resentment seeps out into our lives with insidious consequences.

 

 

The Goal

The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
1 Timothy 1:5 (NIV)

I got an earful. The tirade was marked by anger and came from a place of disappointment and hurt. The object of the vehemence was unknowing and undeserving. The accusations were all about an “i” not dotted, a “t” not crossed which had been blown into outrageous proportions. The goal of the rant was, from what I discerned, to project the injured’s own hurt somewhere else.

Along life’s journey I’ve been involved with many different groups of Jesus followers. Among every group I’ve encountered those Paul describes to his young protegé Timothy. There are always those who major on the minors; Those who immerse themselves in things that don’t lead to the goal, which Paul reminds young Timothy, is love.

As I read Paul’s charge to Timothy this morning, I thought about the person who gave me an earful. If the goal had truly been love, how would they have handled themselves differently? They might have started by going directly to the person they were complaining about rather than others. They might have asked this person questions and sought to understand rather than demanding to be understood. They might have considered Jesus’ command to love and forgive others a greater priority than advancing their own rights and needs.

Even as  I write these words I am looking back at a few past tirades of my own. I recognize myself in the person who gave me an earful. I have lounged in those loafers. I, too, have spewed righteous anger out of personal pain. Lord, have mercy on us both.

Today, I’m reminded of how simple and powerful love is, as Jesus exemplified it. Love is a goal to strive for. Love is also a litmus test for my own words and actions; A standard against which I can discern whether I am moving in the right direction. If my goal is truly love then it constantly forces me to choose words and actions that lead, not to places of personal right, justice, or satisfaction, but to places focused on others and marked by forgiveness, selflessness, and peace.

chapter a day banner 2015

Humanity in the Toddler Stage

At that time the Lord said to me, “Carve out two tablets of stone like the former ones, and come up to me on the mountain, and make an ark of wood. I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets, which you smashed, and you shall put them in the ark.”
Deuteronomy 10:1-2 (NRSV)

For many years now I’ve been mulling over a concept that the story of God’s relationship with humanity is the story of a parent (God) and child (humanity). When humanity began in Genesis and the early chapters of the story, it reminds me of infancy. There was something innocent and naive; there was very little knowledge or understanding of God. Humanity was undeveloped. Life was messy and base.

With the story of Moses and the giving of the law in the book of Deuteronomy, it feels to me that we’re in the toddler stages of the relationship. God has to do a lot for them. Rules are simple and direct and put in black and white terms. Good behavior is rewarded and bad behavior is swiftly punished. Humanity, meanwhile, is strong willed, stubborn, willful, and…well…childish.

I was reminded of this concept again in today’s chapter. Moses, in his unchecked emotional tantrum, threw the stone tablets God made for him on which the ten commandments were inscribed and smashed them in pieces. God’s response? Like a true parent God tells Moses, “Now you’ve done it. You smashed the tablets I made you. Well, you’re going to have to replace them, young man. I’m not making you another set. You’re going to have to learn to take care of the things I give you. Now, make yourself tablets to replace the ones I gave you and I’ll inscribe them for you.” The replicas would be a word picture, a constant reminder to Moses (and the rest of the family) of his tantrum and its consequences.

In our weekly gatherings of Jesus followers we’re doing a series of messages on how we tend to confuse our relationship with our earthly father and our relationship with our heavenly Father. The former quite regularly distorts the latter. I tend to believe that this is part of the DNA of creation and it requires generous doses of wisdom, discernment and grace to untangle the two. At the same time, it also helps me see events like those in today’s chapter with greater clarity.

The Crossroad of God’s Silence

source: shibanov via Flickr
source: shibanov via Flickr

Then summon me and I will answer,
    or let me speak, and you reply to me.
Job 13:22 (NIV)

This past Saturday night Wendy and I went to see a production of Rabbit Hole at Central College here in town. The play is an intimate look at a married couple struggling with the accidental death of their young son. It is a wonderfully written script, though certainly not an easy one to act or a comfortable one to watch. It is a continuation of the questions with which Job and his friends are grappling.

After the show Wendy and I spent some time unpacking our thoughts and feelings about the play. To be honest, it stirred some of the same deep questions and emotions Wendy and I struggle with in our journey of infertility. Like Job, like Rabbit Hole, our own experiences are simply a different facet of the same stone.

In this morning’s chapter, Job alludes to one thing Wendy and I have found incredibly difficult in our own journey, and which we saw allusion to on stage the other night. When you are walking through senseless suffering, you want an explanation from God.

Please God, simply reply to my questions. Sit down and explain to me ‘why.’ If I’ve done something to deserve this, I want to know what it is. If there is a reason for me to suffer this, then by all means lay it out for me so I can process it and move on.”

But, God remains silent.

I have found this intersection of my questions and God’s silence to be a crossroad. It is a crossroad which beckons me to choose. I can choose out, raise my middle finger to heaven, and walk away from God. I can choose in and press forward being assured of what I hope for based on evidence I do not yet see. It is a crossroad at which most all of us will stand at some point in our life journey. Despite the throng of people who have stood there before, those standing on either side, and those waiting their turn behind us, we each stand at the crossroad oblivious of the crowd. When we stand at this crossroad, we feel utterly alone.

I have equally found that this crossroad is not a one-and-done affair. No matter what I choose in the moment today, I find myself standing there again another day. When I choose out at the crossroad yesterday, then God leads me back to it. I have discovered again and again that God is big on second chances. If I chose in yesterday, then I will go to a play tonight that leads me back to the crossroad mulling over the same questions, feeling the same silence, faced with the same choice once again.

Today, I’m praying for all who find ourselves standing at the crossroad hearing God’s deafening silence. Despite our feelings to the contrary, we are not alone. We’re standing here together.

I’m choosing in.
Again.

You’re welcome to join me.