Tag Archives: Bitterness

The Sermon, part 27: The False Ones

Read Matthew 7:15-23

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 24:11-13 NRSV)

vaderandpalp“Beware of False prophets”, Jesus warns his disciples in the Gospel According to Matthew.” This is not a warning of outsiders coming into Christian circles to lead them astray, but of insiders. This is a warning that Jesus makes to his disciples regarding other Christians who call Jesus, “Lord, Lord,” but are only do so with their mouth and not with their deeds. Their words produce praises of Jesus, but their actions contradict and stand against the will of God as given through Jesus Christ.

Since I am in a huge Star Wars mood at the moment, I will liken Jesus’ warning to the first three episodes of the Star Wars franchise. Young Anakin Skywalker had such potential to be a powerful and just Jedi, as well as to be the one who restores the balance to the force and defeats the evil Sith. Yet, Anakin is seduced by the very evil that he is sworn to oppose. That evil, however, did not come in the form of evil. Instead, it came in the form of a kind and seemingly generous old Senator from the noble planet of Naboo.

Senator Palpatine was seemingly a patriot, a friend and ally of the Jedi, and someone who consistently stated he wanted to restore justice to the Republic. When he met young Anakin Skywalker, he acted as a grandfather like character and, behind the scenes, secretly mentored the young Jedi padawan. Unfortunately, behind his kindly words and seemingly sagely advice, lie the sinister and poisonous tongue of an evil and powerful sith Lord.

Over time, Palpatine gained the loyalty of Anakin Skywalker, and was able to lead him to the dark side of the force. Just as Palpatine was being revealed as the Sith Lord Darth Sidious, what good was left in Anakin died and he became the Sith Lord Darth Vader. Together, they would topple the democratic Republic and establish the evil Galactic Empire, ruling the entire galaxy in complete and utter tyranny.

This tragedy is what Jesus is warning his disciples against; however, we need to pause before move to the final point. This particular passage troubles me; however, I do not dismiss it or pass it off as untrue or unimportant. It troubles me because the accusation of “False Prophet” gets weilded around Christianity like Darth Sidious weilded the world “Rebellion” and “Traitor”. It gets thrown out against other Christians who hold different theologies and doctrinal understandings but self-righteous and zealot Christians who think that their way of understanding is the ONLY and RIGHT way of understanding.

I can tell you that I have been called a false prophet, as have many Christian leaders out there. I don’t just mean modern Christians either. Paul was called a “false Apostle” by his Jewish-Christian brothers and sisters. Even Jesus was called a false prophet and false Messiah by some of the Jewish leaders who opposed him. Using the label “false prophet” in such away is not only counter to Jesus’ intent here, it also bears the kind of evil that we see in Sidious and Vader who accuse and destroy their opponents.

To throw this accusation out willy nilly because one doesn’t agree with another brother or sister in Christ, not only besmirches them, it also spiritually damages them and blasphemes the Holy Spirit working within them. That kind of blasphemy, according to Jesus, is the ONLY unforgiveable kind of sin because it goes beyond mere sin and enters the realm of evil. One no longer sees God as supreme, but places onself in the seat of God’s supremacy. Such a person is no longer aware of their own sin, but sees their sinfulness and sinful nature as just and righteous. Of course, not all who have been afraid of false prophets, or thrown that accusation around, are irredeemable. I believe no one is irredeemable; however, Jesus’ warning is rightfully strong, because once someone has crossed over that threshold, it is very hard to come back.

Thus, here is Jesus’ point. Not all who call themselves Christian are TRULY followers of Lord Jesus Christ. Only those who do the will of God are. This isn’t measured in one perfectly following the will of God; however, it is measured in their heart and in their overall fruit. Only God can judge the heart, but we can see evidence of the fruit. So, what kind of fruit does a Christian bear? That is simple: LOVE. Those who strive to love God, love neighbor, love enemies, and follow the golden rule, are the ones who are true followers. Those who claim to be Christian but bear the fruit of judgment, self-righteousness, bitterness, envy, hatred, resentfulness, and pride are the ones Christ is warning us against. Be warned and be self-aware.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Words are cheap, heart-driven actions are costly.” – Rev. Todd R. Lattig

PRAYER
Lord, steer me away from all who are false, and steer me away from being false. Amen.

Killing Strangers

Read Revelation 13:1-4

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put the sword back into its place. All those who use the sword will die by the sword.’” (Matthew 26:52 CEB)

Marilyn-Manson

Is it just me or does it seem like the world is spinning completely out of control? The news is daily filled with stories of people killing other people. Growing up, I remember hearing of murders here or there, I remember the shock that would bring to me everytime I heard of someone’s violent demise. It was shocking because it didn’t happen to often, or it was at least less often brought to my attention, so that when I heard of such violent acts I was horrified by it.

Nowadays, I must admit, that I am not shocked to hear of such things at all. If anything, like most in our society, I have grown numb to it. That’s not to say that I am apathetic to the people who suffer. I am an empath, meaning that I can easily put myself in the shoes of others and will often feel the pain others are going through, not to the same level as the suffering, but enough to empathize with them. Yet, overall, I have grown numb (in that I am not shocked) to the constant barraging of violent extremism in this country. It has, sadly, become the norm.

We live in the age of the sword. People no longer can look at the other, despite the differences they have, and see common humanity in them. Rather, they see the other as being the enemy. They embrace the spirit of Satan, which is the spirit of divisiveness and enmity. They avoid, at all costs, the long, hard road of open, honest, and painful communication. They avoid seeking to understand the other, as well as seeking the other to understand them, and they resort to pointing the finger, scapegoating, warring with others, and taking lives. From our politicians modeling this kind of enmity in their campaigns to common protestors who are outraged over injustice, violence is becoming the modus operandi for getting oneself or one’s group heard.

It is understandable how people can resort to violence. When groups of people suffer seemingly endless injustice, while others are treated with respect and dignity, that is angering. When groups of people who are being discriminated against feel like the majority of people are not hearing them out or understanding their woes, that adds fuel to the already stoked fire. Even more, when the majority of people want to keep things exactly as they are because it suits them at the great cost of others, and they discount or deny the experiences of discrimination that others are going through, that can be a rallying cry for those who are fed up with being silenced in their suffering.

Yet, violence almost never helps anyone’s cause, but often begets more violence. We saw that in the shootings of Minnesota, Louisiana and Texas. The shootings of two black males by police officers, resulted in someone angrily taking justice into their own hands by shooting unwary police officers who were just trying to ensure the safety of protestors in Dallas, and they were officers who had nothing to do with the previous shootings. We also see this at the often chaotic and sometimes violent rallies of our presidential candidates. People in both of these instances, and beyond are fed up with NOT being heard and are, unfortunately, venting their frustrations violently. As one candidate’s followers get violent toward the other’s, the other candidate’s followers retaliate.

This reminds me of two Marilyn Manson songs. In his song, “Killing Strangers,” Manson writes that “we’re killing strangers so we don’t kill the ones that we love.” This is a profound truth, in that out of frustration we resort to killing the other, the stranger, in order to “protect” those we love and care about. The problem is that those “strangers” often did nothing, and would do nothing, to deserve being killed.

In his song, “Antichrist Superstar,” Manson writes, “Cut the head off, grows back hard. I am the hydra, now you’ll see your star.” This, of course, is imagery taken straight from the book of Revelation. While Manson is writing about how the church created the “evil” they perceive him, and others, to be, I believe that these lyrics apply here as well. We use the sword (proverbial or literal) to cut down our perceived enemies, only to see those enemies rise back up to strike us back.

The question for us is this, when does the violence stop? Surely, there is truth in Jesus’ warning that “those who live by the sword will surely die by it.” I am not saying that all violence is uncalled for, but when we are reactive in violent and destructive ways as a result of our fear and anger, that almost always leads down the path of destruction. We may be killing strangers to begin with, but we are killing pieces of our own souls in the process, and reaping the harvest of our seeds of fear and anger. Let us, as Jesus taught, lay down our swords and seek the better, more righteous way of responding to injustice.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“My religion is based on truth and non-violence. Truth is my God. Non-violence is the means of realizing Him.” – Mahatma Gandhi

PRAYER
Lord, help me to find constructive and nonviolent ways of harnessing my righteous anger, for the elimination of injustice and the transformation of this world. Amen.

WORKS OF THE FLESH: Quarrels

Read Galatians 5:13-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“A hot-tempered person starts fights; a cool-tempered person stops them.” (Proverbs 15:18 NLT)

In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “the works of the flesh.”

FieryQWORKS OF THE FLESH: Quarrels. I remember when growing up as a boy who had a younger sister. My sister and I were only two years apart and, for the most part, we were really close in our relationship. We did a ton of things together. We would play in the yard, we would ride our bikes, and when push came to shove we defended one another. With that said, like most siblings, when we got into a quarrel with one another, we really got into it! We knew each other so well, that we knew how to push each other’s buttons. Our love, in those moments, grew into bitter animosity. You know the old adage, “the best of friends make the worst of enemies.”

Well, my sister and I were never enemies…thanks be to God. With that said, there were moments where we really quarreled with each other. We would go back and forth, delivering insult for insult, and we would drive our parents crazy with it. All my parents wanted was for us to get along and to be peacemakers…and by that I don’t mean becoming a Colt .45. Yet our words would go back and forth and the bullets shot from our mouths would often cause more hurt than either of us realized. What’s more, often these quarrels would be over the most trivial and mundane things (e.g., whose turn it was to watch TV or what music we would listen to on the radio).

What’s sad is that, while it is natural for children to quarrel with one another, the quarreling doesn’t end when children grow into adults. Many families are split down the middle over quarreling, and that holds true for church families. In the church, more time is spent on quarreling than on worship and mission combined. We find ourselves so ready to quarrel with the people “we’ve always disagreed with” that we’ll disagree on just about anything in order to keep that quarrel going. We may not think of ourselves as being that way, and we may not consciously realize we are behaving that way, but in all honesty that is the reality of it.

Like an exasperated parent, God is wanting us to stop quarreling, but we are often too busy quarreling to stop and listen to God, let alone to stop and listen to one another. Pride is at the root of quarreling, for neither side wants to give in or give up for fear of showing weakness in such humility. Often we are too blinded by our own opinions on things that we cannot even entertain anyone else’s opinion; thus, we shut the other out and quarrel with them. Again, God is calling us to stop quarreling. God is calling us to be peacemakers. It is certainly okay to put forward our opinion on things; however, it is not okay to do so at the expense of everyone else. It is okay to have a voice, but it is not okay to shut the voices of others out. Often times, our quarrelsome tendency will intimidate people to the point that they remain silent to avoid conflict. Let us stop with the quarreling and join Paul in his quest to serve God by being peacemakers and seeking harmony.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“If we open a quarrel between past and present, we shall find that we have lost the future.” – Winston Churchill

PRAYER
Lord, quell the pride within us and transform us into your peacemakers. Amen.

WORKS OF THE FLESH: Anger

Read Galatians 5:13-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32 NLT)

FieryA-1In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “the works of the flesh.”

WORKS OF THE FLESH: Anger. There is a misconception among many Christians, and certainly the world, that Christians are supposed to be happy 100% of the time. Christians are supposed to smile, to laugh, to be filled with joy, to never be depressed, and to float around from place to place with their feet barely touching the ground. We are supposed to be reverent, saintly, quiet, and we (so far as I can tell from all of the paintings) evidently all wear golden rings around our heads that reflect sun-like rays outward for all to see.

The one thing that is for sure, so the myth goes, is that a Christian is NEVER, EVER angry. Christians who show any sort of emotion outside of that the beaming joy that is supposed to emanate from our faces, are evidently not good Christians. After all who has ever heard of an angry Christian? What kind of witness would an angry Christian be to the world? Isn’t it true that Christians aren’t supposed to display any sort of anger? The answer is, of course, no. Of course Christians can, do, and sometimes should get angry! When a Christian witnesses or experiences injustice, for instance, is a time when that Christian is and/or should be filled with righteous anger.

What Paul is talking about here is not righteous anger. Paul is not talking about seeing someone abused, or hurt, or disenfranchised, or rejected, or alone, or starving, or being killed in gang violence or in war, and being filled with anger at a world that continually oppresses and hurts people; rather, Paul is talking about anger that rises up out of selfishness, jealousy, bitterness, dissention, division, and hatred. When a Christian is angry at another person, another one of God’s Creation, because he or she did not get what they wanted, or they don’t like the way the other person carries themselves, or because the other person has something that they wish they had, or for any other frivolous and selfish reason, that sort of anger is not a fruit of the Spirit, but is most definitely a work of the flesh.

Christ is calling us to lay our unfettered, selfish anger aside. What good can anger do for you or for the church? How can your being angry with someone, to the point where you cannot even forgive them, ever bring glory to God? How can you be a whole person if your anger is constantly driving a wedge between your neighbor and you. When that happens, what is really happening is that your anger is driving a wedge between you and God. Remember that the commandment that fulfills  all the law, according to Jesus and to Paul, is that you shall love your neighbor as yourself. If you are too angry to LOVE, how can you ever accept the LOVE God has for you? If you are too angry to LOVE, how can you ever find room LIVE into the fullness of life that God has to offer you? Be rid yourself of such unnecessary, unjustifiable anger. Let it go and let God begin to transform you from someone consumed by anger to someone who knows what it means to LOVE and BE LOVED.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger.” – the Buddha

PRAYER
Lord, quell the anger within me and allow me to be filled with your eternal love and joy. Amen.