3 Strands of DNA ~ Heresy, Division, and Faith Expressing Itself in Love

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On Sunday we looked at the last of the strands of DNA within our church. We looked at how we here practice, “Unity in Diversity”.

And this value is one that is so needed and also so rare in our current church culture in the West. In the West we are so quick to divide, to call out “heresy”, to be angry and aggressive in person, on Facebook, in blog comment sections, and online in general.

What we looked at on Sunday is how a culture of division, and raising “secondary” issues to “ultimate” issues has taken hold. That people are quick to say, “if you don’t believe in…[insert current hot topic position] you aren’t a true Christian.”

In essence, the church is taking the easy route of dividing, and isolating – rather than loving and holding onto unity.

But this is not part of our DNA here at our church. Instead, we hold strongly to relationships over difference. Instead, we practice unity in diversity. Or as St. Augustine reportedly said, “Unity in essentials, liberty in non-essentials, and love in all things”.

We then explored not only how this is part of our DNA, but part of the calling of God found in many places but especially Galatians 5.

In Galatians 5 we read of how Paul is furious with how some in the church in Galatia are raising secondary issues (circumcision) to being a primary issue. In essence, they were taking a non-essential and saying it was an essential. And Paul has some brutally strong language for those who confuse those categories (just go read verse 12…wow!). And Paul warns the church that one divisive person, one angry person, one person who confuses the categories of essential and non-essential can infect an entire church. They can pollute it, damage it, and harm its witness.

And I think that’s the trend we see around us in the wider church culture. But the point for us and our church is to not ever let that drift happen here. Our focus is to continue  to practicing unity in diversity. Or as Paul says to do what is most important, “Faith expressing itself in love”

And that’s where we ended. I challenged us to just put that verse into practice. That is how we keep the main the thing “the main thing”, by ensuring that we express our faith in love. So I challenge everyone to love someone difficult this week. To actually move away from dogma, discussions, and debates to praxis – to faith expressing itself in love.

Because here is the truth, it’s much harder to separate from someone you are actively seeking to love. So put love into practice today.

Sermon Notes:

Big IdeaHold onto unity in diversity.

Teaching Points:

  • If you don’t talk about it, you won’t live it
  • Within Christianity as a whole in the West we are not all that generous towards one another or gracious.
  • We are shrinking what we believe orthodoxy is, to the beliefs we personally hold.
  • Unity in essentials, liberty in non-essentials, and love in all things
  • We are committed to one another even if we disagree.
  • Hold onto unity in diversity
  • You come together because of your shared belief in Jesus

Adult Discussion Questions:

What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? What was new? What would you say are some of our core values? Have you noticed the trend towards dividing and debating in Christianity? Have you ever fallen into it? Why do you think it’s happening? Do you think that “holding onto unity in diversity” is important? How come? Who can you love this week? What can you practically do?

Challenge for the Week: Love someone you disagree with this week

Science, Relationships, and Spirituality: This is Your Brain in Anger

AngerOn Sunday we took a look at the surprising connections between science, the Bible, and our relationships. We looked specifically at what happens when we get angry or enter into conflict and how while our physical systems are amazingly designed to avoid physical danger, they sometimes increase our emotional danger.

Here’s what we learned. That when we encounter or perceive danger we enter into a flight or fight response. This response does a few things: it short-circuits our higher level thinking and shuts it down, it dumps a bunch of chemicals into our system to fight or flight, and it reacts sometimes instantly.

And now this system is amazing for us to respond to physical threats: like a snake that we jump away from, or a falling rock we instantly respond to. This system though is not as amazing when it comes to social threats such as criticism, emotional hurt, or intense arguments.

Our fight or flight response can “hijack” our higher level thinking in these moments and we can end up either shutting down or becoming very aggressive. We talked about the different physiological responses, but asked a very simple question: how do we overcome this? Because we all have probably been in fights and in that state where we’ve said things we regretted (fight), or not said the things we should have (flight). So what do we do?

Well we looked at three concrete biblical steps, that amazingly correspond to science as well. The first is something we can do to help prevent being “hijacked” by our emotional response, and that this: to let heaven fill your thoughts. The truth is what we fill our minds with leave traces and predispositions. So if your mind is filled with negativity, junk, anger, and rehearsing of hurts, we are actually encouraging those very things. So Paul gives some very practical advice, “Let heaven fill your thoughts”. Focus on the things that are good, healthy, true, and life-giving. Focus on the truth of the gospel, and let that fill our minds more than the normal stress, anger, and hurt we carry.

The second thing we noticed is that when we feel that “fight or flight” response coming on, we can shut it down. Sometimes it builds, and it is possible to actually exercise self-control. We talked about how the Holy Spirit can give us self-control and how to pray for it, and practice it.

And last but not least, we talked about what to do when we’ve had a really in-depth hurtful argument. Solomon gives this really wise advice. He says this: Fools vent their anger, but the wise quietly hold it back (Proverbs 29:11). And what he means here is not to deny your anger or your hurt, but not to actually vent it all around.

Venting your anger all around doesn’t actually lessen, but encourages it. When we have difficult conversations our tendency is to share and spread it, rather than dealing with it. And when we do that, we get angry and in the flight or fight response…again. So Solomon gives this wise advice: don’t spread it, deal with it. Don’t put it on Facebook, process it. Don’t keep repeating it, own it.

So those are some of the connections we looked at, and ended with a simple challenge: deal with and prevent anger and conflict. Take these steps and try to put them into practice to not only seek to prevent extra anger and conflict, but to deal with it when it happens.

 

 

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: Our brains and bodies are complex and amazing

Teaching Points:

  • The amygdala perceives and responds to danger around us
  • The amygdala is incredibly fast but it’s actually not all that discerning
  • Two reactions: fight or flight.
  • Hijacking is when our emotional state shuts down our higher reasoning.
  • Let heaven fills your thoughts…
  • Pray for Self-Control and Practice Self-Control
  • Deal with anger, don’t vent it.

Adult Discussion Questions:

What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? How did God speak to you through it? What was new? Which type of response do you most often do – fight or flight? Can you relate to any of the examples shared? Have you ever seen how venting anger can make things worse? When and how? Is there anger that you need to deal with? Who can help you with that?

Discussion Questions for Young Families

Today use our learning to help with your kids. If they get upset remember it can take a while for them to re-centre. Give them space and encourage them even when things get angry and hard.

Challenge for the Week: Deal with and prevent anger.

No Sun, No Anger

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On Sunday we looked at the topic of anger. And, in general, I think anger is something we live with, rather than deal with in our lives. But I believe it is something that needs to be dealt out. The more we deal with anger, and learn to live free from anger the wholer and more healthy our relationships. Anger severs relationships, anger kills friendships, and anger wrecks families and connections. And while we often try to control it, manage, or curb it – I believe we can live free from it if we deal with it.

So that’s what we looked at on Sunday. And I began by reading a quote from Dallas Willard who writes this, “He says that anger primarily happens when our will’s or desires are limited or stopped.” And I think this is true. Anger is triggered when our will’s or desires are stopped or limited. Think about a child in the grocery store not getting what they want, and throwing a tantrum (why do they have candy so close to the cart in checkouts…?). The point is that anger alerts us to the fact that what we want, isn’t happening. That’s at the root of what anger is and what it does.

And Paul is clear, this immediate feeling of anger isn’t wrong or bad. It’s simply a natural response. And it is not a sin. What matters is our response to this feeling of anger. Do we indulge it, entertain it, stoke it, or deal with it. Paul says this in Ephesians 4:25, “In your anger do not sin”. The problem isn’t the anger; the problem is how we deal with the anger. We all get angry, but our responses to anger determine the health of our relationships.

Paul continues saying, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil”. And what he is teaching is really clear: anger undealt with gives the enemy room to move. Anger that isn’t dealt with gives the enemy a foothold. Anger that isn’t dealt with grows, festers, and gets ready to burst out.

This is the difficulty with anger; we simply don’t honestly deal with it. We shove it down, ignore it, or pretend it isn’t there. All the while it’s growing, lurking, and getting ready to explode. If you have ever seen someone explode over something minor (a parking spot, a thing a work, or at a sporting event), they do this not because that one event made them angry. They do this because a whole series, or months, or years of events have made them angry that they haven’t dealt with. Whenever anyone overreacts and explodes, it’s not because they’ve had a bad day, it’s because they’ve had a string of bad days that haven’t been dealt with. The anger is just there bubbling and boiling below the surface waiting for any one thing to release it. In a word, when we don’t deal with anger, it becomes chronic.

Anger is dangerous because it becomes a habit or an indulgence we can’t control. Dallas Willard puts it this way. He says we cannot stop the feelings of anger that arise in certain situations. But he says this:

But we can and usually do choose or will to be angry. But we can actively receive it and decide to indulge it, and we usually do. We may even become an angry person, and any incident can evoke from us a torrent of rage that is kept in constant readiness.”

This is why we need to deal with anger, so that it doesn’t control us and lurk below the surface.

So on Sunday we ended by looking at how to live free from anger. We focused on taking Paul’s advice, “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger”. Deal with it instead. Because if you go to bed angry, you just wake up with a low-level frustration and a distinct lack of desire to deal with the issues. And this happens all the time especially in marriages. So Paul’s advice is this: deal with the anger. And he gives us a time limit – you have till bed-time to make some progress with it. Deal with it that day because if you don’t, you won’t.

We gave some simple suggestions for how to deal with anger. First, learn to name why you angry. This is actually harder than it sounds because usually there is something beneath the obvious answer. We aren’t angry our spouse didn’t take out the garbage, we’re angy we had to ask 8 times and don’t feel like they follow through. We aren’t angry our kids spent that extra $20 we are upset they weren’t responsible. We need to learn to name why we are really angry if we want to deal with it.

The second step is to choose the right time to deal with anger. This is never when someone just walks in from work, while you drop them off at school, or at a party with friends. The point is that we need to choose times when we can honestly work it through. If its important enough to bring up, its important enough to find the right time to bring it up.

And lastly we need to ready to give it up. Sometimes we honestly like being angry. We like the feeling of self-righteousness it brings. We want the other person to hurt like we did, so we hold onto the anger and refuse to reconcile and forgive. So we need to ask before we bring up an issue, “are we ready to leave this behind?” It’s a good question to get in the habit of asking.

So we gave those three steps deal with it the day of by: naming it, choosing the right time to deal with it, and being ready to get rid of it. And if we do that I think we’ll have not only fuller lives, but fuller relationships.

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: Don’t let the sun go down on your anger

Take Aways…

  • Anger is something that we seem to live with, rather than deal with
  • “Don’t sin by letting anger control you.”
  • “Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil”. Epehesiasn 4:25
  • Anger is the response we have to when our will’s are stopped.
  • The issue isn’t whether we feel angry, the issue is how we respond to that feeling.
  • Anger becomes chronic, when not dealt with
  • “But we can and usually do choose or will to be angry. But we can actively receive it and decide to indulge it, and we usually do. We may even become an angry person, and any incident can evoke from us a torrent of rage that is kept in constant readiness”. Dallas Willard
  • Don’t let the sun go down on your anger
  • Deal with it that day, because if you don’t – you won’t.
  • There is nothing that can be done with anger that cannot be done better without it
  • Steps away from Anger: Name it, Choose the right time to deal with it, be ready to get rid of it

Adult / Group Discussion Questions: What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? How did God speak to you through it? What was new? Have you ever seen someone explode over something minor before? How did you feel or what did you think when you saw it happen? Would you say anger is a real temptation for you? Why or why not? What do you think of Dallas Willard’s quote, there is nothing that can be done with anger that cannot be done better without it. Do you believe it is true? Is there anything anger in your life you need to deal with today? How can you deal with it well?

Discussion Questions / Actions for Young Families: Today talk to your kids abour anger. Today is a great day if there have been times where yelling, and anger have been pretty prevalent to ask for forgiveness. Share with them what you learned bout anger, and how you want to live differently. Talk to your kids about the principle of “dealing with your anger in the day” and that’s how you want the family to run. That if they are angry to come talk, to get it out in the open and deal with it. Don’t let anger fester.

Challenge for this Week: Deal with the anger that day

Learning to Deal with Anger

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On Sunday we are looking at a topic we’ve looked at before here, but one that needs to be addressed often. We are looking at anger.

And this is a really important topic because as Jesus teaches us anger is like murder (Matthew 5). And what Jesus is trying to get at in that teaching is that anger, just like  murder, can actually kill relationships. Anger can fracture friendships. Anger can wreck families.

And I think we know this and have experienced this before.

But the other side of the coin is this, anger is a feeling we have when our wills get stopped. We get angry when what we want doesn’t happen. In this way then anger is a natural response to the world around us. Paul says in Ephesians 4 in your anger do not sin. Meaning that anger isn’t a sin, our response to anger can determine whether we sin or not.

The point is that if we respond poorly to anger, it will lead to a severing of relationships like Jesus said. If we indulge and cultivate anger it will lead to a fracturing of families like Jesus said.

So on Sunday we want to look at how to deal with anger, how do we respond to anger, and what advice does the Bible give on how to do this. That’s where we are going and I think it’s an important topic. Because if you want to have healthy relationships we need to learn to deal with anger and conflict. So that’s this Sunday and if you want to read ahead – why not start with Ephesians 4. There is some real wisdom in there we’ll be drawing from.

Anger, Wrath, and Road Rage

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On Sunday we are looking at Anger. And I think this is an important topic to look at because, in general, I think our culture has a confused relationship with anger. In some ways it seems like we not only tolerate anger, but even approve of it. We see it in sports, and call it passion or drive. We see it in business and call it leadership or strength. We see it in ourselves, in our marriages, or in our families and we say it,s okay.

But I’m not so interested in what culture says, I’m interested in what the Bible says. And the Bible says something very interesting. The Bible says that anger gives the enemy a foothold (Eph 4:25), that anger gives the enemy space to move, that anger indulged actually creates an opening in our lives for destruction. Destruction of relationships, of futures, and of ourselves.

So on Sunday I want to look at this topic and see how we not manage anger. Not how can we control our anger. Not how we can curb our anger. But instead, I want to look at how we can be free from anger. Because wrath, anger, hate, and revenge are all sins. And sin leads to destruction and difficulty; so I want to see how we can live free from it.

But to do that we have to answer one key question that I want to leave with you to think about. What is at the root of anger? What makes people yell at a sporting event? What makes people get out of the cars for road rage? What makes people explode at a moment’s notice? What is the root of anger? What is its cause? Why does it happen?

And my hope is as we discover that answer, we’ll discover freedom too.

Anger, Murder, and Following Jesus

1391171_98402089On Sunday we looked at the teaching of Jesus where he calls his Kingdom followers to root anger out of their hearts. This is where Jesus says, “You’ve heard it said that murder is wrong, but I tell you anger is also wrong”.

And as we explored this topic we realized why anger is so destructive. It is destructive because anger stops reconciliation. Anger fuels grudges, bitterness, and a prison of our own making. The point is that as followers of God it is not enough to simply refrain from committing homicide, while harbouring seething rage in our hearts. To do that is to miss the point.

Christians are to be a different community, called to live differently than those around us. But how can we live differently if we harbor anger, let it direct our actions, drag others into courts, refuse to reconcile, and hold onto our own self-righteous anger. And yes, all anger is self-righteous in a way. Because anger arises when our will is opposed, blocked, or stopped. We get angry because we don’t get what we want. The point isn’t that anger is wrong in and of itself. Anger simply points to the fact that something we want (which may be very good) is being stopped. The point is that if we harbor anger in our hearts, no longer is anger alerting us to a situation, it starts to direct our actions and attention.

The point is we cannot be the church God calls us to be, if inside of us our hearts are brimming with anger and resentment. We need to learn to deal with it, to root it out, and to not harbor anger against another.

Stanley Hauerwas writes: “Jesus’ life makes possible our reconciliation with the Father and with one another. That reconciliation creates a community of reconciliation, a  community of peace. So we should not be surprised that Jesus admonishes us not to harbor our anger at our brothers and sisters, but rather we are to seek reconciliation with them. He does not say that we are not to be angry, but rather that we are not to come to the alter of sacrifice unreconciled to one with whom we are angry.”

The point is that if we are following Jesus, we are following someone who practices reconciliation, and then so must we. We cannot hold onto our anger, to stoke our rage, or to let contempt take hold of our hearts. We need to be people who root it out, and pursue reconciliation. This was the main point on Sunday – root out anger, and pursue reconciliation.

We left ourselves with this challenge on Sunday to rid ourselves of anger, and work at reconciliation. We want to take this teaching of Jesus seriously. To examine the places where anger has taken root, to ask Jesus whom do we need to pursue reconciliation with, and how can we live as people of peace in the world. This is indeed a practical everyday challenge, but one that could truly change how we live and how we are seen in the world.

I want to close with a rather lengthy but a very poignant quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer who summarizes the idea and makes it personal:

Anger is always an attack on [another’s] life, for it refuses to let him live and aims at his destruction…Every idle word which we think so little of betrays our lack of respect for our neighbor, and shows that we place ourselves on a pinnacle above him and value our own lives higher than his. The angry word is a blow struck at our brother, a stab at his heart: it seeks to hit, to hurt and to destroy.

So long as we refuse to love and serve our brother and make him an object of contempt and let him harbor a grudge against me or the congregation, our worship and sacrifice will be unacceptable to God…Let us therefore, as a church, examine ourselves ….There is only one way of following Jesus and of worshipping God, and that is to be reconciled

Sermon Notes: 

Big Idea: Root out anger and pursue reconciliation

Take Aways…

  • What if we actually did what Jesus said?
  • “The only proper response to this word which Jesus brings with him from eternity is simply to do it” Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  • “The whole sermon is not about how to be better individual Christians, it is a picture of the way the church is to look” Stanley Hauerwas, Will Willimon
  • Now the point is that we can follow the rules and still entirely miss the point of the rules
  • The root of murder is anger, and anger is murderous in principle. One has not conformed to the better righteousness of the kingdom simply by refraining from homicide. D.A. Carson
  • Anger stops reconciliation
  • This teaching is about overcoming the anger, that leads to murder, and learning to be people who reconcile
  • We cannot be the church God calls us to be, if inside of us our hearts are brimming with anger and resentment
  • Jesus followers are not to insult each other. Reconciliation must be a first priority in the family of God’s people, or else the worshipping community will be no different from the world at large where festering pride and resentment lead people to drag each other into court and throw each others into prison – Dallas Willard
  • Root out anger and pursue reconciliation
  • Rid yourself of anger, and work at reconciliation

Adult / Group Discussion Questions: What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? How did God speak to you through it? What was new?

Would you say you ever struggle with anger? Had you ever thought of anger in this way before? How has anger stopped you from reconciling before? Whom do you need to reconcile with this week? How might you go about trying? Who can help you and support you as you pursue reconciliation?

Discussion Questions for Young Families: Talk to your kids about anger, and how about in God’s kingdom it isn’t to be there. Ask someone being angry has ever hurt their feelings. Ask if when they were angry they ever hurt someone’s feelings. Ask them if there is anyone they need to reconcile

Challenge for this Week Rid yourself of anger, and work at reconciliation

The Anger of God and Our Indifference to Injustice

275160_8265Often in the prophets we read of God’s anger and his wrath. I know a lot of people for whom the language of God’s wrath makes them uncomfortable. I know it often makes me uncomfortable sometimes. Sometimes we seek to explain it away, put it into context, or find more gracious interpretations for it. I think that’s all fine and good as far as it goes, but sometimes I think we need to sit with the language and read and understand the depth that God cares about some things.

God’s anger in the prophets is because of the injustice around Israel. God is standing up for the hurting, oppressed, and those seeking hope. I actually think our uncomfort with some of God’s strong language reveals our more passive feelings to injustice around us.

While studying the prophets recently I read this from Abraham Joshua Heschel. I found it brilliant, true…and very convicting. He says this:

The exploitation of the poor is to us a misdemeanor; to God, it is a disaster. Our reaction is disapproval; God’s reaction is something no language can convey. It is a sign of cruelty that God’s anger is aroused when the rights of the poor are violated, when widows and orphans are oppressed? (The Prophets, 65)

His point for us is that we do not take the exploitation of the poor nearly as seriously as God does. Our uncomfort with the strong language of God in the prophets may be an indication of our passive acceptance of the exploitation around us.

So for me what this means is this. Have I become indifferent to the suffering I see around me, and around the world? Am I active in seeking to stand up for those who are hurting, and having the same passion God does about injustice?

I think these are important questions to think about, and even more important questions to act on.

How Honest are you with God?

1382059_15481225I was reading the Psalms and something struck me – the raw honesty of the prayers to God.

It’s really quite shocking actually. In some places the Psalmist asks God to approve and see how deep his hate goes towards his enemies. In other places it talks with vivid openness about the doubt, and difficulty the Psalmist has in belief in God.

In essence, the Psalmists are absolutely and radically open to God.

I wonder if we are missing some of this in our culture and in our day and age?

I wonder if we play around the edges of prayer, with false piety not really telling God what we are feeling. Do we say, “God we’re frustrated”, rather than downright furious? Do we say, “God your will be done”, when we don’t want God’s will but change in our situation. Do we say, “God bless them”, when deep down like the Psalmist we feel deep hate towards someone?

I’m not condoning hate, anger, or anything like that. What I am condoning, recommending, and even encouraging is that we become absolutely honest with God. If you are struggling and doubting God, say it and call him out on his actions. If you don’t want to forgive, follow God, or do what he says – express it and get it out. If the Psalms teach us anything, they teach us we can be honest with God. We don’t need to hide behind false piety, we can be honest with our God.

The irony is that it’s only through being radically honest, that we embrace the reality of where we are at, and simultaneously the possibility of transformation. God will not get rid of our hate if we keep denying it’s there. God cannot change our doubt if we refuse to acknowledge it.

So this week be honest to God. Bring to him the good, the bad, and the ugly and see what he might do with it. Offer it to him, and be like the Psalmist radically open with God. Because when we are radically open and honest, this is the start of radical transformation.