Anger And Contempt In My Life

M. Scott Peck started his best selling book The Road Less Traveled, with these words “Life is difficult.”

Rick Warren started his book, The Purpose Driven Life, with the words “It’s not about you.”

Three Things Going On

This summer has been difficult, but has also been a growing experience. Three big things have been going on in my life that have worked together for whatever growth I’ve had.

First I’m teaching apologetics and Christian thinking. Teaching anything means you have to learn alot about the subject. You have to learn way more than you teach. My style of preparing a class goes something like this. Read and listen to all kinds of stuff on the subject. Write a long outline of what you know. Then start stripping it down to make it fit in 30 minutes. So I’ve been absorbing a lot of stuff on why there is a God, and what it means if there isn’t one. This is powerful stuff to have bouncing around your psyche. Stuff most of us, no matter which side we are on in that big question, don’t think about much.

Second, I’ve been reading Dallas Willard’s book The Divine Conspiracy. I mentioned it before and said I was slogging through the book. Well I still am. And I read it quite a bit. It is just heavy stuff.

One of the things I taught in the apologetics class is the more you know about something, the more you can see when you look at it. One of the things Willard says is that when Jesus changes you from the inside, your outside actions naturally change. Yesterday I realized these two things had happen to me and I didn’t even notice.

Third, I’m on the search committee for a new Youth Minister at our church. This has been a trial. Anytime you are on a committee you know its going to be tough. And while I’ve been going to this church for over 4 years, I still ask myself on almost a daily basis, “Why do we go here again?” It isn’t the kind of church I expected to ever go to again. It is a conservative – though they don’t think themselves so – mainline denomination. One of those denominations that have been around for 100 years and are very set in there ways. Before coming here I’d been going to new church plants or completely non-denominational churches. The cutting edge of what church is right now.

Anger and Contempt

In Divine Conspirarcy Willard talks about Jesus’ teaching on anger and contempt in Matt 5:21-22. In the sermon on the mount, which begins in Matt 5, Jesus is describing the kind of kingdom he is here to establish. He’s not being prescriptive, he’s being descriptive. He’s describing what the kingdom of the heavens looks like, not giving us a set of rules to make it happen. Being a citizen of the kingdom requires you submit your will to God’s and allow him to live in you and transform you.

The first place Jesus goes when he starts talking about what a life looks when God is living in us is anger. Anger is a natural reaction to our wills being thwarted. But so often we let it go beyond that. We store it up, we stoke the flames of anger and it slowly consumes us. Bank enough of it and it will burn you up quickly.

Would murder occur if there were no anger in men’s hearts? Probably some, but it would be way less wouldn’t it? So Jesus goes to the core of the problem here. Get rid of the anger and you’ll get rid of most murder and violence.

Then he goes on to talk about contempt. “Whoever insults his brother.” Insulting is something we do to people we hold in contempt. To people we don’t like, or worse, just don’t care about. And when we do it without reason – as some biblical manuscripts say – it is even more obvious this is about the other person not being a person. In the kingdom of the heavens, no one is a non-person. Everyone is worthy of respect and not contempt.

If we removed anger as a motivation for murder, we might still do it for greed or pleasure. But we could only kill non-persons in most cases. Jeffery Damar didn’t kill his relatives, but rather non-persons.

Then Jesus brings the two together for the finale. “whoever says, ‘You fool!’…”. We think of the word fool as not that big a deal. But the word Jesus used was much more powerful. It would be like saying “asshole” or “dumbass” or any racial epithet. The term meant the other person was such an idiot their opinion, their very person, wasn’t worth of talking about and was so dumb it makes you mad.

When anger and contempt are piled together, nurtured, built up and institutionalized, you get the atrocities of Southern slavery and racism, the holocaust, ethnic cleansing in Africa.You get hate crimes in America. You get the guy near where I live who stabbed his wife and lit her on fire last week.

Those are the logical extremes, but nothing good comes out of anger and contempt even used to lesser extents.

Back To Me

Last night I was thinking I need to go to one of the leaders of my church and ask them why I should keep going here. I’d never thought of doing that before. I didn’t think any opinion they might have would matter. I was holding them in contempt. I was often angry as well at stuff that they did.

I didn’t realize this from the outside in. I didn’t realize I was angry or held them in contempt and thought I should change that. I’ve know I was angry off and on for awhile now.

No, the shock was I had already changed.

The result of the change was I thought I should ask their opinion. I no longer held them in contempt. It wasn’t an act of my will to change things, rather it was Jesus changing me internally.

This was going to be a quick post talking about what I’ve learned and how hard my life was. Well life ain’t easy and it ain’t all about me. But there is hope if we put ourselves in the hands of the God who created us – no matter what means he used to do so.

Thoughts on Spirituality

As you know I’ve been teaching an apologetics class for the past month. Even before that I’ve been reading a lot about the subject in preparation. Today I noticed there have been a lot of changes to the way I’m thinking on a regular basis and I thought I’d talk a little about it.

The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people.
– A Celebration of Disciple by Richard Foster

As I’ve been teaching my mind has been focused on who God is and how we know him. I’ve been trying to get below superficial answers, to look at questions and arguments against my belief and the counter arguments of thinkers who have studied them longer than I have.

They say that your mind conforms to the things you focus it on. So if you are thinking a lot about money, your mind with conform to it and it will become central in your thinking. Other things will be thought of firstly in terms of money. Politics, sex, power. Focus on them and everything else will be thought of in those terms.

Also while teaching my class I’ve been reading Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy. I originally got it as an audio book from Audible.com. It was so good I found myself wanting to underline stuff he was saying, so I decided to buy the book and it turns out the audio book was seriously abridged. This book is very dense, with every section like a chapter in another book. You have to think deeply about each thing he says. I’m a pretty fast readers but I have been slogging through this book. I haven’t run into a book like that in a long time.

The Divine Conspiracy is centrally about living “the eternal kind of life” that Jesus talks about in the Sermon on the Mount in Matt 5 through 7. This is where all those things central to Christianity but incredibly hard to do and almost crazy from a worldly point of view are. Things like turning the other cheek when someone hits you(5:38), or that anger is equivalent to murder (5:21-22). The Golden Rule (7:22) is here too. A teaching that people today accept as the bedrock of morality, but was a radical idea at the time and still is in parts of the world.

The thing Willard points out is that you can’t do these things. We humans just can’t make ourselves do this stuff. We may want to, but we always seem to screw it up. You can’t focus on being humble and become humble. At best you’ll be come proud of how humble you are. 🙂

I also bought the Renovare Spiritual Formation Bible(movie about) which has Willard as one of the editors of the extra material in it. If you go to the Renovare website you’ll see they are focused on helping people change from the inside out. Renovare is the word we get renovate from. Instead of focusing on being humble, you need to focus on being Christ. Focusing your thoughts on him and who he is, what he did, and what he taught. Then, like I was mentioning earlier, your character will naturally change to be more humble, more serving, and to live the eternal kind of life that Jesus did.

I mentioned in my apologetics class where we talked about beliefs that you can’t directly change a belief, but can indirectly change one. That is the kind of thing Jesus wants us to do, but the means are totally foreign to our culture. They are the spiritual disciplines, which we know next to nothing about even in Christian circles.

I’ve encountered a number of people in my studies who show this kind of life produces depth. One was from my class last week, Mother Teresa. Here is a woman who transformed the lifes of so many poor and dying in India and around the world. And she is truly a light on a stand, whose name has become synomous with selfless service in the name of Christ. But her life was built on the foundation of prayer. She is mentioned in one of the Pope’s writings as an example of how the contemplative life leads to incredible actions of charity.

While studying apologetics you also start seeing modern church “praise” music as shallow and repetitive. This is kind off funny in my case for a couple of reasons. Firstly because I’ve been a big advocate of using this kind of music in church. It has been my preference to the point of dogma. Secondly, Ravi Zacharias often comments on how we’ve lost the great old hymns. The ones that were deeply theological. And I thought that was goofy when I heard it. Now I understand what he was saying.

There are some old hymns that I do like, but not many. I can only think of Amazing Grace off the top of my head. So I got to wondering, are there any modern Christian artists that have that kind of depth? There’s one, though he now dead, that I thought of Rich Mullins. I find his lyrics to have a depth others don’t seem of have. And a simple reading of his wikipedia entry tells you why. The man led a deep life.

He took a vow of poverty early in his career and his earnings were sent to his church and distributed to the poor. I should point out that vows of any kind, and especially of poverty, are very unusual in a Protestant, which Mullins was. He also lived on an Indian reservation – probably some of the poorest places in America – and taught music to children. Is it any wonder that kind of lifestyle produced music with a depth those living a rock star lifestyle can’t? Or those just living a normal lifestyle don’t?

So what does this mean to you and me? I don’t know completely. Doubt I’m taking a vow of poverty and moving to India. But I am making small changes to focus my mind on the eternal kind of life Jesus came to give us. I really want that kind of life to be mine. Jesus lived as a carpenter for 30 years in preparation for preaching the foundations of the Western world’s morality. So as Willard says this kind of life can be lived by normal people in normal jobs and lives.

Apologetics Class

Want to see what has been taking up most of my free time lately? I’m teaching a apologetics class on Sunday morning to the high schoolers at my church. I’ve create a podcast of the class with its own website. So go here for the Kingwood Church of Christ Apologetics class. I just got the domain this morning, so it may not have propagated to you yet, but it has to my work.

If you don’t know what apologetics are, they are a reasoned defense of the Christian faith. This class is actually more than just that. The first three classes are on being a Christian thinker. Next weeks class is actually just a logic class. For more info on the class listen to the introduction.

So if you’ve ever wondered what I sound like. This is your chance to hear me.

Something a Little More Chipper

OK, I’m trying to keep from starting a me blog, but I haven’t had much to say lately. I did sell the RX-8 Monday, and that was sad. But I’ve been driving my truck most of the time so I don’t really miss it.

The big thing that has been consuming my time is an apologetics class I’m teaching.

I volunteered to teach the High School class at my church this summer. I’m teaching them about being a thinking Christian and a having a reasoned defense of the gospel. I’m also planning on recording it and making it available as a podcast. Unfortunately last Sunday, during the first lesson, we had technical difficulties and weren’t able to record the lecture and PowerPoint. We think we’ve got it figured out and will be trying again this weekend. Actually my friend and technical assistant are going to go try it out on Thursday night. Probably we’ll go through the whole lesson again, so it will be in the podcast.

When I get it working I’ll post a link to the podcast and you can at least hear me.

First Parenting Class Tonight

Tonight I’m co-teaching a parenting class at a local apartment complex. The small group I’m in at my church are doing this as a way to serve people who live in this apartment complex and form new relationships. We’re teaching the Love and Logic curriculum, which I haven’t even watched myself.

Frankly I’m suddenly very nervous. I pretty much believe at this point that no one is going to show up. My co-teacher is our church’s Children’s minister, and she and her husband live in this complex. She’s gone over the material, so I’ll let her do most of the work tonight.

If you are the praying type, now’s the time.

UPDATE: Well I was right, no one showed up. We talked with the complex manager for awhile to pick her brain and she said our flyer was intimidating. She also suggested we do something more relational. So now we are planning to have an outdoor BBQ/Carnival/Meal for residents with games for the kids to get people to show up. Then well be able to form more low key relationships. We’ll also probably do the parenting class again, but positioned as something we are doing and you can join us, rather than something we are teach you.

Do Good and Be Good

I regularly listen to a podcast from the RZIM ministries. It is normally one lecture/sermon a week with a recorded Q&A session on Friday. The main speaker is Dr. Ravi Zacharias, an Oxford graduate and Christian apologist. I like listening to his stuff because he handles the basic defense of Christianity better than anyone I know. Can Man Live Without God and C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity are the two foundational books for the rational reasons to follow Jesus Christ.

That said when Ravi does more traditional preaching, more application of what it means to be a Christian, I don’t really track with it. Could be a communication style thing, but it just doesn’t reach me the way others do.

Occasionally one of the other ministers from RZIM are on the podcast and they connect with me. Recently I was listening to The Gospel In A Consumer Society by Stuart McAllister, which I plan to order on CD.

There were a couple of quotes that have stuck in my mind. One was a quote from someone else about how culture has shaped the church through the ages.

When the gospel came to the Greeks, they made it a philosophy,
When it came to the Romans, they made it a system,
When it came to the Europeans, they made it a culture*
When it came to the Americans, they made it a business.
* Culture as in art

Another author said you can tell what is most important in a society by looking at what has the biggest buildings. In Europe that was Cathedrals and Castles, the two leading powers for the middle ages. In America is it businesses, banks and insurance companies have much fancier buildings than the biggest mega church.

I find this interesting and true. I’m not sure it is inherently bad. In all things we will make things work in our culture. We just need to be aware of what our culture is doing and when it needs to change. When a missionary goes to a foreign country to preach, she is keenly aware of culture, because she is an outsider. She can see the things that are evil and need to change, as well as the things that are good and need to be embraced.

In the modern church we have a cultural blindness that keeps us from seeing what we’ve adopted from our culture that isn’t good. One of these things is that looking good and feeling good are the most important thing. In reality doing good and being good are the most important thing.

Think about that for a minute.

Isn’t it true in the church? Aren’t we concerned with looking good? To some extent I mean literally looking good on the outside, but also looking good in our behavior. We don’t want someone looking at us and getting the wrong idea. We keep things from our Christian friends because we think they might not approve. We hide our pain and hurt from our Christian brothers and sisters. That’s being concerned with looking good.

Then there is a therapy gospel. The gospel is here to make you happy, or make you feel good. If you feel good about something, then it must be right. If you feel bad, it must be wrong. In the secular world, feelings is all there is.

This is a practical application of apologetics. One of the best defenses of the theistic worldview is the moral law. Without a supernatural source, any concept of right and wrong is a matter of personal feeling. So feelings get elevated to the highest place. If we can change the feeling, then we redefine what is right and wrong..

But we’re Christians and we have a moral lawgiver. We have a perfect example in the life of Christ. We have a written word from God. These things mean we are not dependent on our feelings to decide what is right and wrong. Instead we have a standard we are held to.

And you know what? Sometimes doing good and being good doesn’t feel or look good. Sometimes we have to suffer. Sometimes we don’t do something that would feel good because it is wrong. Sometimes we have to sacrifice ourselves and our feelings to do good for someone else.

This lesson is one of the reasons Stuart McAllister connects with me. I can argue moral law as a reason for a supernatural god with the best of them, but what does it mean to me? Is it there just as a proof God exists? The moral law isn’t the babelfish. It is a foundational principle of our lives.

5 Things Christians Do That REALLY Annoy Me

Freak out at any mention of sex.

My minister taught on “Looking For Love In All The Right Places” and made a big deal about saying “the P word”. The P word is pleasure.

Give me a break.

Supposedly Christians are having better sex than non-Christians. You’d think we could talk about it without embarrassment or fear. In the world right now there are lots of people who are perfectly happy talking about sex. If we want our worldview to be heard we need to learn to talk about sex as easily as our opponents do.

Assuming a big church has sold out the gospel because they are big.

Talk to most people who don’t attend a mega church and at some point they will say something about how the big church must be doing something wrong if they are that big. The “logic” is that your church can’t get that big with the true gospel.

Here’s my view on church size. Church size is dictated by the church’s culture.

Some churches don’t want to be big. They want to know everyone in their church personally. You aren’t going to grow much over 100 if that’s what your church values. If you want to continue to grow the kingdom, you better understand church planting.

Many churches feel the way they do church – the songs they sing, the order they sing them in, the times they meet, the way they preach – can’t be changed. The problem is most of these things are based on what was culturally relevant in the 1950s. So when people come into your church today, they find it “old fashion,” boring, or irrelevant. So the only people who are comfortable there are people who feel comfortable in the 1950s.

Another cultural problem is we are just too inwardly focused. We talk about reaching out, but we just don’t do it.

Really big churches focus on reaching people with the gospel. They change their culture to put that value at the top. It is more important that a non-believer is drawn to the message than it is that the Christian enjoys the song.

You can choose to put reaching people first and not be a mega church. I went to a church in Austin that valued planting churches. They’d reach about 800 people, filling their small building. Then they’d plant a new church, often sending off hundreds of their best and most involved members. With in a few months they would have replaced those that left and the church would be growing toward another plant.

The truth is this is thinly disguised jealously. And a little guilt. They feel like they should be as attractive as that big church.

Making a big deal about minor things.

The denomination I grew up in is famous for splitting churches because of stupid things. They split over whether to use 1 cup for communion or multiple cups.

The reason this annoys me so much is the church can no longer afford this. We need to first understand what the core beliefs of a Christian are and accept as brothers anyone who has those beliefs. We’ve got big enemies that are tearing our church’s apart and we can’t spend time arguing about stupid stuff.

Don’t think about or understand audience.

Most Christian ministry and communication doesn’t give any thought to who is listening. As Christians we need to “be all things to all people, so we might win some.” But we don’t think about the other people first. That is the key to good communication and ministry. We think about what we want and need, not those we are trying to reach.

It’s like giving someone the gift you want for Christmas. Even if you are doing it because you think the gift is cool, or receiver would like it. You need to ask and find out what the person would want.

I’m not talking about watering down the gospel, but rather putting the good news in a context that people will listen to.

Assuming people understand what you are talking about.

There are two manifestations of this. One is churchese, that language that is all our own. The other is assuming biblical or philosophical understanding.

Any organization is going to develop jargon. Those words that are needed to describe things unique to their what they do. There is nothing wrong with this, but you need to understand outsiders don’t understand this. My best friend is a doctor. Every so often I’ll ask a medical question of him and he’ll answer in a flurry of medical jargon that really sounds like a foreign language. That’s what is like when we use words like sanctification, holiness, worship, and many others to an outsider or in our public communication. Then like my doctor friend we have to put it words our listeners can understand. Start with that next time.

The majority of Americans do not know the stories of the bible. They don’t know who King David was. Who Cain and Able were. The only thing they know about Peter is he’s a frequent guardian of heaven in jokes. For the names they do know they probably have wildly wrong ideas. Don’t assume people understand anything.

Most people don’t have a well worked out reason for how the world works. They’ve kind of developed what they think is right and wrong, what is important, and how the world works by absorption. They put together things that just don’t make sense when looked at together, but work when used in isolation. Don’t assume a coherent worldview. But that shouldn’t be too hard considering most Christians don’t have a coherent worldview either.

This is a bit of a rant, but I’ve been thinking about these things for a while and finally decided to post them.

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“Christian Art”

What is Christian Art? I consider myself a Christian and and Artist and have lately been wondering about the philosophy of Art. Looking at the Technocrati back links for my wife’s blog I found and interesting entry titled Christian Art on a new addition to my blog roll, intellectuelle.

I’m kind of coming in on the tail end of the conversation, but that won’t stop me for adding my thoughts, ill-formed though they are.

I’ll start with my definition of Art – with a capital A. Art is an act of creation in a medium. It could also be a product of that act.

Christian is an adjective for things having to do with Christ.

It is my belief God is the great artist, molding and guiding the world in the medium we call reality. He also knits us together in our mother’s wombs and molds and guides out lives. There is a great metaphoric picture in Romans 9:21 of God creating with patience lives that for noble and common purposes.

I also believe when the Bible says all humans were created in his image, the primary way we are in his image is our ability to create. Animals don’t make art. They don’t seek beauty. Only man does.

So all art is to some extent the product of the godness in all humans. But like all things it can be pure or it can be twisted. We live in a fallen world, where lies and distortion infuse everything and everyone.

As an aside lets look at angels and demons. In the Judeo/Christian system, angels and demons are the same thing in essence. They have the same abilities and qualities. But one is fallen and completely twisted, and one is pure to its essence, to what God created it to be.

Art can have technical quality and be evil art. Art can be pure and have poor quality. I think the biggest frustration with Christian art is its low quality. And I said in a previous post, why is it when the words “and crafts” is added to art it becomes cheesy?

Not all art is God’s art. Though it is a practice of his likeness, it doesn’t make it his Truth. Not all art is True. I once wrote an essay titled “Fiction Is Not True”. Should find that and post it. The point of it was everyone knows that the facts of a work of fiction are made up, but most people believe the world-view or theme of a work is true. That’s why people read great fiction. It shows them something of the human condition they don’t see normally. But many times even that isn’t True with a capital T.

So the question comes back to what is Christian Art? Is it art by Christians? Or is it art about Christ?

Part of that word usage is what you are trying to say. If you are referring to art created by Christians, it is fine to call it Christian art. If you are referring to art about Christ, it is fine to refer to it as Christian art.

Personally I’d use the term to refer to art about Christ, whether it was created by Christians or not. And I believe non-Christians can create Christian art. And Christians can create non-Christian art.

For example, a Christian singer might higher the best guitar player in Nashville to record guitar tracks on their new album. That guitar player might not be a Christian, but the songs he helps to make of the highest quality are Christian art.

Example of the other way. I think the Goth Swimsuit Calendar is art, but I don’t think it is Christian art. It really has nothing to do with Christ or telling his story. I don’t think it is anti-christ, though I’m sure there are Christians who would think so. But it really leaves Jesus out of the picture.

Now if you really want to have an interesting discussion, start with the question, “What is beauty?”