Hello Brothers & Sisters,
We’ve entered another year at Grantham Church! This is the third year in a row that we’ve started the new year off with a peace focus, designating the last Sunday of January as our annual Peace Sunday. The first year we sought to heighten our awareness for racial reconciliation in our society. Last year we reflected on the inherent worth of every individual, particularly the most vulnerable among us. For January 2019, our Peace & Social Justice Commission has helped to plan what we hope to be a very practical series on being people of peace in our everyday lives.
Peacemakers: Living Peacefully in an Age of Outrage (4-week series) began this past Sunday at 9:00 am with our own Eric Seibert leading a combined Learning Community in a discussion that invited us to consider alternatives to physical violence. In our 10:30 am worship service, I delivered the first sermon in the series, a message entitled, Beyond Sticks & Stones: The Power of Words. I challenged us to tame our tongue by letting God deal with our heart, so that we might bless all those made in his image. If we’re going to be peacemakers, this is where peace begins: by giving attention to our hearts.
As we continue through this timely series, I want to clarify something as it relates to the subtitle of this series. There is such a thing as “righteous” anger, as opposed to much of the “outrage” that we see today. If you’d allow me to say a little more than I normally do in my letter, I’d like to expound on this a bit. Thanks for taking the time to read and process.
Ed Stetzer, author of the new book Christians in the Age of Outrage (which is one of the books on the Peacemakers shelf in the lobby), helps us in chapter 4 to distinguish the difference between the two. Stetzer points out that God (Jesus) gets angry at a number of things, including rebellion, immorality, hypocrisy, corruption, oppression of the poor, etc. Yes, God is love, yet his love is a holy love (i.e. morally pure & set apart from his creation).
Therefore, there is a reaction in God when human beings choose sinful behaviors and practices that diminish, degrade, and destroy his good creation. That is why those who oppose his divine will for the world will experience his wrath. I encourage folks to think of “wrath” as being the natural consequences of our sin—it’s built into the very fabric of the cosmos. So, God’s anger or wrath looks much different than what we’ve often imagined, as we mistakenly assume he is like us.
Consider this: anger indicates something is wrong. But unlike us, God’s anger is always in response to the wrongs in the world, not born from the wrongs within himself (e.g. sin, pride, brokenness). Instead, God’s anger is “righteous” because of his holy character, and because his motivation is always perfectly loving and aims to redeem. We are then responsible to cooperate with God’s redemptive purposes by confessing and repenting of our sin. In that way, God’s anger is controlled and focused on setting things right, and ultimately in restoring us to proper relationship with him and the world around us.
Think about it. Jesus, who shows us what God is like, was in total control of his emotions. Jesus didn’t fly off the handle, nor was he ever impulsive. He didn’t respond in what we call our flesh. While people are quick to point to Jesus’ actions in the temple (Lk 19:41-48), what Jesus did was planned prophetic theater as his audience would have connected this scene to the words and actions of Jeremiah and Isaiah, i.e. the temple will soon be destroyed. Jesus had been to the temple many times before. He knew what he would find there. This is not an example of Jesus in a fit of rage.
And as we see in passages like Mark 3, when Jesus got angry at the sin of oppressors, he simultaneously “grieved” the hardness of their heart (v.5). For Jesus to be saddened in this instance meant that he cared not only for the oppressed, but also the oppressor. His anger was like that of a parent who witnesses their older child bullying the younger (more vulnerable) child. He loves them both. And his words and actions prove that his anger is “righteous” (justified) and for the purpose of redeeming everyone involved, even those who are responsible for the suffering.
Therefore, righteous anger looks like that. As Stetzer says, outrage is disproportionate, selfish, divisive, visceral, domineering, and dishonest. Whenever our anger doesn’t look like the anger of God, it isn’t righteous anger, it’s outrage (hate). This is why James tells us to “be quick to listen and slow to become angry, for the anger of humankind does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20). Instead, righteous anger rejects the impulse to right every wrong. We need to be self-controlled and use discretion. We must pray and think through our response before we speak, because our desire shouldn’t be to shame people and put them in their place, but that they would see their sin for what it is and repent. And ultimately, we allow God to be the judge of everyone. We all will answer to him.
I hope that helps. Let’s be intentional about examining our hearts this week. What is God saying to you? What will you do about it?
Please join us this Sunday. Dave Brubaker will be with us in the Learning Community at 9:00 am (“Being Hard On Issues But Soft On People”) and then again in worship at 10:30 am (“Dealing with Difference in the Body of Christ”). Our series continues as we look at the polarization in our culture today, and consider how God wants us to navigate our disagreements with others, particularly in the church.
Finally, don’t forget that this is Prayer Week for the BIC US. If you’re able, I encourage you to go through our Prayer Walk here at Grantham Church. Just drop in during office hours, pick up a prayer guide, and walk around the building as you pray for the various ministries of our church. Let’s start the year off right, as we trust that God wants to do more than we could ask or imagine, for the glory of his name (Eph 3:20-21). Have a wonderful week!
Grace & Peace,
P.S. We are preparing to reveal a new bulletin design on Sunday, February 3. Stay tuned! I’ll be sharing more about that over the next few weeks.
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