Christianity 201

September 16, 2015

January 14, 2015

When You are Angry

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Time for our weekly visit from Canadian pastor Clarke Dixon.  (Watch for gratuitous Canadian reference below!)

When Anger Flares

anger-mYou find yourself in a moment of anger. You are not a happy camper, and worse yet, the person that offended you is either oblivious to your hurt, or doesn’t care. And to make matters seem much worse, ringing through your head comes an expression you heard in Sunday School: “do not let the sun go down on your anger.” You hope it is not in the Bible, for then you may feel obligated to do something about your anger. But it is:

26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not make room for the devil. (Ephesians 4:26-27 NRSV)

To make matters worse still, you are a Canadian, it is winter, and the sun goes down very early indeed. What do you do?

Before you do anything, pray.

Then, ask this question: “Are my expectations of the person who offended me reasonable?”

It was at a pastor’s retreat that I first heard the concept that anger often comes from unmet expectations. We can see this in Jonah who expected that God should have judged the enemy of Israel, the Ninevites, with no chance for repentance. God did not meet that expectation which was great news for the Ninevites, but a great disappointment for Jonah. God responds to Jonah’s anger by asking “Is it right for you to be angry?” (Jonah 4:4 NRSV). In other words, “are your expectations of how I should act appropriate and reasonable?” God goes on to use a rapidly growing, then declining, bush to teach an angry again Jonah a lesson about appropriate expectations:

9 But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” And he said, “Yes, angry enough to die.” 10 Then the Lord said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals (Jonah 4:9-11 NRSV emphasis mine)

Jonah needed to adjust his expectations of what God would do and how God would act. Now back to your anger toward someone who has offended you. Before you do anything with it, you can ask that same question God had of Jonah: “Is it right for you to be angry?” Are your expectations of the person who has offended you reasonable and appropriate? If the answer is ‘no, I have been expecting too much,’ then go back, adjust your expectations and your anger will subside even though the sun may yet have a long way to go.

But suppose you have prayed and reviewed your expectations, and you have discerned that, yes indeed your expectations are reasonable, and yes, the reason for your anger lies at the feet of the offender. They have messed up, and you have the right, some might push it here and say obligation, to be angry. Now what?

You now have two options before the sun goes down. 

The first option is to go and talk with the offender about how you feel offended.

This is in keeping with a Biblical principal given to us by Jesus:

15 “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. (Matthew NRSV)

We do not have room here to go into Jesus’ instruction on the involvement of church family in verses 16 to 17. That is for another day. But for now, here is some wisdom that may help you in your chat with the offender:

1. Read and commit to living out the rest of the passage:

25 So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. 26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not make room for the devil. . .  Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. 1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2 and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (from Ephesians 4:25-5:2 NRSV)

Then read and commit to living out the rest of Ephesians. In fact you may as well read and commit to living out the rest of the Bible. By the time you are done this, you may forget why you are angry! All joking aside, when you go to someone you are angry with, go as someone who who is Jesus-following, Spirit-filled, and Bible-informed. My Mum’s daily advice growing up rings through well: “Remember Whose you are and Whom you serve.”

2. Make it easier for your offender to get into putty mode than potty mode. That is, you want to communicate in a way that makes it easier for your offender to consider their offence and how they might have done better, and do better, rather than putting them on the defensive and getting them all angry too. This can be done by beginning with ‘I’ statements, like “can we talk about how I felt when something happened?” rather than ‘you’ statements such as “you did this to me.” Not only will beginning with ‘I’ be less likely to put the offender on the defensive, but it also starts with something the offender cannot deny; your experience. It is also good to avoid words like ‘always’ and ‘never.’ It is better to keep the discussion to the one offence that aroused your anger rather than make the offender feel like they have always been losers and never been good enough. That is how your offender may receive “you always” and “you never” statements.

The second option is to let it go.

This is not the best option if the offence is serious, or if the repeating of the offence will make it serious, or if this offence will be serious when repeated in the lives of others. But it sometimes can be the best option. We can be so easily offended and so quick to take offence. Perhaps we might benefit from growing a thicker skin? You might object and say “this is impossible, I could never let an offence go!” It might seem that way but like everything else, this gets easier with practice. We should note here that because God is holy, He can never let offence go unpunished. Instead He offers to pay the penalty for us, through Jesus Christ at the cross. When we are angry we do well to remember that amazing grace! Our offender may need grace. We might need it too.

March 21, 2014

Loving Those Who Could — Or Will — Destroy You

We looked at Jonah just a few weeks ago, considering Nineveh’s sin and our sin. This time around we go deeper and look at the topic from the point of view of loving our enemies and those that even go beyond the category of enemies.  Nineveh was Jonah’s “Samaria” and their repentance was not his desire. This is from Kersley Fitzgerald and Blogos and appears on their “Exploring the Word” category (see the tabs in the right margin on their site when you click through). This article appeared under the title Nineveh

I’m going to assume you know the story of Jonah. God told him to go to Nineveh and tell them if they didn’t shape up, God would smash them. Jonah didn’t want Nineveh to repent, so he ran in the other direction. Got swallowed by a fish or possibly a whale. Got spit up and went to Nineveh. If you’re not familiar, set this aside and read the book of Jonah — it’s short.

The Bible doesn’t give too many details about Nineveh itself. It was the capital city of Assyria. Going by the biblical timeline, it was probably one of the first cities settled after the Flood. Shortly after, it was headquarters of the worship of the goddess Ishtar, the “Queen of Heaven.” You may also know her as one of her later variants: Ashera, Ashtoreth, Astarte, Isis, Venus, or Aphrodite. Her worship included temple prostitution so vile that she is one of the few gods the Bible specifically warns against worshiping (Deuteronomy 16:21; Judges 6:25-26).

She was also the goddess of war, which the Assyrians honored very much.

The first few verses of Nahum 3 describe the city:

Woe to the bloody city,
all full of lies and plunder —
no end to the prey!
The crack of the whip, and rumble of the wheel,
galloping horse and bounding chariot!
Horsemen charging,
flashing sword and glittering spear,
hosts of slain,
heaps of corpses,
dead bodies without end —
they stumble over the bodies!
And all for the countless whorings of the prostitute,
graceful and of deadly charms,
who betrays nations with her whorings,
and peoples with her charms.

Ashurnasirpal, king of Assyria, recorded some of his exploits:

I built a pillar over against his city gate, and I flayed all the chief men who had revolted, and I covered the pillar with their skins; some I walled up within the pillar, some I impaled upon the pillar on stakes,…and I cut off the limbs of the officers, of the royal officers who had rebelled…Many captives from among them I burned with fire, and many I took as living captives. From some I cut off their hands and their fingers, and from others I cut off their noses, their ears, and their fingers(?), of many I put out the eyes. I made one pillar of the living, and another of heads, and I bound their heads to posts (tree trunks) round about the city. Their young men and maidens I burned in the fire…Twenty men I captured alive and I immured them in the wall of his palace…The rest of them [their warriors] I consumed with thirst in the desert of the Euphrates. [1]

Inspiration for Vlad the Impaler maybe?

When the Assyrian army captured another city or nation, which was often, the entire population was either massacred or resettled elsewhere (see 2 Kings 29:24). Captured kings were beheaded, their heads displayed on staffs in the banquet hall and then left to rot on the city walls. One general was flayed alive; his brother was dismembered and pieces of his body sent about as souvenirs.

Still, Nineveh was glorious. The city wall was seven and a half miles long, surrounding 1730 acres. Gardens, zoos, aqueducts, and 120,000 men, women, and children. Also cattle (Jonah 4:11).

Nineveh was on the east bank of the Tigris River, by modern-day Mosul. It laid about 536 miles from Samaria, where Jeroboam reigned. That’s quite a distance when you have to walk. Through enemy territory.

Which Jonah did.

Jonah is first mentioned in 2 Kings 14:25 as a prophet during the time of the Israelite king Jeroboam. We don’t know when in Jeroboam’s 41-year reign Jonah was called to go to Nineveh, but we do know that about 42 years after Jeroboam, Assyria demolished Israel.

So God asked Jonah to travel to Israel’s mortal enemy, the cruelest place on the planet, to offer a message of repentance and forgiveness.

Not only that, if they accepted the message, Jonah would have rescued the method of Israel’s future destruction.

Brings to mind the stories of people being held up at gunpoint who wind up taking their robber to dinner. Or the imprisoned evangelists who had the chance to escape but stayed to witness to their jailer (Acts 16:25-34).

Does this apply to us now? We’re no longer threatened with extinction by communists. Aliens have not just passed the orbit of Pluto on a collision course. So what horribly cruel culture is about to catastrophically damage the influence of modern Christians? What ignorant, lost people are steps away from destroying the Christian culture? Ready to cart us away. Separate us from the things we value — both holy and profane. Maybe even kill us. It could be that this is the culture God is calling us to reach — while we have the chance.

Before ears are closed completely. Because what the Bible doesn’t tell us is how many Assyrians became authentic God-followers during those 40 or so years. Less than 100 years after Assyria wiped out Israel, the Prophecies of Nahum and Zephaniah came to pass — Babylon obliterated the great city of Nineveh. Nineveh was so utterly ruined it wasn’t until the nineteenth century AD that Bible critics found enough archaeological evidence to admit it existed.

Revelation and Daniel tell us this will be the fate of the cultures that currently threaten Christianity. So take those prophecies. Then take Matthew 28:19-20 and 2 Timothy 3:12 and you get the same message to us that God gave to Jonah:

Go tell your enemies about Me now because soon they are going take your freedom and your business and your children and your eyes and your head and your voice.

And then, when they are done, they are all going to die.

We are so familiar with the Scripture telling us to love our enemies, but we don’t take it to its logical conclusion. Don’t just tell people who have hurt us about Jesus — tell people who will destroy us.

Annoyingly convicting questions arise: Are we Jonah? Are we refusing to spread the message of repentance and forgiveness to the authors of our future destruction? Who is it we need to reach before we are silenced? Not all of us will be called to witness to our enemy, but if we are, do we value God enough to do it?


1. Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia, by D. D. Luckenbill, 1926, Vol. I, pp. 145, 147, 153, 162.

February 7, 2014

Am I Like Jonah?

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Byron Myers is a Texas teacher who posts at Weekly Devotional Thoughts. Click here to read today’s devotional and learn how to purchase his writing in book form.

Jonah 3:10-4:2  When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.  But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry.  He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.

For years, I was taught that Jonah ran away from God’s call because he was afraid of the people of Nineveh. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I learned that Jonah was not afraid of the people of Nineveh, but afraid that God would be gracious to such an evil city and its people. The people of Nineveh were evil to the core and brutal to those they defeated. They beheaded men and stacked the heads outside the city. They skinned people alive and laid the skins on the walls. They impaled men with spears and left them standing for all to see.

The belief is that Jonah did not want the city of Nineveh to repent. Jonah knew that God was gracious and would forgive. So, Jonah ran. I catch myself feeling like Jonah. I watch as many deny God, deny His law, mock His goodness, continue in a life of sin expecting God’s grace to cover, etc. What do I want for those? Many times I want God to smite them with His power and might. I want God to punish and show them who He is. Yet this does not match the Gospels and Jesus teaching that I should go and “make disciples”.

There are certain sins that tend to bother me more than others. Some sins, I have a tolerant attitude toward and have compassion for the “sinner” around. Other sins, however, trigger a strong reaction in me. I will avoid the offender like a plague. Yet, all sin is equal in the eyes of God. All sin separates us from a Holy God. Jesus even pointed out to the Pharisees; those without sin, to cast the first stone. I recognize that many times I am like Jonah and do not want those “sinners” saved. From that recognition, I realize that for much of my Christian life, I have made my morality and judgment my Christianity.

Growing up in this materialistic culture, I have fought the immorality I have observed. I have been hurt by it, jealous of it, and afraid of it. Therefore, I have built this moral life with an attitude that I would not be like “that”. And, out of that self-righteous morality, I have become condescending and judgmental at times. I am not saying that I shouldn’t be moral. I am not saying that I should not hate sin. But, I have built my Christian life off of this morality and not a Spiritual walk. So, am I like Jonah? Do I avoid being Jesus to others because of my morality and judgment? Do I run the other way when God places people in my life that I have strong opinions about their morality?

Where do I go from here? One, I need to learn from Jonah. If God is calling me to face what I have strong feelings about, I am not to run. Look how that turned out for Jonah. God knows best and He loves His children; to the point of giving them a chance to repent. Two, even though my morality is based on Biblical truth and that truth is right, I am to set aside my personal judgment for the sake of the Gospel. The key is to be honest about my opinion without pushing the “sinner” away with a judgmental, self-righteous attitude. I’ve been on a theme lately of loving relationship. Love the person(s), looking past the sin without condoning the sin. All the while, I must realize that my life is full of sin, just different sin.

I am challenged by this balance in order to reach more for Jesus. I am thankful that stories like Jonah are in God’s Word to help me to see my life and how I need to improve.

Questions/challenges:

1. What are some of the sins you cannot stand?
2. How do you handle those whose lifestyle you disagree with?
3. Where do you feel like Jonah when it comes to God’s mercy on others?
4. Where are you like Jonah; running from what God is calling you to do?
5. Pay attention this week to your “sin” triggers. Notice how you feel. Find the source of why that triggers you. Notice whether or not you want to be like Jonah or are willing to step in where God may be calling you. Ask God to show you a clear direction. Take it.

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