My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.
James 11:19-21 (emphasis added)
There’s been more than a blogging funk in my life, there’s been a real, personal funk in the past week or so. In reality, it’s been building for some time now, it just hit me last week.
As a church, I mentioned before, we’ve been reading Ed Anton’s new book titled Repentance: A Cosmic Shift of Mind and Heart. It’s an excellent book that’s given me a fresh look at one of the most fundamental parts of Christianity – repentance. The church is nearly done with the book and the messages associated with it, but through our minister’s relationship with Ed, we’ve moved on to some bigger related things. It’s what I’ve been teasing you with – Corporate Repentance. That’s the idea that, not only can & do we sin as individuals, but a church has a culture, and enviromnent and a personality that can be sinful as well. Just as an individual needs to return to God and His ways, so does a church. But before I get into describing this exciting development in my congregation, I need to talk about me.
As a part of the teaching on the subject, Ed came into town and spoke to our leaders meeting of the Evangelist, the Deacons and the family group leaders. He was in the state meeting with the Dayton ICOC church on the same subject, and stopped by our meeting on the way to the airport. As he spoke about how God brought his reproof to the churches in Revelation and how that God has done that with His people forever and will do so today, if we let Him, he said something that hit me like a ton of bricks. “The question is how do you get ready for this? You get prepared to hear God’s reproof.”
You see, this idea that we need to repent as a church was a powerful one to me. It was at once brand new and exactly what I’d lomged for at the same time. But in the couple of weeks that the leaders had been talking about it, I hadn’t once thought that this repentance would need to hit me square in the heart. What would God say to me? It was terrifying. I honestly didn’t want to know, but the thought of not knowing was scarier. I left that meeting two Sundays ago feeling quite uneasy.
The next two nights I took long (cold) prayer walks. I asked God to show me what ever He saw in me, yet I was could feel my heart holding back. Or was I just trying to manufacture conviction? I didn’t know, and to some degree still don’t. I’m frankly frightened more by how hard this time of soul searching has been than what might be uncovered in my heart. Why has it been so hard this time around to just surrender to God and listen to His rebuke? How far had I drifte? I don’t honestly know, except to say that I’m a prideful, self reliant man. I take some measure of pride in being able to figure things out, and I’ve been relying on my own wisdom and analytical powers for answers too long. The result of this me focus instead of God focus is that when I looked up for God, he wasn’t as close as I expected He would be. I had fallen asleep and drifted away. The answer to this conundrum was not going to come from my careful thinking or study, only from falling at the feet of my God, being still and listening. It wasn’t, evidently, going to come quickly either.
I now see that God has been at work in me, preparing me for this from some time. That first passage above has been ringing in my head for weeks now. “Man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” I come from a long line, at least as long as I know of, of angry men. My grandfather, Dad’s Dad, was constantly spouting off about something. Not much patience, tolerance or understanding. Dad’s got the same character, although he’s better than Granddad, it doesn’t take much for him to blow his top. Growing up, I had a horrible temper, and my parents took my to psychologists and bought me punching bags to try to calm me. My parent’s home bore witness in holes in drywall and doors from my High School years. (I think the last of those got fixed just recently.)
When I became a Christian in 1988, that all but disappeared. Mom has commented that she knew I had met God because she could see the change in my temper. In recent months, however, I’ve noted that it has slowly crept back in, but as a Christian I’m good at masking it. I’ve caught myself swearing under my breath or in my head at times. I’ve wanted to and have thrown things in a rage or just banged them around a bit. I’ve shouted at my kids more times than I want to think about. Just the other day, Emily turned to me in tears and asked “Daddy, why are you angry?” I’ve prayed under my breath and out loud for patience in dealing with them, and all the while that verse from James 2 was playing in my head.
It wasn’t until this week, after the words from Ed and the cold prayer walks around the neighborhood that a clearer picture began to emerge. The anger wasn’t my trouble, it was only a symptom of the underlying issue. It wasn’t James 2 I needed, but James 4.
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.
James 4:1-4 (emphasis added)
I have become selfish and worldly. I wanted things my way, and when they didn’t go that way I was angry. I’ve been looking at everything as the woorld does – selfishly. Is it furthering my agenda? Does it help me get what I want? Stupid computer or Christmas lights, I don’t want to deal with you now, I want to play on the web. Maria, don’t bother me with household projects, I want to work on my car. Kids? Not a blessing and a joy, but a pain and in the way. Just shut up, obey and get in bed now so I can go blog. DIDN’T YOU HEAR ME? GO TO BED! Then the tears. The sigh from Dad. An apology, but not a change of heart.
The most important things in my life, my wife and kids, were merely in the way unless I needed them. Maria’s quietly taken on more and more responsibility that I have just been ignoring, not wanting to be bothered, and I can now see the burden it’s put on her. The joy she once had is largely gone, replaced by a load that she wasn’t to bear alone. So, while there have been things that I’ve wanted to share, to blog about, I just couldn’t. Each time I went to sit down and write, there was this elephant in the room that I had to deal with first, and I wasn’t ready to deal with it. I’m not sure I am yet ready, but at least I can write about it.
But God’s getting me ready, I don’t understand how but He is. I know because now I see what I deparately wanted to avoid. I know because I’m getting the strength to talk and write about what I wanted to keep hidden. I know because I’m beginning to look forward to next week. That’s when the leadership group, the four deacons and our minster, will sit down and talk about how this idea of Corporate Repentance is hitting us and how we together and idividually have sinned and how that has effected the church. I need to talk about it, but even more profound is that I want to talk about it. I want to deal with it, to get some help, and to finally shake it off, and return my focus to God.
More about the church developments soon, I promise.