Be… Angry?

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

Angry Luke on phoneI’ve often prided myself on how I rarely become angry. Others have praised my gentleness, how I rarely lose my temper. Perhaps that’s why I’ve never really understood this verse. Somehow, my mind automatically translated the verse into saying, “If you ever have the misfortune of being angry, make sure you do not sin.” However, this verse is actually an imperative statement; a command, pure, but by no means simple: “BE ANGRY.” Was Paul mistaken in telling us this? Or was it a translation error? After all, isn’t it a sin to be angry?

In some ways, it is helpful to think of anger as being similar to physical pain. Just like our body experiences pain when it is hurt, we experience anger when something – or someone – we love is hurt or destroyed.

So what does “do not sin” mean? Just as we should take steps to treat the reasons for physical pain, we should “…not let the sun go down not on [our] anger” and instead, take quick action to resolve it.  Of course, anger is complicated, but the following are a few of the main reasons and ways to respond to it.

  1. Your love is misplaced.
    When we love something we shouldn’t, or we love something MORE than we should, we will become wrongfully angry. It is a sign our priorities need to be adjusted, and that we need to love what God wants us to love.
  2. Something you love is in pain.
    When other people get hurt, do we ignore it? Or do we allow ourselves to become invested in their situation? Do we weep with those who weep?
  3. Something you love has hurt you.
    Love makes us vulnerable. When loved ones hurt us, we should not shut them out, but speak the truth in love.

The problem is, doing this is emotionally draining. I often avoid the inconvenience of anger and confrontation by choosing to not care as much as I should. This is a dangerous attitude: just like lepers will accidentally mutilate themselves without realizing it, people who try to protect themselves from pain can end up allowing terrible things to happen around them.

Easter Cross

© Les McLean

Contrast this attitude with how God responded to us. He loved mankind with an all consuming love. When we rejected God, God burned with a terrible anger against us. If God had not loved us as much as he did, he could have avoided much pain and anguish. What did he do instead? He took drastic measures to reconcile with us. He sent Jesus to die for our sins, so that we could be reconciled with him again.

In the same way, we shouldn’t wallow in our anger, but should “…be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)

This resurrection Sunday, let us remember God’s great love, and thus great anger, and thus great forgiveness.

“And on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied.
For every sin on him was laid.
Here in the death of Christ I’ll live.”
(In Christ Alone, Stuart Townend)

Sola Scriptura

Recently I’ve been asking myself a question: Who has the right to teach from the Bible? James tells us that it’s not a responsibility to take lightly:

Knowing Scripture is not what gives you the right to teach.

Knowing Scripture is not what gives you the right to teach.

“Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly.” (Jas. 3:1)

If you’re not interested in teaching, it’s easy to leave the spiritual instruction to the pastors and priests. But this can be taken to extremes – for hundreds of years in Europe, only priests were allowed to study the Bible. Leaders in the Church were the final authority on doctrinal matters, and their congregations had no way to evaluate whether the leaders were teaching truth or not. People were burned at the stake for distributing the Bible in languages that the common people could read, because the Church was afraid that if many people began to interpret the Bible for themselves, Church unity would be lost. This was part of the culture that Martin Luther fought against as part of the Reformation. Luther believed that Scripture, not Church leaders, is the final authority on doctrinal matters. One implication of this is that no one person’s interpretation of the Scripture can be supreme – the Scripture itself is supreme, not any particular interpretation of it.

Luther called this principle Sola Scriptura in Latin, meaning, “Scripture alone.” This seems to be what Paul commended the Bereans for practicing:

“Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character…for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” (Acts 17:11)

So we should all study the Bible and carefully form beliefs about it. But there are different levels of teaching. When I share my opinion with a friend in a conversation, I am teaching in a small way. When I read the Bible to my family, I am teaching in a larger way. Leading a Bible study, teaching a class, preaching at a church…all are different levels of teaching, and have different requirements. Before leading a Bible study, I should demonstrate a certain level of responsibility in such matters. Teaching in a classroom setting may require specific training and skills. Teaching or preaching in a church has prerequisites that are detailed in the Bible, that Christians in general are responsible for holding leaders to.

“Teaching” is a word that implies the teacher occupies a certain position. Depending on what that position is specifically, there may be different requirements before I have the right to teach in that way. But if you’re not a teacher, you haven’t escaped the responsibility to know the Bible and let it shape your heart and mind. Scripture itself is the ultimate teaching authority, and we all are supposed to remind each other of that every day in little ways.

Trust in the Lord

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths (Proverbs 3:5-6 NKJV).” These were two of the first verses I remember memorizing as a young child (oh so long ago). During the past 20+ years I have quoted and meditated on these verses countless times while contemplating life’s myriad of questions. Perhaps you’ve asked a few of your own; What should I study? Where should I look for a job? How am I going to pay for school/car/apartment? Who should I marry? What should I do with my life? If you are anything like me, you have asked these and many more, and have struggled impatiently with the unknown.

Even though I have been familiar with the words of Proverbs 3 for many years, I still have only started to realize the importance and truth contained within these verses. In the past year, the Lord has been helping me in His loving way to put aside my own understanding and ideas. As I shared with some of you at VOICE last summer, I had been looking for a job and still working through some issues getting my degree and teaching license taken care of, as well as trying to figure out how to live on my own in a foreign country. I often felt discouraged as one job opportunity after another failed to work out, and as each step forward required a mountain of paperwork. It seemed that everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong. Each time I thought about all of the things I needed to accomplish, I felt there was no way they could all be resolved. Could I find a job before my visiting permission expires and I need to go back to the US? Will I even have enough money to make it back to the US by then? I kept asking how long will I have to wait… And the Lord asked me to trust Him, and stop using my own understanding. I was still trying to fit what I thought I needed into my understanding of what God wanted for me. God told me to allow Him to demonstrate His love and wisdom promised in His word.
Biblesonthelake
God, of course, is faithful and provided a job just in time. The paperwork for my ARC, some of which had to be sent back to the US for authorization, was approved a couple days before my visa expired. My teaching license paperwork was approved, and I’m even getting better at surviving here in Taiwan. Most importantly, God’s promise to direct my path was fulfilled, and I have many testimonies of how the Lord provided exactly what I needed. Praise the Lord for not letting me continue to try to figure it out in my own wisdom. God’s word is true, may we continue to walk daily Christ Jesus.

stripping away

VOICE history

VOICE through the years (1999-2013)

You’d think that growing up in a Christian family meant I had it easy. I can’t ever remember a day that I didn’t believe in God. I rarely missed going to church on Sunday. I’ve read through the Bible numerous times. I attended a Christian school. I even spent 13 years as a missionary in Taiwan. You’d think that if anyone knew God, I did.

I don’t think I ever said those things out loud, but deep in my heart, that’s what I believed. I knew what to say, how to act, and even how to think about my life and the problems I (or others) faced. I had Christianity packaged in a nice little box all tied up with a bow.

That is also how I went about serving Christ for many years. When others had problems, I had answers, and so I would offer them my little box. It made sense. It worked for me.

Sadly, that is how VOICE (then known as CLEC) first began. I was 15 years younger with much less ministry experience but a whole lot of spiritual ego. I didn’t know what I was doing, but somehow, I helped create a month-long conference that offered Christianity in a box. But after just a few years, I burned out. I grew tired of enforcing rules, tired of trying to convince others that my version of Christianity was better than theirs.

God was merciful. He used what little I had to offer to touch a few lives—not the least of which was my own. In 2004, when we were asked to host a TESOL training for English teachers from Taiwan, we said yes as long as we could run a student conference at the same time. That marked a significant turning point for VOICE—one in which our focus went from selling a specific version of Christianity to deliberately finding ways to introduce the Gospel through various events. That was how the ever-popular holiday dinners were born.

Here we are 10 years later. If I could tell you what has changed, it is this—I may have more ministry experience, but a whole lot less spiritual superiority. God has since brought problems into my life that I couldn’t resolve. He has allowed me to wrestle with anger and bitterness—and find absolutely no way to “fix” myself. Through these hard situations, I began to understand—maybe for the first time—how utterly helpless I am in my sin, how very little I actually understand about my God, and how much I am in need of His grace. As He has been stripping away the things I once used to prop up my Christian faith, so He has been stripping VOICE of those things as well.

As we look ahead to VOICE 2014, we are facing yet another stripping—perhaps the deepest one yet. As I write this blog post, the IBLP board is investigating a number of serious allegations against Mr. Gothard and has placed him on administrative leave. We are deeply saddened by this news and concerned for Mr. Gothard and everyone involved. We don’t know how things will turn out, but here’s what we do know—

1)    “God is real. Live like it.” This is true, even when the integrity of someone we respect is under fire. This is a time to allow God to strip away more of our misconceptions, so that we learn to place our faith solely in Him.

2)    No matter the outcome of this investigation, those of us who serve on the VOICE staff team are committed to living and proclaiming the Gospel in its purest form to the best of our ability.

Christianity is not about Mr. Gothard. It’s not about VOICE. It’s not about any one of us. Christianity is about a God who loved a world of pathetic, helpless sinners so much that He left His glory to become like one of us, to suffer and die an unjust death at the hands of the sinners He came to save in order to give us life and hope that we don’t deserve. I can’t fathom a God like that. He doesn’t fit in any box.

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly trust in Jesus’ name.
Christ alone…

Giving by Taking

Have you thought lately about how God blesses us through what He takes away from us? I don’t just mean trials and burdens… I mean taking away “good” things.

The blessings He GIVES us are easy to see! Just think about the VOICE ’13 staff! Since we said goodbye in August; David & Anna moved to Nantou – Jerry & Ada moved to Pingdong – Ethan moved to Taichung — Audra had a baby – Zack got married – Brianne moved to Pingdong - I joined SYME in Taichung - Loren and Tina got married to each other!  ;)

These are all added blessings that we naturally thank God for… but do we remember to thank Him for the process? The journey? For the things He takes away? - I’m sure each of them had to give up or allow God to replace something ”good” in their lives before they received these new and wonderful blessings… but, at the time, they may not have known why they had to let go! They just had to trust Him.

Sometimes God takes things away in order to give them back to us in His way.
Sometimes He replaces good things with better things.

  • God restored Isaac to Abraham; strengthening and proving Abraham’s faith, while still fulfilling His promise of both descendants and a Messiah!
  • The Lord blessed Joseph’s life, used him to preserve the nation of Israel, and allowed him to see his beloved father and family again face to face!
  • God blessed Job with twice as much material wealth as before, spoke to him personally out of a whirlwind, and directed the story to be preserved so that we could understand His mind and ways better.
  • After the cross, the disciples received their Master back AS SAVIOR! Moreover, they and we will be in His presence for eternity!
  • Through Jesus’ sacrifice of power, glory, holiness, etc. He received the church as His bride and inheritance, the keys of the kingdom, all honor, glory, power… the list goes on!

It is much better to praise Him right away (Job 1:20-21), and choose the “good portion, which will not be taken away” from us (Luke 10:42) — relinquishing things of earthly substance in order to receive blessings that are of heavenly/eternal value!

Through times of loss, sadness, pain and disappointment, I have experienced some of the sweetest times of fellowship with God! I have been blessed by trials when I’ve consciously chosen to praise Him in faith, trusting that He was working for His glory and my good, even when though I didn’t understand.

Our hopes can change easily; but, if we seek to only have what God chooses for us, then our desires don’t ever need to change! Moreover, instead of attaining our goals, we can instead joyfully give those desires of our hearts back to Him for safe-keeping… if they are blessings He wants to fulfill, He can do so a hundredfold!

So why wait 2 years (or however long) until we understand WHY God has taken something away before we thank Him? Let’s do it now, trusting that it is a blessing from Him!

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” – I Thes. 5:16-18

When I don’t love my neighbor…

I’ve heard it said countless times, ‘Love God. Love others.’ Jesus Himself said that these two things are the greatest of all the commandments. But have you ever wondered what this looks like in every day life? I have. I tend to like concrete ideas instead of vague concepts, so I’ve often wrestled with what it means to love God – Who is an infinitely huge, eternal, and perfect Spirit- while at the same time loving my neighbor who is human, imperfect, and – I’ll admit – often frustrating.

I used to think that loving my neighbor was easy. But then I began to realize that Jesus wasn’t just talking about the people who were easy to love. He was talking about the needy person next to me. He was talking about the person who was different from me, who’s personality frustrated me. He was talking about the person who annoyed me most. And then I discovered something horrible about myself: I discovered that sometimes I just don’t feel like loving my neighbor, even though I know that I should.

My solution? Like any other problem’s solution. Try harder. Try harder to love people who annoy me. Try harder to show love to those who are hard to love. I’ve lived for YEARS thinking that if I just try hard enough, I’ll eventually overcome my problems. Eventually I’ll have enough love to give.

However, my solution started crumbling recently when I was approached by a few people who lovingly told me that – even though I was trying hard to love a particular person who annoyed me – my love didn’t appear genuine. Frustrated, I complained ‘But I’M TRYING.’ All of a sudden, I Corinthians 13 came to mind. ‘Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.’ And that’s exactly what I had become. A clanging cymbal, because artificial ‘try harder’ love is no substitute for real, selfless, genuine love.

So then I did something crazy. I decided that I didn’t want to be a clanging cymbal. I wanted to love and to love genuinely, and that wasn’t happening through my own efforts. So, I gave up. I accepted my emptiness and inability to love and instead just cried out for God’s perfection and love to fill every crack and corner of my needy heart.

And then God did something crazy. He started giving me love for the person who annoyed me the most. Genuine, selfless, love that I honestly can’t explain on my own.  It was all Him. My emptiness was being exchanged for His fullness.

Jesus said that the world would know that we’re His disciples by our love. I want to be known as His disciple, but I’m never going to be able to love the way I should no matter how hard I try. It’s only when I give up on my own efforts, run to Him, and continually meditate on the gospel truth that God loves ME even when I’m annoying and frustrating and downright filthy, that I’m truly able to love my neighbor. Not a formula to be learned, but a relationship to be experienced.

Beginnings and First Things

see the frost

It’s that time again, when I finish reading Genesis…and hope my resolution holds to read the whole Bible by next January.

When Moses assembled the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, he was leading the Israelites out of captivity in Egypt. The people had been slaves. They needed a history and the sense of identity that comes with it.

Genesis appears to be a chronological collection of stories, some of them kind of strange. But we can detect a direction and subtle changes in tone and perspective.

A lot of those changes occur wherever we see the phrase “these are the generations of…” (KJV). The first chapter describes the creation of the world, and provides a cosmology for the rest of the book. Chapter 2 describes creation in human terms.

Then we hear about Cain and Abel and Noah. It feels very matter of fact. God is talking to people, and we even occasionally know what God is thinking, but we feel a distance from the action.

Then the book focuses on God’s increasingly intimate relationship with Abram. We see God making promises and changing Abram’s name. We see Abraham interceding for Sodom and Gomorrah.

There’s controversy in Genesis too—whether we’re discussing how long the “days” of creation were or questioning Judah’s attitude toward women. We read about the messiness of Abraham’s family.

see the moon

Then we come to the story of Joseph. God only speaks once in the last chapters and only to Jacob. But Joseph avoids Mrs. Potiphar’s advances and upholds sexual purity because of who God is. He tells Pharaoh it is God who gives the interpretation of dreams. When his brothers come to Egypt, he forgives them for selling him into slavery, because “God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20, KJV).

Somehow Joseph saw things differently than I probably would have, and maybe that’s what ties it all together. Genesis records the beginning of God’s revelation of Himself.

It teaches us to see the hand of God, despite the sinfulness of humans. So that just as Abraham believed God and it was “counted to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6,KJV) we too may begin to see with the eyes of faith.

Genesis teaches us to see the world and ourselves in the context of who God is.

Imperfect Situations and God’s Perfect Will

PublicTMB

Do you ever doubt that you are in God’s will because things aren’t going smoothly? When I hit bumps in life, one of my first reactions is often to think I must have made a wrong decision somewhere along the way. I start to fear that I’ve “missed” the best somewhere for my life and I can’t ever get it back. After all, wouldn’t God be continually blessing me with a smooth path if I were in His will?

Recently, however, individuals in the Bible who were clearly in God’s plan, but experiencing rough times have been apparent to me. Daniel, Jeremiah, and John the Baptist are a few that come to mind. And now, just after the Christmas season, Mary really stands out to me. Luke 1:42 says she was blessed among women and yet at the time she was carrying Jesus inside her, the challenges she was facing would have to make her feel anything but blessed. The realities of her life (mourning the possible loss of the marriage she had planned on, wondering about the stigma of being an unwed mother, almost every relationship in her life being in jeopardy) had to contrast sharply with the message of “highly favored one” (Luke1:28) that the angel gave to her. Only Mary’s amazing faith caused her to respond to God’s plan for her, not just with compliance – but instead, JOY at her situation. She even wrote a poem expressing her gratefulness to God that He would choose her for that path (Luke 1:46-55)!

Clearly, when we are facing opposition and challenges, we do have to examine our lives to make sure it is not our own sin that is causing or contributing to these problems. But these witnesses in Scripture remind me that being in God’s perfect will doesn’t mean that things are necessarily going to be perfect and imperfect situations don’t always mean that I went down a wrong path. Consider Jesus, who followed His Father in every respect and yet still encountered suffering and opposition. I shouldn’t let my less than ideal circumstances burden me with doubt, but look in expectant faith to God.

Loving Fathers

Merry Christmas!

2013 has been a year of dramatic change for me and my family. On June 7 my first son, Lewis, was born. Watching him grow and learn has been one of the greatest joys of my entire life. I could easily bore you with far too many tales of his exploits, but I’ll try not to…

Rowan & Lewis

Having a son has also opened up my eyes to new ways of understanding old truths of the Bible. I have always known that God is a father, but I only knew about one side of the father-child relationship. I always understood that Jesus was the Son of God, but I didn’t know what it was to be the father to a son.

Lewis is a dare devil. He is, as yet, unafraid of anything. He dives, lunges, crawls, topples, and bonks his way through every day, pleasantly unaware of all the near-pain experiences he has. Today he learned a new trick. As my wife and I were sitting on the floor with him he would pull himself up on us from sitting to standing and then let go, falling into our hands. He did this over and over for 20 minutes, slowly learning how to stand up, but still not capable of balancing on his own. Never once did he fall and hurt himself, because his mom and dad caught him every time.

This amazes me when I think about my Heavenly Father. Scripture says that God’s love for us is greater than a mother [or father] for her child. (Isaiah 49:15) I love my son enough that I will catch him when he [almost] falls off the couch or can’t quite balance on his own. Usually Lewis isn’t even aware that I’m hovering over him, alert to keep him safe.

God loves us enough that He promises, not to catch us every time, but to turn every situation for our good and blessing. (Romans 8:28) I don’t have a clue how this promise will work out for me or for you, but I do know that it cost Him deeply to fulfill it. The only way He could was to send His Son to Earth, to live a perfect life and to die in our place, as the Redeemer.

It grieves me that I cannot protect Lewis from pain or suffering, but I am so grateful that God would give His Son to care for mine!

Revive Me

“God, I can’t make it today. Life’s too hard. I’m tired.”

Do you have those days? I’m not talking about just having a late night and not wanting to get out of bed. I’m talking about the kind of tired where you don’t know if you care to ever get out of bed—the kind of tired that sinks into your soul. Psalm 119:25a says, “My soul clings to the dust.” I’ve found myself identifying with this verse.

It wasn’t anything in particular that made life hard. It was simply, well, everything. All of life’s platitudes and helpful sayings hit me like a slap in the face. Each morning rushed upon me like a charging bull. I needed a way out of an endless cycle of hurt and self-pity. Praise God! He has given one—the Word.

I thought: “I’ve tried that. I’ve read the Bible. Tell me something new.” But, the amazing truth is my answer is not in some new thing that will magically solve all my problems. My answer, as a child of God, is within me. The Father, who gave His all to know me, lives inside me and IS the answer to everything. And if He is what I need, I must fill my life, my heart, my mind, my soul with the Word. “…and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)

All throughout the Word, we find the command to keep His commandments. “And this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:3). Keep means to hold on to something, to take care of it, to have it with you. Our Father knows our weaknesses and needs above anyone else. When the soul is laid low, the answer is still the same.

Do you feel like your feet are slipping and you are desperately grasping for something to stop your plummet? Cling to His Word. Read the Word. Memorize it. Talk about it. Fill your free time with it. At first, you may not notice a difference. I didn’t, but, slowly, something happened. In the end, my life hasn’t changed too much, but my heart has. Deep inside something has grown. It’s a flicker of hope.

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My soul clings to the dust; revive me according to your Word.” ~Psalm 119:25