“Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.”
    The Apostle Paul (Ephesians 4:26)

What a strange verse. First it tells us to “be angry.” Then it tells us not to let the sun go down–on our anger, that is.

Actually, there are deeper implications. One is that anger itself is not a sin. An angry Jesus healed a man with a withered hand to defy the hard-hearted hypocrites ready to condemn him. In anger, he cleansed the temple from thieves, money-changers and vendors preventing authentic worship. Paul seemed angry when he wrote his letter to the Galatians. Closer to home, what father or mother would not get angry at someone hurting or corrupting their children?

Nevertheless, anger is dangerous—so dangerous that it can lead to sin. Don’t let it do that! Remember, “the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23).

As for the sun going down, you can’t stop that. The deeper implication is that anger should not be ignored. Deal with it without delay! After all, anger is dangerous.

Largely ignoring its danger, American culture glorifies anger. Turn on a TV, radio or the internet and get ready to get mad. The sights and sounds of rage are pervasive. Our news and entertainment media are filled with celebrities, politicians, pundits and activists saying, in effect, “Look at me; I’m angry!”

  • The news has become an anger industry. If it bleeds, it leads. Angry score-keepers control the narrative.
  • Politicians work to keep their supporters furious at their opponents. Many accuse the other side of conducting wars on women, minorities, the poor, the Constitution and so on. Political fund-raisers apply advanced techniques to keep their donors mad enough to keep writing checks.
  • If there is insufficient vulgarity, violence and anger in a movie, song or work of art, modern critics often presume it lacks realism. For most rappers, “keeping it real” means that anger must remain front and center as a badge of authenticity.
  • If a major city has a sports team in a championship game, the local police routinely prepare for riots in the streets after the game, win or lose.

Sometimes, implications are hard to see. But that does not mean they are not real. We often learn too late how real they are. In a classic case of road rage, a NASCAR driver recently jumped out of his car to confront another driver, failing to consider the fatal implications. When angry mobs riot and loot, they are too busy grabbing stuff to grasp the implications of their anger on themselves, others and their community.

Jackie Robinson, the first black baseball player to break into the majors, achieved greatness by holding his anger back and translating it into stellar play on the field. He understood the implications. Had he exploded in righteous anger at every grievance, he might have strengthened the color line instead of breaking it. He had a right to his anger but he chose to repress it for reasons beyond himself. Don’t ignore the implications!

Annoyances and injustices are everywhere, but so are blessings. Our media and intelligentsia teach us to fall in love with our outrage while ignoring our blessings. Thus, grudges and grievances have overgrown the American soul, undermining our gratitude for our country and heritage.

Even if your anger feels righteous, it’s still dangerous. The Bible warns, “The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:20). It carries deadly implications, especially when it drags us into sin. So, as the sun heads for the horizon, guide your heart toward peace and pardon.

“Carpe Spero!”
(Dead Poet’s Society in Hindsight)

Back in 1989, I took a date to see Dead Poet’s Society. We watched as a boy, tyrannized by an overbearing father, committed suicide. We were duly horrified by the abusive parenting portrayed on the screen and we sympathized with the fictional boy.

After the movie, we went to a restaurant in the real world where a small boy (about age 5) was having an ongoing temper tantrum at the table next to ours. The father begged and pleaded for the child to stop and eat his food. After a long time, the exasperated father finally threatened a spanking outside. The little boy immediately dared him saying, “You will not and you know it!” The spineless father melted away in meekness and the boy continued his fit.

We were horrified again, but for a different reason.

The message preached in Dead Poet’s Society was fine in and of itself. However, in reality, we live in a culture bingeing on the mistrust of and resistance to authority, not to mention permissive or absent fathers. My review of Dead Poet’s was: Right message, wrong time, wrong place and wrong culture.

Dead Poet’s also preached an attractive message, summed up by the ancient Latin motto, “Carpe Diem!” (seize the day). A Chinese proverb puts it this way, “Enjoy yourself. It’s later than you think.” For some, this means not giving up even though life is short and ultimately meaningless. Have fun anyway, grabbing gusto with all your might!

“Gather Ye Rosebuds,” by John William Waterhouse (1909)
“Carpe diem” originated with a Roman poet named Horace (65 – 8 BC). Here’s a literal translation of the full sentence in which this motto first appeared in his Odes: “Pluck the day, trusting as little as possible in the next one.” On the surface, “carpe diem” comes off as an exciting call to live life for all it is worth. I say, “Amen!” However, real life moments, like feelings, have a way of flying by like the wind. Life lived under the “carpe diem” banner still slips through our fingers unseizably. Thus, there is a fundamental emptiness in that phrase. You can gather rosebuds “while ye may,” but they will not be rosebuds for long.

A century later, the apostle Paul cited a similar motto: “Eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (1 Corinthians 15:32). But he added that, for believers, “tomorrow” includes the resurrection from the dead. If we trust God’s promise and power to raise the dead, we can trust the future. This hope helped early Christians endure severe persecution looking forward to “tomorrow” for relief. As for living day to day, Paul challenged believers to offer their bodies “as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God.” (Romans 12:1). Can “carpe diem” inspire that?

Gusto grabbing is great for good times. However, gusto has a way of evaporating in our hands and hearts. When hardship hits you hard, “carpe diem” falls painfully short. The boy in Dead Poet’s understood the challenge to seize the day and make his life extraordinary. But in the face of great disappointment, he was hopeless when something more than a moment-seizing motto was needed.

In graceful contrast, Christians believe that humans were not merely made for time; we were made for eternity. Paul wrote, “Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” (1 Timothy 6:12). So, don’t just seize the day; seize eternal life. The eternal God of the universe has made Himself personally accessible to us through Jesus who opens the door to eternity to all who follow Him faithfully.

The stark fact that life is fragile and time is short challenges Christians not just to seek enjoyable moments but to come clean inside and out, surrender our self-centered hearts to God, live pleasing to God and trust Him forever. Seize that!

So let me suggest another motto to learn and live: “Carpe Spero!” (translation: “Seize hope”). Christian hope is something you can keep for yourself by giving it away!

Undaunted Courage in the Bible and in You

“If we as God’s people refuse to speak about sin because it will make others uncomfortable, we are cowards.” ~ Franklin Graham (July 10, 2014)

Moral courage has become unpopular with some Christian leaders today who prefer to be more pleasing to the world and less controversial. Nevertheless (I love that word), I want to offer some biblical ground on which to stand for a return of moral courage in the church and our culture, always rooted in wisdom and love. This is, of course, a short list humbly offered in the same spirit as a similar but better list in Hebrews 11. Here’s mine:

  1. Noah: It was with “holy fear” and persistent faith that Noah built the ark not knowing what was coming (Hebrews 11:6). As others kept on eating, drinking and marrying, Noah kept building (Luke 17:27).
  2. Abraham left Ur for parts unknown at God’s call (Hebrews 11:8).
  3. Moses approached Pharaoh, under God’s charge, to boldly demand, “Let my people go!” (Exodus 8:1). It also took courage to pass through the Red Sea into a wilderness between the same walls of water that would soon collapse on the Egyptian army.
  4. Nathan bravely called King David on the carpet for his sins of adultery, deception and conspiracy to rub out the loyal husband of a woman he impregnated (2 Samuel 12). David could have ignored Nathan or punished him for speaking truth to power but Nathan didn’t care. He did his job undaunted.
  5. Hezekiah and Jerusalem, with Isaiah’s counsel, held firm under the threat of a huge Assyrian army whose general tried to undermine Hezekiah’s confidence and break down the morale of the last remaining Israelites. But they were undaunted (Isaiah 36-38). Hezekiah’s bravery was not without much prayer.
  6. Esther revealing Haman’s plot to destroy her people
  7. Esther showed courage when she said, “If I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16) and took steps necessary to save her people at great risk to herself.
  8. Mordecai, Esther’s cousin and guardian, boldly refused to bow down to the haughty Haman (Esther 2:3).
  9. Daniel made up his mind not to defile himself with the king’s diet and training regimen. This scared the official administrating the regimen but God favored Daniel and blessed his courage (Daniel 1). Later, Daniel’s public moral courage got him thrown into a lion’s den. God protected Daniel once again (Daniel 6).
  10. Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego bravely defied King Nebuchadnezzar’s command to bow down and worship a golden image in Babylon (Daniel 3). Trusting in God, they refused again in the king’s presence enraging him so much he had them thrown into a fiery furnace. Astonishingly, God delivered them.
  11. God’s Prophets: This list would be endless if I illustrated the moral courage of all the prophets who proclaimed God’s word in rebellious and wicked times, challenging public sin and sin-pushers.
  12. John the Baptist fearlessly blasted Herod Antipas for stealing his brother’s wife, and for “all the wicked things which Herod had done.” (Luke 3:19). For his undaunted bravery and boldness, John lost his head.
  13. Jesus, in addition to his scathing rebuke of the Pharisees for hypocrisy (Matthew 23), did not pull punches when describing his entire generation as “evil and adulterous” (Matthew 12:39 and 16:4); “unbelieving” (Mark 9:19); “wicked” (Luke 11:29), “perverse” (Matthew 17:17 and Luke 9:41); and “sinful” (Mark 8:38). Yet, he wept with compassion for his generation (Luke 19:41-42). Jesus’ famous use of a weapon of force to cleanse the temple of exploitative money-changers and merchants also took moral courage (John 2:13-22). Finally, His obedient journey to the cross took moral courage to its highest level.
  14. Stephen, on trial and in the face of false witnesses, stood up to the Sanhedrin bravely proclaiming truth at all cost (Acts 7). They killed him.
  15. Peter: His cowardice in disowning Jesus three times was not fatal (at least not for Peter). Once forgiven, he bravely bounced back big time! When the church was born, Peter publicly rebuked his generation as “perverse” (Acts 2:40) and , with explicit boldness, told his audience that they had crucified the Messiah (Acts 2:36). No apostle preached with more undaunted courage than did Peter.
  16. Paul: The need for Christian courage is clear in Paul’s reference to spiritual armor in Ephesians 6:10-18 and spiritual warfare in 2 Corinthians 10:1-6, where he spoke of demolishing strongholds, arguments and pretentions that are set up against the knowledge of God.

Evil hates exposure like Dracula hates sunlight. Jesus said: “For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.” (John 3:20). Jesus was willing to face that hatred. We too must face hostility for standing firm for our faith, for the life of the innocent and unborn, for marriage as Jesus defined it (Mathew 19:4-6), for truth in an era of lies and much more. We can lose popularity and even our lives, but moral courage remains a must, not a maybe.

Going Deep
(Wisdom Down Under)

On the surface, the book of Proverbs looks like a collection of maxims and mottos—filled with good advice. Actually, it goes deeper than that. Scratch the surface and Proverbs becomes a profound call to worship God!

Worship is more than a church service. It’s about holding God up for ultimate respect, trust and awe. Proverbs practically equates wisdom with worship. As God’s children, we are walking worship services–in the marketplace, social circles, the family, the workplace and beyond.

Need proof? In Proverbs, everything boils down to fearing God. That’s where wisdom begins (Proverbs 1:7 and 9:10). God is no afterthought in Proverbs and neither is His purpose: “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will be established.” (19:21). Instead of telling us to trust our insight and understanding, Proverbs advises, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (3:5). Instead of finding your way forward, “acknowledge Him” and let Him “make your path straight” (3:6). Proverbs is less about pursuing success than finding favor in the sight of God (3:4; 8:35 and 12:2). A good wife is an excellent find but God’s good pleasure is the point (18:22). Handling money wisely is crucial, but Proverbs calls us to “honor the Lord” with our wealth (3:9). That’s worship!

Our 2014 Teen Camp theme at Prince’s Pine was “Going Deep!” Since Proverbs is a deep well of wisdom, I went there for my Monday night message. I scratched the proverbial surface by recalling ten lessons I learned on a scuba diving trip I took to the land down under at the Great Barrier Reef (GBR):

  1. Awe is in order. Australia offers a whole new perspective on the wonders of God’s creation. Looking up, one sees not Orion but the Southern Cross in the evening sky. On land, you’ll see Koala bears and kangaroo. And under water, especially at the GBR, the shapes, colors and pace of life are marvelously different. Ever seen a clown fish? And Proverbs reminds us that the sea will not overstep God’s command. After all, “He marked out the foundations of the earth.” (8:29).
  2. “Pay attention and gain understanding.” (4:1). It’s fine to be in awe but when you go deep, you better stay alert and sober too. Life is healthier and happier for us all that way.
  3. Balance Learning with Living. You can’t get certified to Scuba dive by just studying books, tables and charts. You gotta get into the water. Practice! But remember, you can’t get certified without the book either. Learn and live. Live and learn. A wise man said, “Receive instruction in wise behavior, righteousness, justice and equity.” (1:3).
  4. Always go with a buddy. The first rule in Scuba diving is: NEVER go alone. During one of my 19 dives at the GBR, I ran out of air early and my buddies came up with me. They could have stayed down longer but for all the joys of the deep, people and safety come first. Under water or above, we all need friends. Back to Proverbs: “But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (18:24).
  5. Respect your limits. If you go too deep for too long, you pay! In fact, the deeper you go, the higher the risk. You must keep track of your depth, time and pressure levels respecting the limitations they impose on you. Living for the moment and following your own heart or your own “reality” is a foolish way to dive and a unwise way to live. Respecting your limits adds to your freedom and enjoyment. Real reality comes with boundaries. Ignore them and there may be no tomorrow. Listen: “There is a way that seems right to a man but in the end leads to death.” (14:12).
  6. Live and let live. Diving down under, I saw a shark just my size. I chose not to pick on it. Always remember, “It is to a man’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel.” (20:3).
  7. Communication Counts. Language is an amazing well-honed gift from our forebears. Never take it for granted. Scuba divers use sign language under water but they don’t wait till then to begin communicating. After all, “The words of a man’s mouth are deep waters.” (18:4).
  8. We never advance beyond the basics. Complications related to breathing compressed air under water abound. Yet, according to my instructor, they all boil down to this: “Breathe regularly; never hold your breath.” Life on land is also complicated. So love regularly! Never hold it in. Proverbs says, “Love covers all transgressions.” (10:12).
  9. “Whoever heeds correction shows prudence.” (15:5, NIV). I surfaced from one of my GBR dives only to reap the wrath of our dive master. He imposed a depth limit and I broke it. I was not minding #2 above. Excuses were worthless. His rebuke stood. I never did it again. Eventually, I even felt grateful.
  10. Going deep is a discipline, not a whim or sudden urge. Life presents us with amazing beauties and curiosities that call us to go below the surface, but curiosity can kill the cat. Study and train, then dive for the depths. Discipline has a way of opening up opportunities. Befriend the Bible, including Proverbs and its challenge to; “Apply your heart to discipline, and your ears to words of knowledge.” (23:12).
  11. All in all, you have not yet seen it all and you never will. Nevertheless (I love that word), keep looking. Keep learning. Keep loving! Life is an ongoing adventure in discovery. Better still, you are a walking worship service!