Musings on Christianity 25

Musings on Christianity 25

How Do We Respond To Suffering

As I type this, it’s been about three months since COVID-19 began. People are afraid. People are sick. People are dying. People are practicing social distancing (I hope) and limiting their activities (I hope).

This is an unprecedented time in our nation’s history.

How then should Christians respond to trials? How should a Christian react to pain, loss, sickness, and sadness.

The short answer is to glorify God.

God shows us so much about suffering through the book of Job. Perhaps someone more unfortunate than myself can dispute this, but no one was ever made to suffer more than Job.

Job was blameless and upright (Job 1:1). He had sons and daughters and lots of animals on his farm. He was the greatest of all the people of the east (Job 1:2-3).

One day came when the angels presented themselves before God. Satan was among them (Job 6). God held Job up as an example of the human race. Oh! what a wonderful thought it would be to have God say to his angels, “Have you considered by servant Matthew?” I don’t expect that. What a wonderful thing it would be though. Still, Satan wanted to break that faith, so he established a challenge.

The argument was that Job had no reason to fear God. He had no reason to be angry with God. Satan challenged God to take what Job had, and that would cause Job to turn away.  Satan meant it to take a servant from the Lord. God used that evil plan for his purpose.

Satan took all of Job’s property and, more importantly, his children. I don’t want to imagine any scenario in which I lose anyone I love, let alone my children. This happened to Job (Job 1:13-19).

Job mourned. He was devastated. But rather than curse God, he worshiped. “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:21).”

All that, and Job did not sin or charge God with wrong (Job 1:22).

The challenge became elevated. Job himself was stricken.

There came a point (and this is a large summary of some 40 chapters of Job) where he demanded a trial. During an argument with three friends, he spoke about what he didn’t understand. God challenged that understanding with his own voice from a whirlwind. The rebuke was a series of questions, asking Job how he expected to question God who created everything.

In those questions, Job understood and repented (Job 42:1-6).

There’s a lot to unpack there, certainly more than a single blog could do justice, but Job knew that to worship God in suffering is the best thing to do.

We look at these times, however, and we think inwardly. Job honestly hadn’t done anything wrong when this started. That suffering wasn’t to hurt Job. Yes, it did cause him pain. It absolutely brought tears. But after being exemplified in joy, God exemplified him in suffering for all time.

He was blessed again, more so than ever before. No, I don’t contend that he didn’t miss his sons and daughters he had lost, we all do. The point isn’t that suffering should be fun. The current point is that when we suffer, we tend to ask why.

When I started this book, I choose to start with why we suffer for this very reason. None of us is Job. I’ve sinned, and so have you. The things we have, every thing that we have, are a gift God has given us, and he has every right to take them away. We certainly didn’t receive it because we deserve it. I don’t deserve my wife and children. I don’t deserve my home. What did I really do to urn it in the eyes of God? When I see these things as a gift, I feel all the more wretched because I realize I could treat them better. I could certainly do a better job maintaining my home.

I think I sometimes pridefully covet my possessions because I truly think they were mine, earned by the sweat of my labor and the work of my hands. But who gave me that work ethic? Who blessed me with these hands? 

When I realize nothing is mine, I appreciate it more (if only slightly).

But does this mean we can’t be sad or pray?

No! In fact, offering our prayers and communing with God is always good and right. 

God even gave us a prayer to offer while suffering in Psalm 102.

Does this mean COVID-19 is a test? For some. Is it a punishment? For some. But I’ve said before, God lets the rain fall on both the wicked and the just (Matthew 5:45). Sometimes, rain is just rain. Job’s error was to question the wisdom and rule of God Himself. What I can promise is that it is for the good of those who love Him (even if they don’t yet or ever see it) and His glory.

Heaven is the ultimate reward. It is such a reward that no amount of earthly blessings in any extreme will will be worth anything against it. If we keep our faith in God and worship him, no matter the time, season, or circumstance, that reward is waiting for us. But even in this world, if we seek his kingdom and righteousness, our season of pain can be replaced with such wonderful abundance.

Joseph was second only to Pharaoh in Egypt. His people were prosperous and blessed until Joseph was forgotten. Then they fell to an age of slavery and pain. They cried out for God, who delivered them and then (in time) gave them the promised land and a king and kingdom that other nations looked to. This pattern holds today.

I’ve had days where I could go to restaurants and tip every employee $20 without so much as feeling the financial impact. I’ve had years where I lived in a small studio, afraid for my life and hungry for something other than a microwave stew and piece of bread. I’ve been alone and isolated. Now I’m almost always near someone who loves me and wants to be with me.

These seasons are seasons. They come, and they go. They bring sadness and joy. All of those things are temporary. God is forever. If He is the object of your focus in every season and at every time, it will be well. If he is the object of your worship, you will be blessed.

This isn’t to imply in any way that we can “earn” our blessings. This is hard for me to articulate. We are saved by grace and grace alone. If we say to ourselves, “Oh, well, I guess I ‘better pray’ so that this will all blow over and I’ll get my blessings when it’s done,” our hearts and minds were never on God. We worship the blessing rather than the one who blesses. It’s not, nor has it ever been, a trade system.

However if our love is for him and we find trouble, we can hold fast to that love. We can glorify Him knowing that He always keeps His promises and will deliver us from the troubled times in our life, either by ending that time and restoring us or by calling us to Heaven, where we can live in glory forever.

In my younger days I probably would have wanted some sort of meter or calendar. Suffer for  40 years for every hundred years of blessing. Suffer for one hour for 23 hours of joy. However, such a system would only guarantee things I don’t want any part of, even if it comes with a guarantee of other joys. Think about it. If I said, I’m going to punch you, but then I’ll give you a hug, does that make it worth it when you make it a trade?

But if love rules your heart, if you walk with someone you love, and you walk together, you do so because that love endures. In our earthly flesh we cling to that love through all our sorrows. I clung to my friends and family when my mother died. it helped.

If we multiply that by the infinite love of God, what trial could possibly overwhelm us?  What sadness could possibly cast us down? More amazingly, what joy could possibly cause us to set it aside? What gift could possibly cause you to forget the one who gave it? Let that love be the center of your thoughts.

For our panel: Do you have a Psalm or Lamentation that you consider in times of suffering? What are some ways to glorify God in the midst of suffering? How do we mourn without sinning? How do we balance the joy of a blessed Earthly life (wealth, health, prosperity) with a love for God? How can we pray when our sadness or remorse is greater than it’s ever been?

Musings on Christianity 24

Musings on Christianity 24

Why Read The Bible?

In my time growing as a Christian, one of the things that took me longer than most to understand was the value of reading the Bible. I’m not even sure why when I consider my personality. In the Navy, I hated the idea of people telling me what they thought. I had several people say, “That’s not the way to do it,” or “That’s against policy!” I always wondered, “Where are they getting all these rules?”

I don’t know that every person who ever corrected me or yelled at me (not that it happened a metric ton in the Navy) or even talked to me about policy was ignorant about it or not, but one day someone sat me down to show me what I’d done wrong. Instead of yelling or barking about ephemeral concepts, he printed the actual Navy policy in question. He let me read it. There wasn’t a debate. There was no yelling. There was no overly-long lecture or self-elevating speech. It was policy, and allowing me to read it made it about what the regulation said. I loved it. It was simple and true with no bias toward emotion or personal preference.

From that day, I always wanted to look at the policy. At my current job, I periodically read my unit’s information guide because I really do want to do what is right. That’s always been a guiding principle of mine, and so I grew to love the law. Why then, did I never read the Bible?

Please don’t misunderstand. There were several times and periods of my life where I read the Bible. What I didn’t do was read and study it daily or read it all the way through even once.

One day, while talking to one of my protégées in the Navy, I told her how important it was for one to always read the policy. For some reason, that was the moment I realized I was avoiding the source. I was angry at “organized religion.” I was angry at “Bible thumpers.” Now I realize a great deal of those “Bible thumpers” hadn’t read the Bible (at least not all the way through). They’d shout at people whatever scripture they thought was relevant, but they did it from the mindset of convincing others to do what they want rather than focus on what God wants.

We see this all the time. We see it in people who falsely claim that people of color are cursed (they’re not). We see it in people who falsely claim that people of different nationalities are lesser (they’re not). Those people love picking one verse out of context and running with it.

But the Bible is one book with sixty-six parts. If you don’t study and see how they go together and interact, your doctrine will be wrong. That doesn’t mean a person can’t study for certain things. This very book is a Biblical research project, and that’s what led to this particular chapter. You see, those who would degrade the word of the Bible probably do so because they encountered several of the people who abused it (like those above).

It was hard for me to believe the Bible was the word of God. (Wasn’t it written by men?) It was hard for me to believe the historicity of the Bible. (How could the things in the Bible be true?) What convinced me? Sure enough, I actually decided to sit down and read the whole thing. I had questions, but I didn’t declare those questions inconsistency and put it down. Rather than let my questions become reasons to stop reading and growing, I let my questions drive me to seek answers. Rather than check history, archeology, and science (real science driven by fact and not “commonly believed” bias), I checked those things against the Bible, and thus far, the Bible has won every time.

Even in the most easily recognized areas of dispute (you’re saying the world was created in six days? What about … ) the very things people use to dispute the word of God are not provable by the very science they claim debunk the Bible. The theories of the universe and evolution (and other long-held beliefs called “science”) are at-best theories that scientists are seeking to prove. The best of those scientists are objectively seeking truth based on that hypotheses, understanding that a hypotheses is just that. The worst of them have the same dogmatic rigidness they accuse a Christians of having, believing without real evidence or even the scientific desire to seek consistent evidence on the subject.

While I believe I have a scientific mind, I don’t have the scientific knowledge to prove anything, nor will I try. What I will say though is even a casual investigation into man’s biggest questions from the Bible are only (at-best) as challenging as the same “proofs” scientists have been striving to find.

If I were more scientific, the remainder of this chapter would be used to help secure one’s faith by using scientific evidence to prove the validity of the Biblical record. (Or even prove the truth of it. Truth and validity aren’t the same thing.)

That science is being conducted, and the information is out there. I’m studying it as we speak. I’m just not as versed as I’d like to be, and any effort I make in that vein will only cause more skepticism. 

Instead, I want to use my time in this chapter to tell you what reading the Bible has done for me.

Reading the Bible keeps me centered. I’m a passionate man. I’m a man of high emotion and drive. I’m also one who believes in doing what is right. I’m not without error by any means. I get distracted at work. I can be argumentative. But when I see someone doing something I know is wrong, I can be pretty unloving about how I point it out. I hope I’ve grown in this, and the people who know me have said this is true. But I was pretty thunderous in my rebuke of people who “weren’t doing it right.” I was also pretty hypocritical, pointing out the wrongs of others without any regard to my own transgressions. 

Reading the Bible puts my mind on God and his commands and how a person should live. It gives me balance between love and truth. It gives me humility when I want to be prideful. It gives me patience when I want to be hasty. It gives me discipline when I want to be wrong.

Reading the Bible gives me knowledge. A few years ago when I had so many questions, I could use those questions to excuse what I wanted to do or avoid things I knew I should be doing.  A good portion of the Bible (the epistles), are all about guiding young believers in their walk and helping them grow. The answers are there if you read and seek. Reading the Bible (go figure, in the same way you’d read any book) gives me scope. I see how things come together. I better understand doctrines that used to elude me.

Reading the Bible gives me confidence in my faith. That same period I had questions, I also used those questions to feed my doubt about Christianity. Reading the Bible removes that doubt. Do you worry that there are inconsistencies in the Bible? Don’t, while there are parts that don’t match exactly, the Bible is amazingly consistent from Old to New Testament.  Most of the reasons things don’t line up exactly have more to do with the intended audience of the work than errors in factual reporting.

This is something I teach my students. A journalist writing a story for Navy News Stand is going to format a story very differently than if he were writing it for the Yuma Daily Sun. The facts are in there. Some are left out because they matter less to one reader than another. Some are emphasized because they’re more important to one audience than another. But there is no one verse of the Bible that directly contradicts another. Only a passive scan of the Bible with the intent to find discrepancies (rather than a thorough reading with the intent to find truth, in this case to learn what it really says and why) would find evidence. However, that evidence of discrepancies never holds up against a careful reading of all the context and other accounts.

I’ve come to learn this by reading the Bible carefully. I had doubts. I may have even started my first full read through of the Bible expecting to find discrepancies and inconsistencies. They just aren’t there.

Reading the Bible fills my spirit. My human heart is prideful, arrogant, resentful, and unkind. Do I reflect those qualities more than say … a maniac? No, but just because I’m not as evil as one man doesn’t remove those characteristics from my flesh. My flesh is weak, but my spirit is so very willing to grow, and it is the overcoming of those fleshly desires that glorifies God. Reading the Bible strengthens my spirit. It arms me with the tools I need to be loving in my rebuke and humble in my mindset. I need this so much. The more I read, the easier it is to recognize when I’m thinking with a self-centered mind. (I think. I want. I believe.) The more I read, the more readily I think with a god-centered mind. (What does God say? What does God want me to do? How are my actions glorifying Him? How am I bearing Him fruit?)

There are other books that speak about the historicity, validity, and truth of the Bible, and the panel is more than welcome to contribute to those subjects. But a communication teacher who has only read the Bible all the way through one time probably isn’t going to convince anyone of those things. But a guy who reads twenty-thirty five books a year talking about what reading this book does for him? That’s probably a bit more effective. If you haven’t tried it, try it. Even if you just read it for the sake of reading anything, you’ll see how the whole story comes together in a beautiful and comforting way.

For our panel: What are some other reasons to read the Bible? Did you have any doubts in your walk in the faith? How did reading the Bible remove those doubts? Was there a particular portion of the Bible that was harder for you to believe or help others believe? How did you use the Bible to learn the truth, or how did you find certainty?

Book Review: The Heart of Anger by Lou Priolo

Book Review: The Heart of Anger by Lou Priolo
Cover
Cover for the book taken from its Amazon buy page for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine.

The Heart of Anger by Lou Priolo is a Biblical perspective on raising children who are troubled by anger.

The thing that stuck with me the most about this book was the distinction between righteous and unholy anger. It also provided a means to put God front-and-center in any interaction with another person (not just a child).

The book also gives tools and procedures for corrective action. Oddly, it doesn’t have any information on punishment. It speaks a lot about discipline, but only in the context of its original meaning (to place one’s self under control). I would have liked some perspective on the topic of punishment.

One reason may be that this book focus most on discipline in terms of teaching, which should always be the priority in any interaction between a parent and his (in my case) children.

I found this book taught me far more about my anger and my perspective than it did about my son (who I read this book hoping to help). Don’t get me wrong; this book helped me find alternative ways to reach my son. However, I found this book helped me personally (if in a convicting way).

Lou
Image of Mr. Priolo taken from his website for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine.

I don’t just recommend this for believing parents; I recommend this book for any believers who feel they might struggle with frustration and anger.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

Musings on Christianity 23

Musings on Christianity 23

What Are Other Ways to Rebuke?

A Few chapters ago, I mentioned rebuke. I took a brief detour at anger, to establish that anger is not in and of itself sinful. Now we can look at rebuke and see how it was done in the Bible. A quick search of the Bible online shows 89 instances of the word “rebuke.” That would be translations of ga’ar (most commonly), yakhach, and ribh in the Old Testament. We will also see the translation of the word “epitimao” in the New Testament. We’ll also see the word “elegcho.” 

This list probably isn’t extensive. Also, I don’t know Aramaic, Hebrew, or Greek. All of this research is done online looking as closely as I can in the time I give myself to write these words.

Some of the times the word “rebuke” appears is more about rebuke than a demonstration of it. They are warnings or requests that one be rebuked or rebuke someone. One example of this is in 1 Chronicles 12:17, where some mighty warriors came to pledge themselves to David. David basically says, “If you’re here to help, great, but if you’re trying to trick me, I pray God rebukes you for it.” 

Because scenes like that are more warnings or requests, we’ll set those aside and only look for actual demonstrations of rebuke.

My studies of the Bible (small and brief though they are), have revealed in my opinion four types of rebuke.

The most common type of rebuke I’ve found is a conviction or an announcement of grievance. Just tell a person what they have done wrong and/or how that wrong made you feel. We see men do this in several instances of the Bible, but God himself does this also.

“After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: ‘My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of Me what is right as My servant Job has.’”  (Job 42:7)

This is a great example of this type of rebuke because it both states the wrong (“You have not spoken of Me what is right … “) and expresses how that made God feel (“My anger burns against you … “) 

It is loving to rebuke. Convicting a person of what they’ve done to you and expressing your feelings (in love and truth) is not wrong, but a valid, Biblical course of action only a fool would scoff (Proverbs 9:8)

The next style of rebuke is slower. I actually recall several other examples of this throughout Christ’s ministry, but a lot of those examples aren’t stated overtly as rebukes. This style of rebuke is to allow the wrong doer to expose himself. The one overtly stated example of this is in 2 Samuel 12:1-15. David had just arranged the death of Uriah to cover up adultery. Here Nathan comes and tells David about two men, and how one man who had many sheep stole from a poor man who had only one.

Sure enough, David lashed out in anger and condemned that man. It was only then that Nathan revealed that David himself was the man. That rebuke came with a stern punishment, another form of rebuke in itself. However, there are several examples of Christ Himself placing people in position to convict themselves. That rebuke can often bring people to repentance. I find it interesting that there is only the one overt expression of the word, and even that is in a header, not actual scripture. (Headers, chapters, and verses weren’t any part of original manuscripts.) Still, this is a powerful tool to one who uses it wisely.

I know I’ve just hinted at punishment, but stick with me for a minute while I discuss the third type of rebuke. Punishment is a slippery slope, and I want to give that a bit more context. I also want people to see the other forms first (and there’s a reason for that, too).

The third form of rebuke is to hold back or deny action. You see, we don’t have to wait for someone to do wrong. We can prevent that wrong if it is in our power. It took some study, but I found this method to be true because there were times when people were denied or tried to deny one from taking action.

“I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts.” (Malachi 3:11)

“The crowd rebuked them, telling them to be silent, but they cried out all the more, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” (Matthew 20:31)

It bears mentioning that I’ve only seen one instance of someone holding another back and it not being overridden, Malachi 3:11. This is because man often tries to hold back one doing what is right. It is possible to hold one back from sin (2 Timothy 4:2), but you must be working to prevent sin. The example in Malachi is a promise from God.  Still, if you see someone about to sin, you don’t have to wait for them or watch them do it, nor do you have to wait for someone to harm you.

In each of these examples, the rebuke was verbal. The characters are telling other characters to stop or be silent. None of the examples I’ve seen that fall under this form of rebuke are physical or violent. That may be coincidence, but I don’t think that should be taken lightly. A stern warning against action can go a long way to helping a person resist temptation.

So, now we come to the final, most extreme form of rebuke. I mentioned punishment in the last chapter, and I still see that pattern holding true. The right of rebuke in the form of punishment is reserved for God Himself and those he places in authority.

Each time punishment is used to rebuke people in the Bible, it is God acting as sovereign ruler. In 2 Samuel 22:16, in a prayer to God, David states (and later quotes himself in Psalm 18:15) that things are laid bare at His (God’s) rebuke.

Hezekiah describes a time of pain and disgrace as a day of rebuke. (2 Kings 19:3)

A more overt example may be Psalm 9:5, “You have rebuked the nations; you have made the wicked perish; you have blotted out their name forever and ever.”

I can’t stress enough how firmly I believe that punishment is reserved to specific people God places above us to enact his chosen punishment. It is His right to rebuke us in this way, and His alone. This is something someone more experienced and trained than I am may be able to help me understand differently, but in the time I’ve been studying, I’ve only ever seen the right of vengeance, punishment, and wrath belonging to God, and the Bible overtly says as much in passages like Romans 12:19.

That leaves us mortals who aren’t in positions of authority (to one degree or another) three other ways to rebuke, and we should. If we rebuke those who wrong us (and more importantly, God), we have an opportunity to gain our brother. More importantly, we have the opportunity to turn this person away before God evokes his right as sovereign judge to punish the wrong doer more sternly.

For those who are interested in my notes, I left a number of them below. They all have Biblical examples where the word “rebuke” is used. I imagine some may want to study this themselves. The references are there for your review if you wish.

 


 

Convict. Speak of wrong and how it made you feel

(Genesis 31:42)

(Genesis 37:10)

(1 Samuel 2:22)

(2 Samuel 19:1)

(Job 42:7)

Allow the wrong doer to expose himself (and punish)

(2 Samuel 12: 1-15)

Hold back (prevent action)

(Malachi 3:11)

(Ruth 2:16)

(Matthew 20:31)

(Mark 4:39)

(Mark 10:48)

(Luke 4:41)

(Luke 19:39)

(1 Timothy 5:20)

Punishment (All of these were from God. Rebuke as a punishment is from God, and it’s usually Biblically bad.)

(2 Samuel 22:16) Poem. States that things are laid bare at his rebuke

(2 Kings 19:3) (punishment is a rebuke)

(1 Chronicles 16:21)

(Psalm 9:5)

(Psalm 18:15) (a quote of 2 Samuel 22:16)

(Psalm 39:11)

 


 

For our panel: Are there other ways to rebuke I haven’t been able to find examples of? What can we do if the one we rebuke refuses? Are we obligated to remain near one who grieves us constantly? Do you have story about a time you’ve had to rebuke someone and how it went you’d like to share? How many times are we obligated to rebuke someone? Yes, we’re taught to forgive as God forgave, but does that also mean we must constantly rebuke a person for the same transgression over and over?

Book Review: Twelve Unlikely Heroes by John MacArthur

Book Review: Twelve Unlikely Heroes by John MacArthur
Cover
Image taken from book’s Goodreads page for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine.

Twelve Unlikely Heroes by John MacArthur is another book in the vein of Twelve Ordinary Men.

This story talks about 12 heroes from the Bible, but they may not all be the heroes you’re thinking of.

This didn’t have the staying power or resonance that 12 Ordinary Men had on me, but it was nice to read. Most of the stories show how people pass from fear to faith, so people who are struggling with spiritual issues of courage would certainly benefit from reading it.

The book also does a great job of showing how it is God who equips men who can then serve Him to do His will.

I think what I liked most about this book was the insight it gave regarding God’s grace and patience when calling people to action. This book talks about a few judges (from the book of Judges), and each of them had moments of extreme doubt. Honest, humble prayer always yielded results. That is an encouraging thought.

John-MacArthur-Primary-2I don’t know if there are more books from MacArthur of this sort, but I still think Ordinary Heroes was the strongest of the batch. However, this book is still a nice look into characters of the Bible. It lets us study those characters and glean insights about how God works (or can work) in our lives.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

Musings on Christianity 22

Musings on Christianity 22

Is Anger Sinful?

Someone new to faith or someone who’s misguided may instinctually feel like any anger of any kind is sinful in and of itself.

Let’s challenge that assumption by looking to scripture. If God is Holy and perfect, and anger is inherently sinful, then the LORD must have never been angry. However, if there is a form of righteous anger (since God is indeed righteous), then we’ll see examples of God Himself becoming angry.

“Even at Horeb, you provoked the LORD to wrath, and the LORD was so angry with you that He would have destroyed you.” (Deuteronomy 9:8)

“‘Now then, let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make you a great nation.’ Then Moses entreated the LORD his God, and said, ‘O LORD, why does Your anger burn against Your people whom You have brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?’” (Exodus 32:10-11)

“The Lord has swallowed up; He has not spared all the habitations of Jacob in His wrath He has thrown down the strongholds of the daughter of Judah; He has brought them down to the ground: He has profaned the kingdom and its princes.” (Lamentations 2:2)

Those are just three examples of God becoming angry. So you see, anger can’t be sinful in and of itself. However, before you start calling people fools and shouting at every person who ever does the slightest thing to you, consider for a moment what angers the Lord: sin.

When one is angry because of an offense to God, that person’s anger is justified and holy. If you’re just angry because your wife forgot to pick up milk on the way home, you might be overreacting. Why are you angry? What sin has she committed against God? When it’s your pride and your desires being denied, you’re using self-centered thinking. Don’t read this and think I’m not sinfully angry. I’m actually working on that very thing in my walk with faith at this time in my life. I get so mad when my schedule is thrown off. I get mad when my reading time is interrupted. I get mad when I don’t get my “me time.”

Some may say to themselves, “Who doesn’t get mad if they can’t get what they want?”  The answer to that question is people who aren’t thinking selfishly. A person focused on God is looking for ways to use his time to glorify God. I’m human, and sure, I like the chance to think in the quite for a time, but to become angry because I’m not getting what I want isn’t righteous. Being aware of this truth doesn’t mean I’m not guilty of this sin. I speak on it not just to show i’m not perfect, but to offer myself as an example of what not to do.

But when one sins against God, when a child dishonors his father or mother, when a husband fails to love his or a wife fails to respect her husband, those things will probably anger a person, and that anger in itself isn’t wrong. But what we do with that anger is another test.

“Be angry and do not sin.” (Ephesians 4:26)

Well how the heck does one pull that off? Jesus, our Savior provides us a few examples. I’d like to look at those for a short time in this chapter.

“And he looked around them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.” (Mark 3:5)

That statement stemmed from a test the Pharisees set up. They wanted Christ to heal a sick man on the sabbath, showing that he’s “working” and therefore wrong. The problem was, there’s nothing wrong with doing good on the sabbath. The Pharisees knew this, but their pride and desire to see Christ (who was at that time healing the sick) fall, caused them to set up this horrible and elaborate trap.

But what did Christ do? He indeed showed the Pharisees their sin. He then showed them the right action to take. This pattern is one I like to see. In this case, Christ rebukes, shows the heart-wrongness (the sinful desires of the offending people), and shows the correct action. (Do good. Give to those who ask.)

This pattern is seen again in another example:

  “And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.’” (Mark 10:13-15)

Here, Jesus was indignant (a synonym for angry) at his own disciples. Again, he rebukes (Let the children come). Some may argue Christ didn’t show the heart-wrongness, but He did. You see, the disciples were trying to have the authority to decide who got to see Him and who didn’t. Christ showed them the heart wrongness by showing them (one of several times) just who has the most right to His Kingdom. ( .. for to such belongs the kingdom. This shows that the kingdom of God belongs to children.) God takes it a step further (teaching the right thinking) by explaining that those who don’t receive the kingdom like a child, shall not enter it. 

There are several examples of the disciples jockeying for authority and importance, and on many occasions, Christ turns their attention to children.

Anger can be Holy when your anger is based on the word of God and his commandments. However, that still doesn’t grant you authority to punish or rage. It’s certainly not the most used format Christ showed us.

Most used? Well, there was the time Christ made whips and chased a bunch of people out of the temple. (John 2:13-22)  Yeah, Christ literally made a whip and drove out the sellers and exchangers of the temple. Even in this, Christ rebuked and taught. Christ, the sovereign King of Kings, also used force. Still, He could have done much more. Instead, he drove them out of the temple. The offense was turing the house of God into a house of trade. This description of God’s house warranted a stricter rebuke. But he still showed them their heart-wrongness. Is driving them out with a whip the correct course of action?

Someone might say that. Remember, we’re still looking at God in the flesh.  Driving people out of a church is a Biblically-based doctrine. There are several reasons the Bible gives to do just that. However, if we take up whips and add our punishment, we’re still taking on a role and sinfully placing ourselves where we don’t belong. 

God may punish in his wrath. God grants leaders, government and world leaders, authorities, that privilege. But us normal folks? We don’t have that right. Vengeance belongs to God. (Romans 12:19)

  So before you start searching for good whips to use on Amazon, remember who you are and where your authority lies. Parents have authority to discipline their children (discipline, not abuse). Governments have authority to punish law breakers. Churches may cast people out (and should for some specific reasons). However, even in this, those churches aren’t granted corporal authority. 

Because we’re talking about how to be angry and not sin, I had to mention that for the sake of transparency. Focus more though on the technique and process Christ followed on many other occasions.

Our options when we are angry are to rebuke, show heart-wrongness, and demonstrate the correct action; or we can just let the offense pass.

“A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.” (Proverbs 29:11)

“Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” (Proverbs 19:11)

These are good things to consider the next time you start to feel your metaphorical pot beginning to boil. Stop for a moment and make sure your anger isn’t just a selfish expression causing you to want your way over another’s.

“ … or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;” (1 Corinthians 13:5) 

If your anger is holy, then you have to decide. Can you overlook an offense to your glory? If you can’t, then by all means, rebuke (tell them what they did wrong from a Biblical standpoint), show heart-wrongness (reveal to them how their sinful heart is tainting their actions), and demonstrate or teach the proper action.

For our panel: What are other times Jesus showed us how to righteously discipline a person? When we rebuke someone, should we be offended if they don’t repent? What are some ways one who has offended another may offer repentance? Does the Bible have any evidence of anyone other than God righteously punishing transgressions? How do we defend ourselves if we’re not guilty of the offense of which we are accused? How do we respond if we’re punished for something for which we are not guilty?

Musings on Christianity 21

Musings on Christianity 21

Do We Have To Forgive Everyone?

There have been times in my life where I felt truly, and honestly offended. I’m not talking about the offense I feel when a guy cuts me off, or a person says something rude to me. Those things bother me, but I can probably get over it with a bit of time. However, I’m talking about the person I trusted with my darkest fears using them against me. I’m talking about a biological father who should have raised me to love and honor God molesting a sibling. I’m talking about a church surrounding my mother and ordering her to forgive that same biological father to keep the marriage united.

When I look at Christ and all he’s done for me, it can be convicting to see how He acted and realize I chose vindication over a forgiving heart. Have you ever wanted someone to be punished? I have. I’ve wanted people to pay for what they’ve done.

But how willing was I to pay for any of my wrong? Not at all. I want all the forgiveness. If that’s so, shouldn’t I then be willing to offer it? 

But do we have to?

Jesus commanded us very clearly to forgive those who ask of it.

“Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying , ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” (Luke 17: 3-4)

This is easy Christian math. If someone asks your forgiveness, you must give it. We’ve talked for two chapters about why this is important and why we have no right to withhold our forgiveness. This chapter is more about a few areas people may not understand so well. I know I didn’t.

First, let’s look at the mechanics of forgiveness. When we’re offended, Christ orders us to rebuke him. He doesn’t instruct us to yell at him. He doesn’t tell us to punish him. The greek word for rebuke in this verse is epitimeson. It means to censure. You might use it to chide or admonish or warn. That word is used two more times in the Bible (according to my research), Luke 19:39 and 2 Timothy 4:2. In all three there’s an tone of scolding.

We have to approach those who wrong us and address our grievance. We do this for a few reasons: First, we have to let out those feelings. How often have you tried to hold in your anger only for it to explode as something much larger than the initial offense warranted? Rebuking those who sin against us allows us to express our hurt in a healthy manner instead of going nuclear the thousandth time your husband leaves the toilet seat up. Second, it allows the person who wronged you the opportunity to repent.

Now, here someone might tangentially say to himself, “Oh he knows what he did!” or “She should know that bothers me!” Maybe, but this is still Biblically important. We sometimes don’t ask for forgiveness out of shame. We sometimes don’t ask because we think we got away with it. Maybe the person we wronged doesn’t realize we’ve done something to them, but God does, so the need to repent is still there. So even if you know, and you know they know, we still need to allow them the opportunity to repent. Doing so gains us a brother. (Matthew 18:15-17. Cross reference Luke 17:3-4)

In the previous paragraph, I said there is some Biblical importance. There’s also precedent. Let’s look at the first sin:

“He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” (Genesis 3:11)

Here God, who absolutely knew what Adam had done, shows us exactly what Christ instructs us to do later (it helps when they’re one and the same). He had every right to punish Adam and say, “You know what you did!” But He didn’t. Yes, He did punish Adam, but not before allowing Adam the chance to repent and ask forgiveness. Adam didn’t. He went straight to blaming his wife, who then blamed the serpent. None of them even asked for forgiveness or confessed of their sin. (Genesis 3:12-13).

So, it doesn’t matter if they know what they did or not, we’re commanded to rebuke them. So how did God rebuke them? See the passage above. Even in that situation, God didn’t shout or scream. He asked a question. That’s not the only way to rebuke someone, and we’ll talk more about how to rebuke in the next chapter. For now, please know that rebuke doesn’t in any way mean, punish. Remember, the goal is repentance. That’s God’s goal for us, and so it should be our goal for those who wrong us.

Therefore, we must rebuke those who sin against us. Then comes the essential clause “if he repents.”

No, you don’t have to forgive someone who doesn’t ask for it. God certainly doesn’t. Remember, only those who repent of their sins and accept Christ as their Savior receive their gift.

But, that doesn’t mean we can’t forgive them. It doesn’t mean that our forgiveness doesn’t matter in those cases. Let’s look at what our Savior chose do to even as he Hung on the cross:

“And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34b)

As He hung there, they ridiculed Him and mocked Him. Not a one of them asked forgiveness during the crucifixion. In Acts, Peter rebukes them and offers them the chance to repent (some of them did). (Acts 2:36)

For those of you who might want to find the plot hole and say Christ didn’t rebuke them, yes, he did. In Luke 23:28-31, Christ very clearly warns the mourners to mourn for themselves, “ … weep for yourselves and for your children …  For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

Now that we’ve tied those ends, we can return our focus to what matters. The simple answer is this: If someone sins against you, and you rebuke them, but they don’t repent and seek forgiveness, you don’t have to forgive them, but you can. And that graciousness will still be applied to you because as you were forgiven, you have forgiven others (Ephesians 4:32).   

Don’t, however, fall for the trap of thinking those who ask “deserve” forgiveness and those who don’t “don’t deserve” forgiveness. Remember, no one deserves to be forgiven. It is a gift, and to be a loving, giving person is wonderful fruit to bear as a Christian. It’s hard to do, but there are so many benefits to a heart God strengthens enough to do so.

Who in this world would blame a person for wanting vengeance of wrong? But if it is grace we want from God, shouldn’t we then offer it to others?

Evil men hold grudges. Evil men plot revenge and mete out punishment. Is that who you want to be?

Be forgiving, so that you are a forgiving person. Be loving, so that you are a loving person. I tell my sons (one of whom is bullied), that if you give in to your hate and mete out vengeance, you only make yourself one of them. This isn’t the same as defending yourself or rebuking those who sin against you. However, when push comes to shove, you can do as others do, or you can do as Christ did. Who is it you want to be like?

A significant portion of this information was at the very least derived from an article by Tabletalk Magazine, by R.C. Sproul.

For our panel: How is forgiveness given? What should one do if the one we’ve rebuked doesn’t repent? What if that person isn’t a brother? If we don’t have to forgive people who don’t ask for it, why should we? Why is it some people seek forgiveness so desperately, but they don’t offer it to others? How does someone help that person see what he’s doing?