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Archive for April, 2012

“I’m so mad I can’t see straight!”  Have you ever heard someone make this statement?  Perhaps you have made the statement yourself. If so, the chance is good that you later wished you had not done so. Anger, particularly uncontrolled anger, has gotten lots of people into trouble. Benjamin Franklin may have been speaking from personal experience when he said, “Whatever is begun in anger ends in shame.”

That is true more often than not, but it needs to be said that God created us with the ability to become angry. Nowhere does the Bible honor the spineless person who is unable (or unwilling) to exercise the right to become angry. There is a sinless anger, such as when Moses came down from Mt. Sinai and found his people worshiping a golden calf.  Jesus also legitimately became angry at the moneychangers in the temple who had turned God’s house into a den of thieves.  He platted a whip and chased them out of the temple.

Thus, there is a right kind of anger and a wrong kind of anger, a time to be angry and a time to refrain from being angry. Two verses from the book of Proverbs explain the difference: “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city” (Proverbs 16:32) – that  is power under control.  “He who has no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls” (Proverbs 25:28) – that is power out of control.

“Anyone can become angry,” wrote Aristotle in his Nicomachean Ethics, “that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way – this is not easy.”   This great philosopher was recognizing the power of anger, and the importance of having it under control. Anger is power, just as fire is power. When fire is under control, it is our servant and accomplishes great things for us; but when fire is out of control, it becomes our master, and the result is destruction. So it is with anger.

“There’s nothing wrong with losing my temper,” a lady once said to evangelist Billy Sunday.  “I blow up, and then it’s all over with.”  “So does a shotgun,” the evangelist said, “but look at the damage that’s left behind.”

The ability to control your anger is, in reality, what Jesus was talking about in His Sermon on the Mount when He said, “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). To possess meekness is to have the ability to become angry, recognize its power, use it in a way that honors God, and have it under control.

Frederick Buechner, in Wishful Thinking Transformed by Thorns, writes, “Of the seven deadly sins, anger is possibly the most fun.  To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back – in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.”

Doctors in Coral Gables, Florida compared the efficiency of the heart’s pumping action in eighteen men with coronary artery disease to nine healthy controls. Each of the study participants underwent one physical stress test (riding an exercise bicycle) and three mental stress tests – one of which involved recalling a recent incident that had made them very angry. Using sophisticated X-ray techniques, the doctors took pictures of the subjects’ hearts in action during these tests. For all of the subjects, anger reduced the amount of blood that the heart pumped to body tissues more than the other two tests. This was especially true for those who had heart disease.

Moral of the story: Don’t get so angry that you can’t see straight!

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God In a Box

A strange word is used in the Old Testament that is very likely a mystery to many who read it – it is the word “ark.”  Noah built an ark, and we have heard that story since we were children.  Moses as a baby was placed in a tiny ark and set afloat in a river where an Egyptian princess found him and carried him home with her to the royal palace.

But what is that other ark – the “Ark of the Covenant”?  It was a chest or box about three feet long by one and one-half feet wide and two and one-half feet high.  It was kept in the Jewish tabernacle and later in the temple.  Its cover was in the form of a seat – which in the New Testament is called “the mercy seat.”  It was the place where God met His people.  In this box was: (1) a sample of the manna which fell from heaven during the desert wanderings; (2) Aaron’s rod that had budded as a sign of God’s approval and; (3) the table on which God had written the Ten Commandments.

The Ark of the Covenant was very sacred to the Israelites for it represented God’s presence.  When the Israelite people entered the Promised Land, the Ark of the Covenant was taken in first.  When the Battle of Jericho was fought it was carried around the city . . .  and, “the walls tumbled down!”

Many years later when the Israelites were soundly defeated by the Philistines, the Ark of the Covenant was captured and taken away.  God’s people had believed this would never happen.  The reason God allowed it to happen is that the sons of Eli – the priests and judges of Israel – were corrupt.  They thought they had God in a box, that they had control of Him.  But God showed them He cannot be put in a box!

Many years later the Israelites built another box that was much larger than the Ark of the Covenant: One hundred fifty feet wide and ninety feet high.  It was the temple at Jerusalem.  Built by Solomon, it was a thing of beauty and majesty.  It was the place where the Israelite nation met God, the place where sacrifices were made for the people.  They thought nothing bad would ever happen to them.  The presence of God in His temple would guarantee that.

However, Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, said, “Will you stand before God in His house and say we are safe? When you steal and murder and commit adultery and lie and follow false gods – you oppress the stranger, the orphan and the widow” (Jeremiah 7:9-12).  Just as Jeremiah had prophesied, Jerusalem was conquered in 587 BC and the Jews were dragged off to Babylonia like so many cattle!  They had thought they had God in a box.  They had thought they could do anything they wanted – because God would not let His temple fall into the hands of the enemy.  But they discovered that God was more concerned about integrity than institutions.

Maybe you have tried to put God in a box.  Maybe you have said, “I am a member of the church. I attend Sunday School and worship services regularly.  I give my tithes and offerings to support my church.  I carry my Bible to church with me.  I do all these things in a box-shaped building.  Therefore, God must bless me!”  But have you neglected God’s demands for holiness and purity?  Have you been careless about honesty and truth?  Do love your neighbor?  Do you harbor prejudice in your heart?  Do you judge people by the color of their skin or by the way they spell their last name?

Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).  What He was saying is that you cannot lock God into a box, or a chest, or a temple, or a church, or a denomination, or a specific nationality, or a certain race.  When you try to put God in a box you do not limit Him, you only limit yourself.

Did you know that John in the Book of Revelation describes heaven as a box?  He is using picture language, of course, when he describes heaven as being 1,500 miles long, 1,500 miles wide, and 1,500 miles high.  That is quite a city!  You need to know that God invites you to live forever in that heavenly “four-square” city with Him. You can do that by opening your whole heart to Him, by letting Him control you rather than by trying to control Him.

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“It is finished’; and He bowed His head and gave up His spirit” (John 19:30).  The agony was now over for Jesus.  He no longer felt the agony of crucifixion nor heard the taunts and insults of a blood-thirsty mob.  The crown of thorns upon His brow and the nails that pierced His hands and feet no longer wracked His body with pain.

He no longer felt the torture and emotional agony of separation from His heavenly Father.  His heart had ceased to beat.  His breathing had ceased.

However, in the stifling silence following Jesus’ death, there were other sounds: sounds of bursting fetters, breaking chains, crumbling prison walls, the rending of veils, the overthrowing of barriers, and the opening of gates.

What was it that Jesus had finished?  Certainly He was not referring to His own life as being over.  Christ’s last words were not the words of defeat, but the cry of victory, the shout of triumph, and the piercing sounds of a trumpet in heaven.

Finished” was the work of redemption, the last payment for the guilt of sinful human beings.  Romans 3:23 says that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God”.  Romans 6:23 tells us that “the wages of sin is death.”  Thus, “Finished” was the terrible ban of judgment upon the ages, the power of darkness and desolation, the curse of sin upon humanity.

Christ accomplished what no one else in history could have accomplished.  He closed the humanly unbridgeable gulf between a holy God and a sinful mankind.  This was the mission the Father had assigned Him, and it was now completed and behind Him.  He had come into the world on the way to a Roman cross to bear in His own body the sins of the world.

Though the work of Christ’s visible presence was completed, the work of His invisible presence through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit would continue through the followers He left behind.  The tragedy that happened on the hill called Calvary on that dark Friday was totally transformed into triumph on history’s first Easter morning.

The apostle Paul described the completed work of redemption in this way, “Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on the earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:8-11).

After Christ’s resurrection and Pentecost the once defeated and dispirited disciples became totally committed to world conquest.  These men – ordinary, fallible, sometimes fearful, blundering men – were changed from students in discipleship school into flaming evangelists, ready to go boldly into the very city that had crucified their leader to proclaim Him to be both Savior and Lord.  Our world has never been the same since.

Their faith was no longer a convenience, but a consuming passion.  They boldly proclaimed, “He is alive; for He has risen” (Matthew 28:6).  And indeed He had done just that.

Christ’s work is finished!  Our work as Christians has just begun!

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Very early on that first Easter morning Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome brought spices so they might anoint the body of Jesus, but they found the tomb empty.  An angel appeared to them and said, “Do not be afraid.  I know why you are here.  You are looking for Jesus.  Go and tell His disciples and Peter that He has gone before them into Galilee.”

Had you and I instructed the angel in what to say, we might have picked words of antagonism: “Go and tell Pontius Pilate that Jesus is alive.”  We would have gotten a charge out of taunting the Roman procurator who sentenced Jesus to die, and then washed his hands in an effort to rid himself of the responsibility for his action.

Or we might have said, “Go tell King Herod and Caiaphas, the High Priest, that their efforts to get rid of Jesus were not successful, for He has risen from the grave and is alive.  It would have surprised both Herod and Caiaphas – and disturbed them greatly.  We would have enjoyed that.

Since Peter was one of the disciples, why would the message from Jesus add those two words “and Peter?”?  Obviously Jesus especially wanted Peter to know that He was alive.  He knew what Peter had done, and that he was hurting badly.

Can you imagine what was going through Peter’s mind following the crucifixion?  “I told the Lord I would defend Him with my life, but I denied I even knew Him!  I denied Him, not once, but three times!  I failed Him when He needed me most!”

Jesus had said to Peter earlier, “When a rooster crows you will have denied me three times.”  As Jesus was being taken from one trial to another, He passed by where Peter was warming by a fire.  He didn’t say anything, but He looked at Peter.  When Peter saw that look, he heard the rooster crow, then went out and wept bitterly.

Those must have been agonizing hours for the Big Fisherman between late Friday afternoon and Sunday morning.  Try now to imagine yourself wearing Peter’s sandals when he heard that post-resurrection message Jesus instructed the angel to send to the twelve, “Go tell my disciples . . . AND PETER . . . that I will meet them in Galilee.”

The two words “and Peter” meant more than anyone could possibly imagine to the Big Fisherman.  It meant that Jesus had special plans to use him in the building of God’s kingdom on earth.  What meant the most to Peter, of course, and brought him the greatest joy, was the fact that Jesus obviously still loved him and had forgiven him.

Beyond what those two words meant to Peter, what is the message of the empty tomb today?   Surely it is the message of a second chance.  We have all faced sorrows and setbacks, just as Peter did.  We have also failed Jesus, just as Peter did.  We have been guilty of sins—both of omission and of commission.  Who among us does not need, and does not appreciate, a second chance?

Easter says there is hope for us, that what we have done in the past will not matter any more when we have repented and have been forgiven by Jesus.  No matter how numerous or dark our sins may be, it means that every person can have a second chance.

The words by Julia H. Johnston, in the wonderful hymn we sing, express it well:

“Marvelous grace of our loving Lord, Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt, Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured, there where the blood of the Lamb was spilt.  Grace, grace, God’s grace, Grace that will pardon and cleanse within; Grace, grace, God’s grace, Grace that is greater than all our sin.”

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