Sunday, September 1, 2013

Anger Management

 I'm troubled.  I have recently felt under attack in a specific aspect of my life, and I don't like it.  I don't like it one bit.

The particulars of the situation make no difference -- it's a pretty common situation that everyone experiences at some point, where one's intentions and actions are misconstrued by another, and then false and damaging statements are made to others.  It's not the first time that this has happened in my life, nor will it be the last.

This most recent situation, however, has bothered me a great deal, and I haven't reacted well to it.  First, I've let it bother me to begin with, and second, I've responded by stooping to the level of the "attacker," for lack of a better term.  Neither response is a constructive one.

The result has been a heaviness in my heart -- a black cloud constantly hanging over my head.  It's been gnawing on me for weeks.

This morning in church, we started studying Ephesians 4.  Ephesians is quickly becoming my favorite book of the Bible that I have encountered so far, with lots of great nuggets of wisdom and guidance in there, courtesy of the apostle Paul.

Right off the bat, Ephesians 4 spoke to me.  "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.  Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." (Ephesians 4:2-3 NIV).

In my personal situation, I swung and missed on all of those points.

Later in Ephesians -- in a section titled "Instructions for Christian Living" -- there are all kinds of passages that I need to reread, study and incorporate into my life.

"In your anger do not sin:  Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold."  (Ephesians 4:26-27 NIV).

Well, I blew that one, too.  I've been angry for a long time about this, and I've given the devil a foothold.

My study Bible refers me back to Psalm 4:4 -- "Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent." (ESV, which is a little clearer on this passage than the NIV)  So if I interpret that correctly, anger isn't necessarily sinful if I don't let anger get to me and don't go looking for a scapegoat.  Instead, I should trust in the Lord.

Having failed on all of these points, my anger has been sinful.

Ephesians 4:29 (NIV) goes on to say, "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen."  

The failures just keep on coming.  My response to my issue at hand has been profane, self-serving and confrontational.

Ephesians 4 wraps up with this passage from verses 31-32:  "Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." (NIV)

Ouch.  That one really stings.  I've pretty much been doing the exact opposite of what Paul instructed in his letter to the church of Ephesus.

What cuts the deepest is that I am a really big turd in life, and yet God still forgives me through Christ.  But I couldn't even find a fraction of that forgiveness to show someone else in a situation in my life that, in the big scheme of things, is completely meaningless.  I've been dragging around this proverbial bag of rocks for weeks and only hurting myself.

So I'm going to try to approach this situation from a different angle now -- one with decidedly more Christian tact.  My guess is that this situation will be resolved quickly, and my quality of life will improve immensely.

Later in our church service this morning, we covered Jesus' parable of the lost son in Luke 15:11-31.  The son got all full of himself, strayed from God, and his life basically turned into a train wreck.  In complete shambles, he goes crawling back to his father, who sees him from a distance and runs to him, filled with compassion.

The son says, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son." (Luke 15:21 NIV)

The father, however, rejoices in the son's return, clothing him and preparing a feast of celebration.  "For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found." (Luke 15:24 NIV)

The comforting moral of this parable is that no matter how full of ourselves we get, how far we stray from God, and how much of a train wreck our life becomes, our Father will always seek us out, embrace us and rejoice in our return.

So even though I've completely messed up in my response to my situation, I know how to handle it better now, thanks to God guiding me through my church leaders to Ephesians 4 and to Luke 15.

And as I work on being a better Christian in this challenge and in all others that are sure to come, I'll know that God will always embrace me and rejoice when I kind of get it right.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Tackling Disciple-Making

I obviously haven't written anything in awhile on the topic of my path to Jesus Christ. It's been five months. I have a bunch of excuses -- I got overwhelmed, I got distracted, I got discouraged -- but no good excuses.

However, I just got home a little while ago from watching a simulcast of David Platt. He's a pastor in Alabama and a big proponent of disciple-making -- loosely, spreading the gospel to others. He's got a new book out called "Follow Me," and the simulcast tonight was billed as his presentation of his book.

It turned out to not be anything like I thought it would be, though. It was much more of a sermon than a sales pitch for his book. In fact, he rarely mentioned his book at all.

The sermon was about spreading the good news of Jesus Christ to the 130 million or so people in the world who have never even heard of Christ (that's just mind-boggling to me, though I admit to not being worldly at all) and to the 5 billion or so people worldwide who are not Christians. As Platt's book cover states, it was a call to die and a call to live.

He preached from the book of Matthew, where Jesus tells people on multiple occasions to follow him. There can be a heavy price to pay for following Christ, but Platt's point was that it's a small price to pay for eternal life in the kingdom of God. In fact, when we get to heaven, we'll look back on the sacrifices we made in our earthly lives and see that they weren't sacrifices at all.

You give up your earthly life (in a figurative sense -- he's not advocating mass suicide or anything crazy like that) to follow Jesus. In return, your soul lives forever.

So his challenge is to create disciples by spreading the gospel to those who have never heard of Christ and to those who aren't believers. This is important because we are dead in our sins, and without God's mercy and grace, it's lights out for us when our earthly lives are over.

Platt argues that non-believers go to hell, but I'm not sure that I buy that. There's probably some direction on that matter in the Bible somewhere, but I haven't gotten to it yet. Right now, I choose to believe that non-believers simply have the flame of their souls snuffed out, as if someone blew out a candle.

Either way, you can understand the urgency of Platt's message. It's a message that was just preached to us on Sunday at Northview Christian Church by Pastor Nathan, in fact, so I know it's important to my own church, too. Our mission statement is "We are a gospel family following Jesus into the world to announce him as Lord and to serve in his name" (emphasis added).

David Platt
I found myself squirming in my pew tonight as Platt's message and Pastor Nathan's message swirled around together in my brain. I know that spreading the good word is important -- I don't want two-thirds of the world's souls either snuffed out or damned to hell -- but I'm really really shy. The thought of walking up to complete strangers and striking up a conversation about Jesus Christ makes me want to crawl under a rock.

I'm also about as prepared to convert non-believers as a cowboy would have been showing up to a gun fight in the Old West with no ammunition.

I've felt absolutely no calling whatsoever to go to some foreign land on a mission trip. God bless those who do, but it's not my calling.

So how do I fulfill my church's mission statement and my obligation as a Christian to create disciples?

I prayed on it tonight because I was truly distraught over this dilemma. I understand Platt's message that the heavy price of following Jesus may include going way outside of my comfort zone, but nothing about any of my options made sense to me.

Northview doesn't want some half-cocked nitwit going around town, spreading some skewed version of the Bible. And mercifully, I haven't even heard a whisper from God about going to the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia or anywhere else like that on a mission trip.

So what do I do to help create disciples and to spread the good word about Jesus Christ?

God answered immediately:  "Write."

So here I am. Back again. I'll keep plugging away on this path to Jesus Christ, and I'll keep drying out your eyeballs with my renditions of my journey. And maybe someone somewhere will have their interest in Our Savior piqued just a little bit by my rambling lunacy.

We'll see.

Monday, March 25, 2013

'The Bible' Mini-Series has Value, Despite Complaints

I started watching "The Bible" mini-series on the History Channel last night on my DVR.  After viewing two of the five episodes, I've come away with mixed feelings.  But I think the 10-hour television production has some value, despite the numerous complaints I've heard and read about it.

There have been a wide array of complaints about the show:  Biblical inaccuracies and omissions, cheesy dialogue, too much violence, Satan looking similar (I guess) to President Obama, minorities being depicted only as villains (I don't know that I'd classify Samson -- portrayed by Nonso Anozie -- as a villain, but I understand the general complaint), and on and on.

Sure, the dialogue and acting are often pretty cheesy.  It's not "B Movie" bad, but it's not the best dramatic effort I've ever seen on TV.

Yes, there's lots of violence in it, but from the limited base of knowledge that I have at this point about that time in history, there was a lot of violence in the world.  Is this program acceptable for my two young daughters to watch?  No.  Is it much more violent than many other historical docudramas?  No.

The whole Satan-Obama thing is just stupid.

I don't know why the show didn't cast more minorities, although since most of the Bible took place in what we currently know as the Middle East, I'm not sure how many Africans were actually there at the time.

Nonso Anozie as Samson in "The Bible"
From that standpoint, I was surprised to see Anozie cast as Samson -- other than the fact that the guy is enormous.  Was Samson black in real life?  I have no idea.  I haven't gotten to the book of Judges yet, and from what I've read in the Bible to this point, races that we recognize today aren't ever mentioned anyway.

I was only surprised by the African-heritage angle to Samson and his mother because I always envision Biblical things happening in the Middle East.  Could Africans have wound up in that area of the world?  Sure.  I just hadn't put that much thought into it before this show.

The main cast is pretty Caucasian, though.  Again, I don't care, but just as I don't expect Africans in the Middle East during that time, I also don't expect Europeans there.

All of that Hollywood stuff aside, there certainly is a lot of the Bible that is quickly passed over or skipped altogether.  Doesn't really surprise me, given the show's attempt to cram 66 books of the Bible into 10 hours -- of which about three hours is commercials.  I can't really fault the show's creators for blowing over the story of Adam and Eve and Noah's Ark -- two very familiar stories -- to save time.

Francis Magee as King Saul in "The Bible"
When discussing Biblical inaccuracies, I've brought a rubber band to a gun fight.  I'm a new Christian, and I'm only a small fraction of the way through the Bible at this point.  Suffice it to say that there were a handful of times, however, when I found myself thinking, "Wait...what?!" as certain events unfolded on the show.

These folks produced the show for ratings, and in that regard, they've succeeded.  It sounds like the producers' hearts were in the right place, but can't really be shocked that Hollywood embellishes stories a little bit to make them more attractive to the modern-day television audience.

Even if they put excruciating effort into creating an entirely accurate depiction of the Bible, criticisms will still rain down from everywhere about Biblical inaccuracies.  Why?  Because there are a gazillion different churches and factions and slants to Christianity all around the world that interpret things differently.  Some religions add chapters to the Bible.  Some religions remove chapters.  People just read and interpret things differently.

So what is the value in a show like this?

Well, the general hope, I suppose, is that it will expose millions of viewers to the Bible.  In theory, some of those viewers may be non-Christians.  In theory, it might inspire people to pick up the actual Bible and read more about the stories they've just seen depicted on the show.

Think of the show as a sampler platter at a restaurant.  You get a little taste of some of the restaurant's best dishes, but the establishment certainly doesn't put everything from the menu on the sampler platter. It also doesn't put full portions of each dish on a sampler platter.  That would just be too much to consume all at once.

So if you view "The Bible" as a sampler platter -- as much as a 10-hour, five-week-long series can be classified as a "sampler" -- then it does a fairly decent job of whetting one's appetite for the Scripture.

Unfortunately, in today's society that is dominated by microscopic attention spans and nearly devoid of any desire to attain depth of knowledge, viewers who rely solely on the television show for their entire Biblical understanding will be misinformed and woefully unprepared for the return of our Lord.

The people who will use this show to further their own Scriptural investigation and discussion among friends and family are most likely those who are already Christians.  So while this might result in a case of preaching to the choir, there is value in that end result.

If in the extremely unlikely event that a non-believer decides that the Hollywood depiction of Jesus Christ is cool enough to merit digging into the Bible to learn the true story about him, then there's certainly value in that.

Despite all of its detractors, "The Bible" is worth watching as long as you remember to view it with the same lens as you did while watching Leonardo DiCaprio's "Titanic," understanding that the blockbuster movie was loosely based on -- and not a documentary about -- the actual Titanic.