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, â€˜You fool!â€™…”. 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.