The Destructiveness of Sinful Anger

It is helpful to understand that anger is not intrinsically evil. Exodus 34:6 describes God as compassionate and gracious and slow to anger. God abounds in love and he is not quick to wrath, but He does get angry. Jesus is said to have been angry and grieved by hard-hearted religious leaders in Mark 3:5. Anger is an emotion that arises when good is threatened by evil, and for God it is always a righteous emotion. But for us anger can quickly turn sinful. Our fallen human nature distorts why we get angry, how we process that anger, and ultimately how we act out of it.

The human heart tends toward hostility without the ongoing, sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. But even those in Christ are not immune from the temptation of sinful anger, which presents itself in various ways. For some, rage is displayed through screaming, grumbling, biting sarcasm, or even violence. But for others, rage is quietly displayed through a sulking that withdraws affection and shuts down from others emotionally. Regardless of how sinful anger presents itself, it ultimately produces works such as envy, gossip, hate, division, and even murder. These works have lasting and deep impact on individuals, families, and churches.

3 Ways Sinful Anger is Harmful

  1. It does harm to our intimacy with God. Jesus teaches that abiding in His love is what produces fruitfulness in the life of His followers; and that the pathway to their abiding is obedience to His commands (John 15). Sinful anger, however, produces much transgression (Proverbs 29:22). So when we constantly give in to anger, it is producing out of us the very works which prevent our abiding with Christ.
  2. It does harm to our personal relationships. By experience we know that sinful anger hurts families, friendships, churches, and workplaces. Volatile people create volatile environments (Proverbs 15:18) which leave lasting wounds.
  3. It does harm to our physical health. The bible teaches that a wholesome or composed heart is good for our health (Proverbs 14:29-30). While science shows prolonged anger can create physical problems including high blood pressure, heart disease, and anxiety issues.

Sinful Anger is Completely Futile

As destructive as our distorted anger can be, it is absolutely useless in helping make right that which is wrong. James 1:20 teaches that the anger (literally violent passions) of man does not produce the righteousness of God (in this context, right behaviors). When faced with injustice, misunderstanding, attacks, or sin – our greatest need is that God will produce his righteous works in the situation. The resolution we need is not the one we can produce, but the one God provides. And no matter how angry we may get, we cannot produce this righteousness. Sinful anger is not helpful. It feeds our flesh momentarily, but then leaves in its wake frustration and bitterness.

James indicates that the opposite of relying on our anger to bring about change, is to humbly receive the words of Christ (1:21). We begin the process of putting away destructive and pointless anger – whether violent rage or silent withdraw – by looking to Jesus. Only He can repair people and restore where life has went wrong. Let us display our trust in Jesus, by asking for His help to avoid sinful anger and obey his helpful commands.

5 Truths About Responding to Betrayal

Betrayal is a dreadful act that can cause profound and lasting damage. It is one thing to suffer harm, but it is quite another to suffer harm from someone you trusted. When we are brought to anguish by those we considered loyal friends, the deep emotional and psychological wounds are often slow to heal.

Jesus Suffered Betrayal

Scripture teaches that Jesus suffered as we do, and so he sympathizes with us in our affliction. Most of us know that before his murder, Jesus was delivered to Jewish officials by one of his own disciples. Judas is a name synonymous with shattered trust. But we may not realize the great affection Jesus had for his wayward follower and the way he agonized over his betrayal. Even though He knew from the beginning what Judas would do (John 6:64), Jesus loved and served him until the very moment that he left. John 13 testifies the betrayal troubled Jesus in His spirit; which in the original language implies: revulsion, horror, and anxiety. Just like us, Jesus felt deep and complex emotions because of the unfaithfulness of his companion.

After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”
John 13:21 (ESV)

5 Truths About Responding to Betrayal as a Christian

God worked for our good, even as we sinned against Him (Romans 5:10). This is our motivation to care for those who have hurt us. Here are 5 biblical truths to help guide our response to personal betrayal:

  1. You are accountable to God for your response to those who hurt you. You have no control over what others do. But you are liable for your reaction to them. Proverbs 24:17-18 warns that rejoicing over the downfall of an enemy can invite God’s displeasure. He cares greatly about the heart of His people.
  2. God alone has the right to bring justice to sinners. This will help you understand the command of Proverbs 24 better. Practicing forgiveness is not overlooking justice, but rather placing it in God’s hands. Romans 12:18-21 teaches you to entrust vengeance to God and to overcome evil by doing good to your enemies. (We must note Romans 13, which describes civil authorities as God’s instruments of punishment against wrongdoers. Personal forgiveness does not require you to refuse to report heinous crimes).
  3. Blessing your enemy is not a sign of your weakness or of your approval. Rather, it is proof of your heritage as a child of God. Doing good to someone who has harmed you does not mean you are a push-over, nor that you are saying what they did was ok. Rather, Jesus teaches in Matthew 5:43-48 that blessing your enemy shows that you are conducting yourself in the pattern of your Heavenly Father.
  4. Unforgiveness is not protection against further harm. It will result in bitterness that will impact far more people than just your offender. Hebrews 12:14-15 warns that a root of bitterness in your heart will grow and defile many. You may feel that withholding forgiveness protects you from getting hurt again. But in reality it will only bring destruction and difficulty to you and those close to you.
  5. God will equip you to desire that which you would naturally hate and accomplish that which you would naturally find impossible. If you read the first 4 truths and feel overwhelmed, let the Gospel comfort you. Through Christ, God promises to equip you with everything needed to do His will. His Spirit will work in you that which is pleasing in his sight (Hebrews 13:20-21). Whatever is required by God, is provided in Christ. And that includes the desire and ability to forgive and love your betrayer.

Taking the Next Steps

Working through the pain of betrayal is often a long journey, but one that cannot end until it begins. So let me encourage you with these first steps: Confess to God your current mental and emotional state toward your offender. Agree with God on what His word teaches about where you need to be. Rely on the power of Christ to help you walk out love and forgiveness. And seek counsel from a pastor or wise godly friend who can help you with practical actions toward this end.

Honor Is Given, Not Earned

Image result for honorI once heard someone say that ‘respect is earned, but honor is given’. Indeed, throughout the bible, people are commanded to give honor to others, with no conditions included. Of these commands, probably most well-known to us is ‘Honor your father and your mother’, which is repeated several times in the Old and New Testaments (Deut 5:15, Mark 7:10). The bible also instructs honor for the elderly (Lev 19:32), those in the church (Rom 12:10), widows (1 Tim 5:3), pastors (1 Tim 5:17), government leaders (1 Pt 2:17), spouses (1 Pt 3:7), and most importantly Jesus Christ as Lord (1 Pt 3:15). I particularly love the passage in Romans, where Paul tells the church to ‘outdo one another in showing honor’ (ESV). What we have is essentially a command to have a friendly competition in the church, trying to one up each other in honoring people.

In a biblical sense, honor is not associated with an individual’s performance. We are not allowed to withhold honor because someone is not living up to our expectations. In fact, Peter covers all the bases by saying we should honor everyone (1 Pt 2:17). Surely, he understood that everyone would include those individuals who have not earned honor- those who have not been honorable people. Perhaps the elderly person has a checkered past, or the pastor has hurt your feelings, or the church member has criticized you, or your spouse is not encouraging, or the waiter spilled your drink, or the government leader is NOT the one you voted for. Yet, we are told to honor others without consideration of their behavior.

So, let’s pause for a moment and talk about what the bible is asking us to do when we are told to honor someone. In the New Testament, the word honor essentially means to treat someone as valuable. Now we must realize that we are pulled by our flesh and our culture to determine someone’s value by what they have done, specifically, what they have done for us. It is not difficult to think about honoring someone who has treated you well, provided you blessings, or enriched your life in some way. For some of us, it is rather easy to honor our parents, our spouse, our pastor, or our boss – because they are honorable people who treat us well. But that is not true for all the people in our lives. Whether it is someone close to us, or individuals encountered in our daily routine, we all interact with those who do not act in ways worthy of our esteem. But the bible calls us to step outside of our natural inclinations.  Through our words and our actions, we are to show people that they are valuable, often, despite their behavior.

But still some will ask, what makes people valuable if not their performance or contributions to society? What we glean from scripture is that the value of life, of EVERY LIFE, is rooted in this biblical passage from Genesis 1: ‘God created mankind in his own image’. What separates the human race from the rest of that creation is that we are the image bearers of God. This speaks not of our physical likeness but of our spiritual capability. All people are born with a unique ability to intimately know, serve, worship, and love God. And while our creator God is the only one worthy to receive glory and honor (Rev 4:11), He has chosen in His mercy to crown humans with a measure of the same (Psalm 8:5). Indeed, all of us have sinned and fallen short of that glory, which is ultimately why people hurt other people. But even then, God chose to send His son Jesus Christ to redeem His image bearers and perfect the glorious likeness of God in those who believe in Him. Consequently, all people have an inherent value, because it has been bestowed upon them by God. Every person belongs to Him. Every person is stamped with His image. Every person can walk in His likeness through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus. To dishonor people, for any reason, is to dishonor their creator. Not every person will earn our respect, but every person is to be treated as valuable. And often giving someone honor is all it takes to encourage them to live in honorable ways.

Direct Your Heart

 I am sure that you have heard of the catchphrase, “Fake it ‘til you make it”. This saying came up during a dinner conversation I was having with some friends recently. We were discussing the common battle we face as Christians: A championship cage-match between doing what we know we should do vs doing what we feel we should do. The decision may be to choose forgiveness or choose wrath, spread a juicy bit of gossip or keep information to ourselves, deceive to get our way or confess a harsh truth, access a tempting website or turn off the media device, do good to our spouse or return the cold shoulder in kind. There are countless battlefields upon which this war may be fought, but it is ever present. Will I act out of my feelings or from something much more solid?

Of course, as followers of Christ – we know the right answer. We don’t follow our heart – we lead our hearts. Like a leaf falling from a tree at the mercy of the wind, our emotions are subject to any number of factors that we have no real control over: our stress level, the circumstances of the day, the actions of someone else, even the weather outside. Feelings are not a sure guide because they are too susceptible to influence. Our decision-making needs to be impacted by principles, not by how much coffee we had that day. 

So eventually someone at our table said it. It was all on our minds anyway: “Well, you just have to Fake it ‘til you make it”. Honestly, I really dislike that phrase. Even though it is used widely in faith-circles, I do not believe it accurately communicates the strategy of a Christ-follower.

People do not seem to agree about the origins of the ‘fake it’ phrase, although it is often associated with the 12 steps of AA. The idea behind it is that if a person acts out a positive behavior long enough, they will eventually learn to enjoy it. The initial behavior may seem forced, but as the individual experiences the benefits, their happiness becomes real and the new behavior continues. In psychology, this is known as a positive feedback loop. Now, while I would not deny that there can be value in the study of the human psyche, we must never confuse the concepts of man with the design of God. Trust in behavior modification is a crumbling path. Sure-footing is found only in placing our confidence in gospel empowered change.

How does the bible instruct us in this battle between knowing and feeling? Proverbs 23:19 says ‘Hear, my son, and be wise, and direct your heart in the way’. So here we have teaching from the bible that backs up what was mentioned earlier: we should lead our hearts. Specifically, we are to lead them ‘in the way’. In its early days, Christianity was referred to as the way; probably based upon the well-known statement by Jesus in John 14:6, ‘I AM the way and the truth and the life…’. So, looking at this Proverb from a New Testament perspective, we should direct our hearts to Jesus and His way of life. And we do that by hearing God’s word, and applying what we hear through obedience.

So how does the biblical principle of directing our hearts differ from the fake it until we make it philosophy? First, the bible does not call us to pretense. We obey Christ because we love Christ (John 14:15). In the midst of obedience, we may rightly confess that we are going against our natural inclinations. Yet we obey in recognition of God’s authority over us and His majestic love for us. Secondly, the bible promises God will work within us creating a newness of desires. ‘I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you…and move you to follow my decrees’, Ezekiel 36:26-27. God has not left us alone to hope that continual behavior modification will spark new habits that we eventually enjoy. Rather His promise is to dwell with us, implementing change at the heart level. As we do the word, even against our feelings, we have the hope that God is empowering our very ability to obey and growing our love for Him. And finally, we have the confidence that God is able to bring about good from every act of obedience (2 Thess 1:11), and make our works effective and fruitful. So no, we do not fake it in hopes to make it. Instead, with our eyes trained on God we strive to direct our hearts through obedience – in full trust that Christ is able to make all things new in and around us.

 

The God of Every Season

For most families, the summer season carries with it a certain mystique. Summer is a time often filled with big events such as family cookouts, vacations, and frequent visits to someone’s pool (if you are lucky). It is a season where normal days feel rather special, especially for our kids. The days are longer, and responsibilities are often lighter. Late evening homework sessions might give way to pick-up basketball games or backyard campouts with friends. It is a time full of highlights and mountain top moments, that often stand out to us even years later. Many of us are blessed to be able to take a few days to go somewhere special, out of the way, and relax from our normal routine. The beaches along the coast, a cabin in the woods, or a tent next to a lake might serve as a special setting for our families to make new memories. At least for me, it is quite easy to sense God’s presence in those moments. Walking on a beautiful shoreline, watching the sun drop below the water line, listening to the powerful waves crash into the sand and the squeals of joy from my kids – I am so very mindful of my creator. If only – I could just live in that moment. If only – the season where even normal feels special, could last year round. But, we all know it doesn’t. August comes, and with it comes the return to routine and the mad scramble to get ready for it. There are registration forms to be filled, school supplies to be purchased, and schedules to be set. Soon the days will be shorter, and busier, and normal will begin to feel….well, normal. And sometimes in the midst of this flurry of activity, we discover that it is not quite as easy to sense God’s presence as it was when those waves were crashing in our ears.

The writer of Ecclesiastes, most likely King Solomon, knew this dynamic very well. In his observance of life ‘under the sun’, Solomon noted that God has planned our time in such a way that every occasion has a proper season (Ecc 3:1). Activities start and then eventually they end; and new activities start. This is life on the earth, as it has been from the beginning. And moreover, God has designed this life so that when properly viewed ‘everything is beautiful in its time’ (Ecc 3:11). Every activity, with its beginning and its end, is planned by God to be lovely for His people. What I enjoy about this truth is that first we have a confirmation that God intends us to find beauty in the long days of summer. When I sense God among the carefree minutes of a sunset beach walk, it is a beautiful moment just as he designed. That day is beyond any doubt, a day that the Lord has made. But second, we have encouragement that God does not disappear with the return of our routine. If we do not sense His presence in the chaos that often accompanies responsibility, it is only because we have lost sight. With God, everything is beautiful in its time. God is Lord over the day filled with obligations and busyness, and He is as near to us then as He is in our most lighthearted moments. And that, I believe, is the key: It is His nearness, that gives life its beauty, no matter the activity. He is the God of every season.

Jesus Christ, God’s son, came into the world to undo the work of evil. He declared that He came so that those who believe upon His saving work, in faith, may have life and have it exceedingly (John 10:10). Oh how I love that description! I know that it is not possible to remain on the beach forever (I have tried). Eventually the summer season must end. But I have a savior who has come to give me life, exceedingly. A savior who is able to draw me near to God the Father (Hebrews 7:25), whether the moment at hand is chaotic or relaxed; whether the day is long or short; God the Father has made everything beautiful in its time. And God the Son has made a way for me to experience that beauty continually. So as the summer begins to draw to a close, and this season of life prepares to give way to something new, let us NOT lose heart; let us not lose the beauty of today. I urge you to ponder Jesus and seek him in faith. He is near! And He is able to make the most normal of days, special. So may you and your family experience the mystique of life with Christ, no matter the season.

I love you all in Christ


David 

Finding Refreshment in Small Changes

 Hello Church
 
Yesterday some of the McConnell children decided to rearrange their rooms. Mostly on their own, they spent the afternoon moving around furniture, posters, baskets, and toys. They threw out some clutter, and put new items on their shelves. When I got home from work they practically knocked me down at the door, so excited to show me what they had done. Of course I’ve seen their rooms every day for the past year that we have lived in this home, but I will say that the difference was tangible. The biggest change was the enthusiasm level of the kids for their little bit of space in the house. What was boring the day before, now seemed to be revived. Of course many of us adults have experienced this phenomenon. It’s the same furniture, and same material – yet everything feels somewhat new just by moving it around! It is really quite stunning how refreshment and energy can come from a simple, new arrangement.
 
This morning I was contemplating how this could be helpful in our relationship with Jesus. The bible tells us to ‘not grow weary of doing good’ (Galatians 6:9), yet the very presence of the command tells us that it is possible to do just that. Christians who are maturing in faith will often find themselves in ruts along their path. In these times, doing what is good could seem like a chore. Perhaps we do it anyway, trying to push through; or perhaps we wake up one day and realize we have drifted away from where we started. Let me be clear, I believe that spiritual life comes from the Father and His Spirit living through us, because of faith in Jesus. So in a dry place, the critical task is to seek the living water of Christ (John 4:14). But when you recognize that your energy to even seek what is good is waning, allow me to encourage you that it may be time to seek refreshment through a new arrangement. A few small, simple changes may be exactly what you need to energize your walk with Christ. Maybe it is beginning something new, like getting up a bit earlier to meet with the Lord before the chaos of the day. Perhaps you just need a change of scenery for your bible study, or a new place to walk while you talk with God. It could be that you need to make a way to take a short daily retreat, try fasting a meal, or begin meeting with someone once a month for coffee and fellowship. Or maybe you need to try taking the last 15 minutes before bed to worship and pray with your spouse and children.
 
The point is – if you find yourself growing weary in your walk with Christ, consider how even the smallest of changes could refresh your journey. As a church, we aimed to do something new this year by joining together in a bible reading plan. We have not mentioned this in several weeks, but I hope those of you who began this work have not grown weary. But if you have, today is a great day to restart the process. I have fallen behind several times, but have pressed onward and found that God has spoken to me clearly on many occasions. Verses that I have read dozens of times, are jumping off the page at me with new revelation. So let’s keep moving forward in the word together, trusting God’s Spirit to grow us as a church.

I love you all in Christ

David

The Blessing of Weakness

In our culture, we greatly admire strength. We celebrate, sometimes even idolize, the talents and skills in others. Our respect goes to those who can overcome difficult circumstances through sheer will-power. In business, we greatly value the self-made individuals who transformed their abilities into great achievement. When it comes to our entertainment, nothing sells better than a powerful hero who wins the day. And in today’s turbulent world, many seek security in the strength of their personal economy and environment.But there are at least two unfortunate by-products created by a fixation with strength. First, it can cause us to despise the weaknesses we see in ourselves or in others. Weakness is a quality of a person ‘regarded as a disadvantage or fault’. With so much admiration for capability, it stands to reason that we would try to hide our deficiencies out of shame. When faced with inability to overcome a problem or accomplish a task, many just remain silent because of the dread they feel when admitting they need help. In a world that so highly values self-reliance, we become adept at hiding our problems, our fears, our addictions, our temptations, and our sin. We reason that if people really knew of our inadequacies, perhaps we would be marginalized or rejected.

Secondly, an over focus on strength will lead us to place too much confidence in ourselves when it comes to setting and accomplishing goals or overcoming difficulties. The overly self-reliant are quick to assume that their plans are correct. And often when they find themselves in a season of despair they endeavor to overcome quietly in their own power, rather than reach out for help. Even in our churches we have developed statements of encouragement for those who are struggling that expose a subtle over-emphasis on self-reliance. We say things such as, ‘God will not give you more than YOU can handle’. Or ‘God only gives the greatest battles to his toughest soldiers’. And while we would not deny the well-meaning heart behind these sentiments (let’s be honest, we have all said them), the focus is still misplaced.

 The Bible teaches us that what human culture sees as wisdom, is actually quite foolish to God. Scripture often overturns social norms by presenting an entirely different way to view life. When it comes to how we navigate our weaknesses, this is what the Lord says in Jeremiah 17:5,7-8: ‘Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh…but blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water…It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit’. Most of us know what it is like to go through the heat that life can bring or live through a season of drought. And God uses this imagery to teach us that there is a way to order our days so that we can always flourish and be full of life. That way demands that we disregard the cultural pattern of relying on ourselves. Nothing good will come from placing trust in our own abilities. You will not bear fruit at all times by being confident in your ways, your wisdom, or your strength. Rather, a blessed life will be found when we realize our absolute dependence on God for everything.

The Apostle Paul came to realize this truth, and even wrote to the church in the city of Corinth that he had chosen to approach his weaknesses with gratefulness (2 Corinthians 12). Even in his day, this was a shift from the social norm of highlighting your strengths, and hiding your frailties! But Paul told the church that he had come to recognize that when he was weak, Jesus Christ would supply His power, His wisdom, through His Spirit, and the qualities of Christ were far greater, and far more satisfying than his own.

As moms and dads, husbands and wives, leaders and friends – we could do no greater service to one another than to live unashamed of weakness. Our legacy can be certain if we will decline fascination with our own competence; opting instead for a radical confidence in the power of God. May we celebrate our talents for what they are: gifts from above to be used for God’s glory and in service to other people. And may we be willing to speak of our weaknesses boldly, knowing that they are paths for God to deliver his power in unique and anointed ways.

 

Living God-Centered, in a Self-Centered World

In the beginning, God created…everything. And at the height of His creative work, he chose to make mankind in His image (Genesis 1:26). God plans to make a human race, patterned after his own being, to oversee the rest of creation, and to enjoy Him forever. As the first humans, Adam and Eve lived in God’s likeness, in perfect harmony. They lived in a magnificent garden, where God himself walked. There was no divide between creator and creation. And there were no divides between the human race either- specified by scripture with the phrase found in Gen 2:25, ‘They were both naked, and they felt no shame’. This was unity. Nothing clothed them, because there was nothing to hide. No barriers at all.

And at the center of this unity, was the human purpose: To live for the glory of God. His glory was the purpose of mankind’s creation (Isaiah 43:7). God had existed for all of eternity as Father, Son and Spirit, in perfect love. And out of His kindness, he invited mankind to share in His joy. Humans, living and working side by side, for God’s glory. Increasing in number, filling all of the earth with God’s image. Enjoying God, together. Adam and Eve were without dissension, because they were God-centric, as all of creation was made to be.

big dealOf course we know that the world we live in today – is not the world described in Genesis 1-2. The human race is not in unity; we are far from it. And the origin of every division and conflict we can imagine is found in Genesis 3. The enemy of God arrived in the picture with a singular temptation for the human race: to trade in their God-centric lives for ones that focused on themselves. God had given Adam and Eve all things to enjoy, except for one tree. That tree, God said, was not for them. And for a human race living to enjoy God and to find His glory precious – this was not a harsh prohibition. But Satan’s tactic was to shift their focus: Why must YOU not eat of these trees? Why should YOU be deprived? God knows YOU will be like him if you eat from it – because YOU will then have a knowledge of good and evil. And with that, the human race forsook God to place themselves at the center of their own affections. And immediately, division came. Barriers were put up as Adam and Eve clothed themselves with fig leaves, hiding from each other out of shame. Harmony was lost, not just between the human race – but also between humans and God. He came to walk in the garden, and the human race ran to hide. And the conflict grows as Adam and Eve began to blame each other, along with God, for their rebellion. Adam says, ‘I did this because of the WOMAN, YOU put here with me’. Eve responds, blaming the serpent that God had made. Mankind was now a self-centric, distorted image of God, divided and in conflict. And this bitter root of self-centeredness, would be passed to every human generation. People who love themselves, and so become boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient, ungrateful, unforgiving, slanderous and without self-control (2 Timothy 3:2-4).

I often tell the moms and dads going through the Families Count program, that parenting is the toughest challenge you will ever be given. And what makes the task so hard, is that we must live through the complications intrinsic to a self-centric world. And to compound this problem, both we AND our children are dealing with the nature we have inherited; a nature that is bent toward self. The good news – and there is good news in all of this – is that Jesus Christ has come to ‘destroy the devil’s work’ (1 John 3:8). God the Son stepped into His creation in order to reverse the effects of our rebellion. His work would make way for the human race to be restored to the Image of God and the harmony of living in His likeness. The night Christ was born, the Angels praised the Heavenly Father in song, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests’. This PEACE is the good news to a world filled with hostility; people drowning in conflict with themselves and with God.

Jesus is our only hope to live as God-centric people, reflecting His glory and enjoying Him forever. While our families must live in a self-centric world, we take heart at the words of Christ, ‘I have overcome the world!’ (John 16:33). Our hope and peace is found only in the centrality of Jesus! Look to Him and Seek Him with all of your strength!

Remedy for Rejection – pt2

This article was penned by Chase Thompson, elder at Agape Fellowship. The corresponding sermon can be found on this site under Messages / Singles / Rejection (July 6, 2014). Be sure to read the first part of the article, posted earlier.

rejection2Jesus’ Remedy for Rejection

Luke 18 “9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous,and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a (THE) sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The Pharisee and tax collector were BOTH looking for acceptance!  The Pharisee thought he had acceptance, because he was respected and accepted by men. The tax collector thought he was rejected, and was so eaten up by those feelings of rejection, that he couldn’t even look up to heaven. The Pharisee thanked God for a blessing he didn’t have, and the tax collector assumed he was rejected, because he was rejected by people.  HOWEVER – the tax collector was justified by God and therefore, he was ACCEPTED!! (As we will see shortly…justification is the ultimate acceptance and the great nullifier of rejection!)

The Marks of the Pharisee – he relies on what he has done, and how people view him. He fasts…he gives. He’s not like the pagan. He doesn’t do “bad things” and, although that gives him some level of temporary comfort, note that he is ultimately rejected by God. He is unjustified and unaccepted. EVEN THOUGH HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS WAS INDEED GREAT. Jesus gives no indication that his self assessment was wrong, that this particular pharisee was a hypocrite. On the surface, it appears that he was a good man in regards to his “good” works… He just wasn’t good enough. Note that he is praying by himself – away from the congregation. Withdrawn. Superior.

There are at least three major parables of Jesus where the one the Jews would have expected to be accepted by God would be rejected, and the one whom the Jews would have assumed to be far from God would be accepted.  The Tax collector and Pharisee. The Elder brother and the prodigal brother. The Rich man and Lazarus. All of those parables feature characters that the Jews would have thought would have been embraced by God: A rich successful man…a dutiful elder brother and heir, and a righteous preacher/pharisee. The Jews would have looked up to those men, but in fact, it was the younger brother (who had sinned so zealously) that was accepted by God. It was the poor, boil infected, Lazarus that spends eternity in Heaven and it was the traitor to his people tax collector that is justified by God. What a plot twist!!  

Scripture abounds with other examples as well: The tax collector and traitor Zacchaeus. The demon possessed and unclean Mary Magdalene. The rejected sinner Mary of Bethany – possibly a prostitute? The pagan Syro-Phoenician woman with the daughter in deadly peril. The children pushed away by the disciples. Over and over again, the story of the New Testament is the story of rejected people being called to repent and embraced by Jesus and the Father.

We see here in Luke 18 that a hated and vilified tax collector is justified and accepted by God while a respected and seemingly righteous Pharisee is ultimately rejected and unjustified by God. How is the possible? How can you trade in your rejection for acceptance? The answer is, ultimately, the Good News of Jesus…or, The Gospel.

The Good News of Jesus (The Gospel!)

If you are accepted by the Father – it doesn’t matter who rejects you. If you are rejected by the Father (and don’t dare think that He doesn’t reject…if the Bible is true – and it is – He will reject all who are not in Christ!), then it doesn’t matter who accepts you – you are ultimately rejected. In Galatians 2:15, Paul the apostle uses an incredibly powerful word – justification – to talk about ULTIMATE acceptance. We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

Justification is the ULTIMATE acceptance – it is the ultimate NULLIFICATION of rejection. Justification is better than acceptance.  Acceptance merely means, “you can come into the party” Justification means, “you can be the KING of the party.” Justification means you’re not just allowed through God’s door – you’re the honored guest! You’re not just allowed to come inside, stand in the corner and see what the cool kids do – you ARE the cool kid. You’re the king of the prom, the queen of the prom – when you are justified by the sacrifice of Jesus.

BUT that justification doesn’t come through your activity or what you’ve done – it comes through grace by faith. Often those who struggle so much with rejection in general are those who are relying on themselves and are disappointed in themselves but are not looking to Jesus to be saved and approved. Rejection comes when you look to yourself to save yourself. (Do better, be cooler, look more attractive, lose weight, be funnier, etc) Acceptance and justification comes when you look to Jesus in faith!! It’s not your effort. It’s not like Jeff Kemp’s coach. He loved Kemp when he played well and rejected him when he didn’t.   We understand that – we understand acceptance THAT WAY. But the deeper acceptance is the justification by Jesus based on faith.

C.S. Lewis is one of my favorite writers. He has such a gift for words and weaving stories together. I find that much of his fiction is as impactful and as full of truth as his notable non-fiction works. There is a scene in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, where Lewis does a beautiful job of describing the Good News of Jesus and the power of the death of Jesus to OVERCOME rejection. If you aren’t familiar with the books, know that Aslan is a lion (who correlates to Jesus) and He has just given His life for Edmund, a boy with little character and little to recommend himself to anybody. Susan and Lucy, as followers of Aslan, are dejected that the evil White Witch has managed to sacrifice Aslan on the stone table. Here’s what happens next:

Susan and Lucy had just witnessed the horrific death of Aslan, and were now said to be “walking aimlessly,” unsure of how to proceed. At that moment they heard from behind them a loud noise — a great cracking, deafening noise as if a giant had broken a giant’s plate…. The Stone Table was broken into two pieces by a great crack that ran down it from end to end; and there was no Aslan.

“Who’s done it?” cried Susan. “What does it mean? Is it more magic?”

“Yes!” said a great voice from behind their backs. “It is more magic.” They looked round. There, shining in the sunrise, larger than they had seen him before, shaking his mane (for it had apparently grown again) stood Aslan himself.

“Oh, Aslan!” cried both the children, staring up at him, almost as much frightened as they were glad….

“But what does it all mean?” asked Susan when they were somewhat calmer.

“It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward.”

Similarly, when Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the world, it caused death and rejection to begin working backwards, and provided for salvation for all “traitors” who had sinned against a holy God. Jesus’ death and resurrection paid for our sins and paved the way for what Paul calls justification in Galatians 2. Justification means that Jesus PAID THE PRICE for our sins and PAID THE PRICE so that we could be as accepted by the Father as Jesus is accepted by the Father. This means that those who repent and turn to Jesus in faith are just as accepted and just as justified as Jesus Himself is. Not by works (so that nobody can brag about it…) but by grace through faith.

Once again I write: If you are accepted (justified) by the sacrifice of Jesus – it doesn’t matter WHO rejects you – even if all of the world does…the acceptance and justification of Jesus NULLIFIES EVERY OTHER REJECTION!! Likewise – if you are NOT justified/accepted via the sacrifice of Jesus – then it doesn’t matter if you are the most popular person in your school…if you have the most followers on Twitter….the most friends in all of the world – if you aren’t accepted by God through Jesus…then you are ultimately rejected!

How do we respond to this? More specifically How do we cast off rejection and walk in peace and acceptance? I’ll close very briefly with two ways to ultimately REJECT rejection!

1. LOOK to Jesus in faith, repent and believe the good news!  If you have faith in Jesus alone for your salvation, and are following Him…then you are justified. Not by works but by faith. The tax collector perhaps didn’t realize that he was justified, but he was. The Pharisee FELT like he was accepted by God, but he was far from it.  Feelings aren’t as important here as faith. Sometimes you will FEEL rejected. The ultimate reality, however, is that you are ACCEPTED and justified if you are in Christ! Want to drive this truth deeper into your heart and life? Meditate on Galatians 2 and Romans 3:20-25. Hide God’s Word deep into your heart!

2. Radically change the posture of your life so that you ACCEPT others in an obvious and tangible and deep way. Resolve to NEVER be an agent of rejection, so far as it depends on you. INCLUDE both the lovely and unloveable, knowing that Christ your savior gave His life on the cross for those who were still in sin. You cannot be BEST FRIENDS with everybody. (and don’t expect everybody to be your best friend!) But you can LOVE, SERVE, and ACCEPT everybody!! Remember Paul’s words in Romans 15:7 “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God”

Rejection is BOTH a spiritual problem AND a practical problem. Find your ultimate HOPE and ACCEPTANCE in Jesus, and, by loving and accepting other people, HELP them find their ultimate hope and acceptance in the Gospel of Jesus also.   

 

Remedy for Rejection – pt1

This article was penned by Chase Thompson, elder at Agape Fellowship. The corresponding sermon can be found on this site under Messages / Singles / Rejection (July 6, 2014)

rejectionLiterally everybody has struggled with rejection at one time or another. From supermodels, to frumpy moms…from quarterbacks to nerds…everybody has tasted the bitter bile of rejection. I still remember the day in high school when, after being goaded by my parents for a month to ask a particular girl out, I finally relented and walked into the drugstore where she was working. I had a good wingman with me, and was confident in my chances of success. First, because my parents (who were friends with her parents) had told me that she was interested and, second because, at that tender age, I had never been turned down by a girl. (Not because I was a Romeo…but because I was careful to ask out only girls that I knew would say yes…)  

Anyway, five minutes after walking into the drugstore, I walked out with a confused look on my face, and a hole in my heart. She had shot me down! I had been rejected. I still remember how bad that hurt…and how bad it hurt when my first serious girlfriend broke up with me to go out with another guy…and how bad it hurt when I had unrequited love for my third grade sweetheart. Rejection stinks, and keep in mind that I am only writing about my own rejection stories that are easy to share and not too embarrassing. I’m keeping the REALLY painful ones to myself.  

Rejection happens to all of us – the best and the worst of us. That rejection is a universal experience among humans, however, doesn’t make it any easier to bear….just know that you are not alone – and read on! Here’s one example: Jeff Kemp was the quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks in 1988. From his autobiography, he writes about one particularly stinging incidence of rejection:

“Coming out of the pregame meal, one of the offensive coaches put his arm around me and strongly affirmed his faith in me. “I want you to know how happy I am that you are the Seahawk quarterback. I’ve been waiting for this day.” On the day of the game, Kemp started out hot, but a pass that all-pro wide receiver Steve Largent dropped caused Kemp to lose confidence and it led to him having a terrible first half performance that all of the Seahawks fans lustily booed leading into halftime.

I waded through the players to find the coach who had been so supportive before the game. I wanted to discuss some offensive strategies that might turn things around in the second half. As I approached him and began, “Coach—” he turned his back on me without a word. Then he called to another quarterback, put his arm around him, and began to discuss plays he would run in the second half.

Now, I understood that I was being taken out of the game. That made sense. I was hoping it wouldn’t happen, but I understood. But that coach didn’t say one word to me for the rest of the game, even though we stood next to each other on the sidelines. Nor did he say anything on Monday when we watched the game films. For about a month, there was complete rejection. He simply couldn’t deal with the fact that I hadn’t lived up to his hopes, that I hadn’t helped the team succeed. He rejected me relationally because my performance fell short.

Can you relate to that? I think we all can! We have all come up short in our performance in one way or the other, and have seen people, whom we thought liked us a lot, turn their backs on us or at least shake their heads in disappointment.

I like quotes a lot, and I stumbled upon one this week that surprised me. This one is from a prayer by pastor Walter Marshall, “May God bless my discovery of the powerful means of holiness so much as to save some from killing themselves.” What a strange prayer that is…until you hear the back-story.

That was a prayer at the beginning of a message, and a very odd one. Pastor Marshall had been faithfully teaching the Bible, but many of the people in his church were so struck with feelings of rejection and inability to please God or each other…that suicide and self mutilation were rampant! He was praying that his message would lead to people stopping the practice of harming themselves, and even save some from killing themselves.

Pastor Marshall well understood their feelings, as He too had been despairing until he had finally understood the remedy for the constant rejection and separation from God that he felt. I’m writing about that remedy today, because rejection is still a tremendous issue among us.  I say still because Walter Marshall pastored in the 1600s. Yes – they dealt with suicide and self harm/cutting and such even back then. Rejection is prevalent, timeless, universal and deadly painful.

Rejection is so painful perhaps because we are wired to deeply need approval. On Instagram –  people sometimes comment, “spam for spam,” In other words, “like my pictures, and I will like all of yours.” We relish “likes” on FB, and followers on Twitter.   We SO want approval.

Where did this longing for approval come from? We can trace it back thousands of years – all the way back to the Garden of Eden…where a man and a woman lived that were so assured of the approval of God that they were naked and unashamed and living in freedom.

When we, as humans, were absolutely certain of God’s approval – we lived in ultimate freedom – no clothing – no airs. We can’t do that now! Once humanity lost assurance of the approval of God (after Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit…) they covered up and hid. They put on clothes AND fled from the presence of God.   Prior to the fall, Adam and Eve knew and walked in a deep confidence of the approval of God, and it brought deep and radical freedom.   After the Fall,  a return to that level of freedom is not yet available – keep your clothes on! – but a STUNNINGLY deep level of joy and peace is available to those who are justified by faith in Jesus and are deeply permeated by that truth. 

Rejection and the Spirit of Rejection. How to know if this is a big issue for you?

We have all tasted rejection – but some people struggle daily and nightly with rejection in a deeper way than many others. Why do some struggle so much in this area? Is it because of past abuse? Insecurity? Is it a spiritual attack? Or, perhaps, are some people just that much more of a magnet for rejection than others? Read on to find out how to know if rejection is a giant issue in your life. (Note: it is a significant issue in everybody’s life)

Signs you struggle with rejection more than most:

1. A regular, nagging feeling that you don’t belong – that other people fit in much better than you do, and that you are always on the outside. “Other people always get together and hang out…but I always feel left out.”

2. Regular and disabling feelings of unworthiness and lack of value.  “I guess that I’m just not important enough to people for them to call me.”

3. Being quick to take offense for yourself or a family member. “Why doesn’t my son or daughter get invited over to other people’s houses? Why are the other children better liked than my children?” 

4. Feeling that no matter what you do, it’s not good enough.  “I’ve tried so hard to be a friend to other people, but they just aren’t returning the favor. Why won’t anybody be MY friend?” 

5. Friend hopping – skipping around to different friends and confidants, moving around to different churches/groups of people a lot. “This particular group of people doesn’t like me and will never like me. We need to leave and go elsewhere so that I can find that group of friends who will truly embrace me and make me feel at home.”

6. Having a tendency to take things that happen and words that are spoken as particularly negative. “His/her words were pointed at me, and were intended to hurt me.”

7. Having a tendency to get your feelings hurt by words or an event, but not speaking about it, or masking your real feelings. “I feel left out…but they will never know how hurt I am!”

8. Having difficulty recognizing when others reach out to you in loving or friendly ways. OVER-Emphasizing when people hurt you or don’t include you and forgetting the times when people have encouraged you and included you. “My friends don’t care at all about me…all they do is leave me out and hurt me.”

If the above are your common thoughts and feelings then it is possible that you might have a significant issue with rejection. It is possible that you are truly rejected more than others OR it is actually more likely that you are OVER-focusing on negative things and UNDER-focusing on positive things, which is COMPLETELY distorting your ability to perceive and receive love and warm friendship.

Is there a Spirit of Rejection?

I have heard pastors and church leaders speak of a specific “Spirit of Rejection.” With the implication that some people struggle so much with rejection because they are actively targeted by a demon or malevolent spirit that seeks to feed and breed feelings of rejection in that person. Is such a thing possible – or is it outlandish? Is rejection more of an emotional/psychological issue or a spiritual issue?  I believe the answer can well be BOTH! What does the Bible say about a “Spirit of Rejection?”

The Bible speaks of spirits of sleep/slumber/stupor, evil spirits, unclean spirits, spirits of heaviness, spirits of foolishness, spirits of prostitution, lying spirits, elemental spirits, deceitful spirits, demonic spirits, and more…  1 Cor 12:10 speaks of a spiritual gift of distinguishing between spirits (!) Quite clearly, the inspired Word of God seems to indicate that there are active spirits, with specific characteristics, that work evil against God’s people. Are these spirits actually demons or a different being altogether? That question is an interesting one, but is beyond the scope of this project.

Are these spirits personal, or simply feelings, thoughts, etc? In other words, when the Bible speaks of various spirits, is the Bible actually euphemistically referring to what we would call psychological issues today? 2nd Chronicles 18:21 AND 1 Kings 22:22 both speak of a personified, real,active and living deceiving spirit who had the ability to communicate and develop cunning plans. Other Scriptural passages seem to confirm that these evil spirits do indeed have a personality and intelligence. 

Now – what about a specific “Spirit of Rejection?”  I note quite clearly that the Bible does NOT specifically list a Spirit of Rejection, but Paul writes to Timothy a very interesting warning that many biblical Christians do not take seriously in this modern age. 1 Timothy 4:1 Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons. Here Paul is very strenuously warning Timothy that a day will come when those in the church will be drawn away by the demonic false teachers AND will be devoted to deceitful spirits. I believe that one of the ways those deceitful spirits draw people away from faith is via the avenue of rejection. Put more specifically, you can’t make a biblical case for there being a specific “Spirit of Rejection,” but you can clearly make the case that there are deceitful spirits who lead people astray in the church. One of their primary tools, especially in this day and age, is the tool of rejection.

If I had to speculate – I believe that these “deceitful spirits” work on stirring up lies to separate believers and assault unity in the church. Whereas Jesus prayed in John 17 that His followers would be brought to “complete unity,” so that the world would know that God the Father sent His son…deceitful spirits endeavor to stir up lies to SEPARATE believers and DAMPEN the gospel through disunity. As Paul notes in Ephesians 6:12, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” I propose that one of the clearest and most painful ways that we wrestle against spiritual forces of evil is in the context of rejection! And therefore, I conclude that it is likely that there are spiritual enemies opposed to us that seek to attack Christians with overwhelming despair and rejection. While there may not be a specific “Spirit of Rejection.” it is quite clear that the Bible warns us about deceitful spirits, and I believe these deceitful spirits can and do constantly assault Christians with lies and attacks designed to make them feel so rejected as to withdraw from fellowship!

Be sure to check out Part 2 of this article.