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The Centurion's Tale


September 1

Cain and Abel

Genesis 4:3-8

It is interesting to compare the sacrifices of Cain and Abel in light of the Law of Moses, still very far in the future.

· Abel’s offering fits the pattern of a sin offering—one which seeks atonement. It also has another characteristic: his offering comes from the first and the best of what he has. A levitical priest would see this as an acceptable sacrifice for sin.

· Cain’s offering fits the pattern of a thanksgiving offering. It has no blood offering, and therefore cannot be made for sin.

Many commentators think this the big difference. Whatever the difference was, Abel was accepted, Cain was not—and he was very angry about it.

Cain’s reaction is still with us today. You can see why the anger is there:

· First, as the older brother, he was the one who started this sacrifice offering. It was his idea in the first place.

· It seems, however, that God is very particular about what he will and won’t accept—and Cain knew no reason for it.

· In short, it’s not fair.

The look on his face explained it all. He had set himself up as the big shot; his plan failed and his face was like that of a little kid who doesn’t get the candy bar.

God seems only to make things worse. The problem is Cain’s attitude. As God (and the little kid’s mom) would see it:

· First, he has no reason to be angry. Certainly not with Abel!

· Second, this is not the only chance he’ll ever get. If he adjusts his attitude (acknowledges his sin) he’ll do well also.

· But there is a warning: sin is at the door. Master it before it masters you.

Abel calls a conference with his brother. I suspect he laid out his anger and when it was full enough, committed murder.

How often we are angered without justification! Anything that wounds our pride, or humiliates us, we consider ample reason to blow up. If this is you, remember: sin is at the door. Master it before it masters you.

Lord, when tempers are short and memories long, great bitterness results. Forgive us; give us warmer hearts and cooler heads.

September 2

Correlation and Causality

Psalm 37:8

Have you ever had it happen that you got good and angry, spitting mad—and something good came of it? I have. Of course, the good that came from it went to the person I was mad at.

This verse contains some word pictures which give us a good idea of the dangers of letting your temper fly.

· The first word, translated “anger” in the NASB, comes from a root word meaning “the nose”. Its actual meaning is that heavy breathing through the nose which comes when your nostrils are flaring open. Ever been that mad? So mad that you breathe through your nose, so that your mouth can yell? Leave off of it. It never does any good.

· The next word, translated “wrath”, comes from the Hebrew word for heat. We still use the phrase “hot under the collar” to describe someone who is really mad. The psalmist tells us to forsake it—in other words, work at giving up the habit of having your temper explode.

· The third word, translated as “fret” in the NASB, has an interesting origin—and a message. Its root comes from the Hebrew word for “glow” - as in the coals of a hot fire. This is the anger that gnaws in the night, ever heating, never flaming.

The Scripture is quite correct: such behavior leads only to evil and sin. The word translated “evil” here means something that is broken or spoiled, no longer fit for its intended use. Have you ever seen a relationship broken or spoiled because of the anger explosion from one or both partners? Sadly, it is a common sight. After some time, pride sets in (particularly on the part of the one whose anger was unjustified) and it becomes a position in stone.

One small example might suffice to show the point. My father’s sister never tired of lecturing him on the proper way to raise children (she had none, but was a school nurse). The relationship was so cold that when her husband died, she did not bother to inform my parents until after the funeral.

One paraphrase put it this way: “Bridle your anger, trash your wrath, cool your pipes--it only makes things worse.” The words vary, but the wisdom still is there.

Lord, anger is the fire that consumes a man from the inside out. Teach us to look to you to extinguish and then prevent such flames. Grant peace to those who should be peacemakers.

September 3

Moses and Pharaoh

Exodus 11:8

The characters of Moses and his Pharaoh are inextricably linked in the English language with Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner. Heston with a beard carries the great dignity that Cecil B. DeMille had in mind for the character of Moses. So it may come as a surprise to find him leaving “in hot anger.” Heston would never do that, would he?

DeMille’s instinct was right. Moses is nine for nine in plagues. He has already been told by God that He will harden Pharaoh’s heart. Surely this is a time for dignity and condescension.

But think back: This is the same Moses who once murdered a man in a fit of temper. Sure, he’s now a lot older—80 years old tends to mellow people, or at least make sure they stay out of barroom brawls. The anger is still there, and in this one moment comes out.

Some commentators have had a different view. Wesley thought this was “holy indignation.” Matthew Henry felt that the meek Moses, who was a humble man, could only have done this with righteous intent. The word, however, connotes an emotional response. The man was furious.

There are some lessons in that for us.

· We are reminded of “the beast within.” Each of us is capable of great anger (and great cruelty in that anger). We must constantly be alert to this, to control it.

· While age decreases our ability to punch people (safely, at least) it does not necessarily mean that we are triumphant over that beast. It is not just a problem for the young. Sometimes the cruelty that results comes in words, not blows.

· This type of anger flares most commonly when the other person refuses to see the sweet light of reason (also known as your opinion).

That last thought carries with it the great virtue of having good manners. My sister once started a conversation with, “Listen! You need to come around to my way of thinking on this.” She was furious when this tactful method did not produce the desired result. The words of her anger are still stinging, still bitter to this day, even though the subject has long since ceased to matter.

Lord, grant that our manners will hold our anger in check long enough to seek peaceful resolution.

September 4

A Modern Revolt

Psalm 55:3

In this one verse David gives us an outline of how evil grows in a society. His thought was on the revolt of Absalom; as we shall see, it has its modern application too. Let’s take it step by step:

1. First comes the popularity campaign—the “voice of the enemy”. Absalom sits by the gates and declares all those who come with a complaint to be in the right. How unfortunate that he, Absalom, is not the king. He would give justice.

2. Next comes the “pressure of the wicked” - the “everybody knows” phase of the campaign. It includes sending out men to proclaim him king when the signal is given. The guy out of office has an advantage: he can promise. The guy in office has to deliver.

3. Then comes the “bring down trouble” phase. This is the actual revolt itself, flaring openly with such suddenness that David barely escapes.

The root of the problem? Absalom’s sister Tamar was raped by one of David’s sons—and the man who murdered Bathsheba’s husband felt he could not do anything about it. In a very real way, Absalom exploited a moral weakness. He carried a grudge.

Well, that was then, but now is now, right? Not so fast. Let me give you the plan of campaign to make pedophilia—sex with small children—acceptable in society. It parallels the campaign for homosexuality:

1. There is now an institute at a local university which “studies” pedophilia, and publishes its findings. Amazingly, they find it to be harmless at worst and enlightening too. The voice of the enemy.

2. Soon, “psychologists” will be taught (and teach) that this is “just another form of sexuality.” It will become politically correct; as usual, Christians will be ostracized by “the intelligent people.” The pressure of the wicked.

3. Eventually, pedophiles become an oppressed group, yearning for their “civil rights.” They will seek them in court—because there are too many Christians who vote.

When that day comes, the triumphant pedophiles will remember who their hated enemies are, and take vengeance as they can. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Lord, the sons of this world are indeed sly and shrewd. Keep us from such; let us answer shrewdness with honesty and purity.

September 5

At The Rock

Numbers 20:7-12

To understand the meaning of God’s action here, you must read the Scripture carefully. At first glance it appears that Moses and Aaron have done what God told them to do: bring water out of the rock. It is not until you read it again that the matter comes out. God told Moses to “speak to the rock.” He said nothing about hitting the rock with the staff.

It seems such a petty thing. What difference does it make how Moses does it? That is the wrong question. The real question is this: Why did Moses, of all people, disobey God’s direct command?

· One part of the reason is the anger that Moses in particular must have felt. These people are stiff-necked and stubborn. Despite all the miracles they have seen, they are always ready to complain—about the food, about the desert, about anything. Perhaps Moses was just fed up with them.

· Another part of the reason is pride. When you have thousands of people who know they could to a better job than you, it grates on you. You tend to develop the defense that you are really somebody wonderful.

The statement of Moses—”shall we bring forth…” tells you the problem. Moses is slipping into the sin of the hireling prophet, the one who thinks that his powers are earned; God must give him the ability to do this. Even for such great service as Moses has rendered, this underestimates God—severely.

Compare, for the moment, Moses and Elijah. Elijah was the quintessential prophet of the Old Testament. He calls down fire from heaven—and then runs for his life when Jezebel threatens him with death. He knows that in himself he has no power.

It is tempting to ask why God does not grant such power in our generation. We are a people who define ourselves in terms of our possessions, position and skills. Of all nations on earth, we are the most likely to sin the same way Moses did—by taking matters into our own hands and doing it our way. We are not obedient in the small things of God; who would trust us with great things? So the next time you pray for the power of healing, ask yourself: should God have any confidence that I would use it obediently?

Faithful in little, Lord, is faithful in much. Teach us to be faithful and obedient in the little, so that greater things might come.

September 6

Comedy on the Way

Numbers 22:21-34

One of the side effects of having been raised on the King James Bible is that you sometimes miss the comedy in the Scriptures. I know that there are those who hold God to be completely serious all the time—but 3500 years before television and Mr. Ed the talking horse we have a talking donkey

The root of the matter is this: God often lets us make our own mistakes, and then bear the consequences. But only to a point; for those whom he loves he disciplines.

Balaam is such a man. We know very little about him other than the fact that he was a prophet of God—but not a Jewish one. Evidently God had permitted some to know him, and appointed prophets to such people. But Balaam was not quite as we might expect: like Gehazi, he feels it necessary to extract a few shekels from all who call. He’s a hireling prophet, available to the highest bidder.

Unless, of course, God doesn’t cooperate. We sometimes wonder how we are to receive instruction from God; when does he want us to do what? Mature Christians know that often we may be permitted to choose—but one choice keeps popping up as the right one, while obstacles are in the path of the others. If there is no question of right and wrong in these paths, then God is pointing us in a particular direction. If we will listen.

Evidently Balaam is a rather thick-headed sort of a fellow. He and a small entourage are on their way to where God didn’t want him to go. So God sends the Angel of the Lord to stop this. Twice, the donkey tries to do the sensible thing—go some other way. Both times she gets beaten for it. Finally the lane narrows to the point that there is no room for the donkey to turn—so she stops. Balaam applies the usual cure to obstinate donkeys.

Here’s where the comedy starts. The donkey talks. Most of us at that point would have taken that as a faint glimmer of an indication that things were not kosher. Balaam, in his anger, is going to win the argument with the beast. Unfortunately, the donkey is the better logician. She has a good track record, right? So there must be some reason, right? Then the reason becomes visible. Balaam is straightened out. It’s a lesson in God’s will.

But—don’t you think he should have noticed the donkey can talk?

Lord, there are days when we wish the donkey would talk—so we’d know where to go next. Open the doors—and open our eyes.

September 7

Being Left Out

Judges 8:1-3

One of the lessons a military leader must learn to ascend to the top of his profession is the delicate art of leading a coalition. Matters are greatly simplified if you have only one command structure to deal with. During the Second World War, the British and Americans, along with many others, formed such a coalition. Both armies spoke the same language. Both armies had their share of brilliant but rough-edged commanders, such as Montgomery and Patton. It is no accident that the generals in charge of the major theaters of the war were noted for their diplomacy.

The problem is not a new one. To understand it here you must recall what just happened.  This is the pursuit after the Midianites were routed by Gideon and his 300 men. With that small a force, at the direction of God, he has routed over 100,000 men.

Ephraim participated in the mopping up actions afterwards. Please note one thing: they were successful. Their complaint is not that they were not given a part; their complaint is that their part is not in keeping with their own idea of how important they are. Gideon is from the tribe of Manasseh, the rival of Ephraim. The Ephraimites think they are superior to Gideon’s clan—and that they were unfairly kept from the glory of the victory. They had an ordinary victory; they wanted a glorious one.

This, of course, is wounded pride—a dangerous beast. Gideon had two choices: he could jaw with them and hope to shout them down, or he could appease them.

It is a decision for those as wise as the serpent yet harmless as a dove. Often, our self-conception as a bold leader, or person who should be in charge, or just simply “my rights” may be sacrificed for the good of the team. To make such decisions, you need:

· A clear conception of what’s important and what’s not.

· A willingness to soothe in unimportant things, and

· A firmness covered with politeness in important things.

If you wish to lead, be swift with praise and slow with criticism; careful of the pride of others while practicing humility yourself—and study the wisdom of God as well. Treating other people’s anger is serious business.

Lord, how often we have argued back simply because we knew we were right! Teach us to keep our eyes on you, and thus be willing to forgo winning the argument, rather, winning our brother.

September 8

Praise God

Psalm 76:10

In this one short verse there seems to be a contradiction. How is it that the wrath of mortal man could be for the glory of God?

· “Man’s breath is blowing the trumpet of God.” Often enough we see man’s wrath simply reminding us of God’s power. A furious, weak man may rage as he pleases; God’s truth will still prevail. The comparison between the two is often enlightening—especially when you have to choose sides.

· “Furious winds often drive vessels more swiftly into port.” Have you see it? The rage of the enemies of the church arouse her to action. This should be happening in our own time; there is a very large segment of our population who are mad at God and his church. May it please God to rouse the church from her stupor into His might.

· “The wrath of man is limited—and often used as the sword of God.” Throughout the Old Testament the nation of Israel was punished by the invasion of those who did not know God. It is clear that God uses them as his implements; and after their deeds are done, they themselves fall.

· “The devil blows the fire and melts the iron, then the Lord fashions it for his own purpose.” How often have you seen it: a Christian goes through trial and suffering, indeed oppression, and at the weakest point God steps in to hammer that Christian into a perfect tool for his task.

You may see these things in the example of Joseph. His brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt—only to see him become the one who rescued them all from famine. Along the way we see the wrath of his brothers foiled. Joseph himself learned patient obedience through his trials. What his brothers did to him was of no account compared to his rise to stature in Egypt. Forged in slavery, in prison, Joseph became the implement by which God rescued Israel and his sons.

Does the world rage at you? This is hardly new; the quotations above are from more than a hundred years ago (C. H. Spurgeon). The thoughts were old when he used them. The King of Kings still forges iron in the wrath of man; soon his hammer blows will cease, and his children shall be perfected for his purposes.

Lord, the hammer is hard and the anvil is tough—and all the while it is hot. Thy will be done; may we be forged to your desire.

September 9

Honor and Politics

1 Samuel 20:34

It is a curious thing, honor. It is a mixture of uncompromising honesty and pride; pride, but not arrogance. Honesty, but with tender politeness. Men have died for it; others have mourned to see it die. It is little known now; but once it ruled the politics of our nation.

Politics are now “based on reality.” Such thinking reckons without God. It says that either he doesn’t exist or he doesn’t care, Or perhaps he is simply on the side with the bigger battalions. This is more sensible, we think. Invading Iraq to set up a government more to our liking is realistic. The hundreds of thousands of Christian martyrs killed by the Islamic government of Sudan mean nothing.

Saul was a politician who based himself in reality. As he saw it, David was a challenger for the throne. David always showed an extreme reluctance about harming Saul; but Saul saw no reason not to pin David to the wall with a javelin. His son Jonathan was a more noble sort.

Jonathan knew that God, through Samuel, had anointed David as the rightful king of Israel. Jonathan rejected his father’s realism. God had made his choice; Jonathan not only was willing to live with that but formed a deep personal bond with David. Jonathan was Little John to David’s Robin Hood. He would be first after David in a friendship between two men of honor.

It was not to be; Jonathan soon dies in battle at his father’s side. David mourned for him. He would later take in Jonathan’s crippled son and care for him. Even death did not stop David’s love for his friend.

We see here two kinds of wrath; the first is the wrath that Saul showed. It is irrational; it is unjustified—but it has its explanation in Saul’s political view. It is “reality based.” Over and again Saul would see God’s hand protecting David, and exposing Saul. He never got the message.

Jonathan’s wrath is based upon honor. It is partly pride, for those who do this must think themselves superior (others may give in; I can not). But it’s also based on Jonathan’s honesty—the keeping of his sworn word. He is furious at this failure of honesty.

I wonder; how many of us can say the same?

Lord, open our eyes. May we once again know what it is to feel wrath when promises are broken.

September 10

Recycling Wrath

Proverbs 6:32-34

A thousand friends, it is too few; one enemy, more than enough.

“Certain Maxims of Hafiz”, Rudyard Kipling

Of all the dumb things you can do, adultery ranks up in the top tier. And yet people continue to do it. We used to teach Christians that evil consequences would come from this. But people would think, “Well, my wife will never find out.” Where do you think all those stories about lipstick on the collar came from? Worse yet, people would think, “Well, her husband will never find out.” That can be a fatal error.

If a marriage is in trouble to begin with, it takes very, very little to arouse the suspicion of adultery. Once that suspicion is aroused (whether justified or not) you have a permanent source of anger. If you are the target of that adultery, you will find that there are no limits on what “the other man” will do. Police officers will tell you that the call they fear most is an angry husband with a wife who has been cheating him.

Yet, despite this, it is rare to hear that adultery is a sin. Our culture is now so accustomed to any form of sexual encounter that we forget what God told us: this is a bad idea.

Here, Solomon tells us why. The offended partner, here a husband, is going to be angry. The real problem is that he’s not going to stop being angry. If I get angry when my wife burns the French fries (inside joke), she’ll usually have me pacified by dessert. But how do you pacify a man whose wife is an adulteress?

Worse, the anger lasts for years, often for a lifetime. Things may seem to be smoothed over when an unpredicted explosion occurs. His wife may see this as unjustified; it’s recycled rage. But until the root of the jealousy is exposed and disposed, the rage is always there beneath the surface. Marriage is a trust relationship; you must have faith in your wife, or love misery. Forgiveness is very, very hard.

Here the Christian has an advantage. He has the example of Christ before him—forgiveness unequaled. Much needs to be done in such a case, but the Christian has a motive. Forgiveness is offered to us on the condition that we are willing to forgive others. It is a hard thing, but it is required.

Lord, sometimes forgiveness is easy. Sometimes it’s hard. Give us wisdom and strength to forgive no matter the offense.

September 11


1 Kings 21:4

The conflict between church and state is inevitable when the state feels no restraint. Both church and state claim the highest obedience of the citizen; but that obedience cannot be given to both. A choice must be made. Sometimes that choice goes astray.

King Henry II of England was snared in such. He had appointed his good friend Thomas a Becket to be Archbishop of Canterbury; head of the church in England. Soon the two were at odds. In a fit of rage one night, Henry cried out, “Will no one rid me of this upstart priest?” Some of his knights proceeded to do just that, killing Thomas. The deed haunted Henry’s reign from then on.

Henry was a great king (otherwise); the same cannot be said here for Ahab. He was a weak king, ruled by his wife, a man who wanted but could not obtain. The sin of envy, when frustrated, carries with it the penalty of anger. Ahab’s wife, however, was not nearly so limited. She took care of the matter for him, using his royal seal. The result was that he became an accomplice to fraud, theft and murder.

We hear very little these days about wrath being a sin; it has passed from favor. But it is important to recognize that wrath carries with it two paths to the grave;

· In your anger you may, in fact, kill someone. Our Lord made it clear that simply having that intention is the same as murder in God’s eyes. We don’t give machine guns to little children. This is why.

· Worse, someone may act upon your angry words. They may decide to “help” you. It’s also possible that they are much less scrupulous than you. You are thus the cause of even greater sin—as Jezebel performs it here.

I have often wondered: was it just a careless, idle set of words by Richard Nixon that set the Watergate burglaries in motion? We may never know. Perhaps Nixon was the latest victim of the sin of kings: second hand rage.

Are you in a position of authority? It may be a minor one; it may be simply as husband, father or friend. Words of anger take on a life of their own. You may be the source of terrible things. Second hand or not, rage gets ugly, quickly.

Lord, it feels good to vent our rage aloud. But our brother’s keeper we are; teach us to let rage go, conquered by your peace.

September 12

The Code of the West

Proverbs 14:17

The American West has become the land of myth and legend, the home of the western version of the Samurai. Indeed, movies have been transplanted between those cultures with good effect. The Seven Samurai gave birth to The Magnificent Seven.

Both mythologies have their own code of behavior—one which is often at odds with our own beliefs. Take, for example, the gunfight at the OK Corral.  In this incident, Wyatt Earp and friends disposed of the evil Clanton gang in a hail of bullets. Considered a fair fight, virtue triumphed. Or so the legend goes.

Whether or not it was a fair fight is fare for the historian. If a modern police officer did the same it would be completely condemned. But the Code of the West maintains that evil was beaten, the dead died in honor - and all of us approve of it.

That last is important. It is a distinctive point of the Western. Even the bad guys are allowed to die in a fair fight, to “die with their boots on.” Our law today goes against this. But in one thing we agree with this code: bushwhacking is murder. It is the method of a man who is cowardly—and evil.

We are capable of maintaining the distinction even today. A hot tempered man may be a very lovable character at the same time. His friends greet each other with, “Did you hear what … did this time?” They may fear his actions or laugh at them; but this is not incompatible with loving him. Even a fool has friends.

The descendent of the bushwhacker gets no such treatment. He may be feared; he will certainly be hated. His temper may be under constant control, but we have that uneasy feeling around him—with words of caution like, “watch your back.”

The distinction is surprisingly important to the Christian. One of the two is capable of repentance—he may even be quite experienced at it. The other sees no use for it.

There lies the difference. Christ’s appeal is open to all, for all are sinners. The foolish man can sometimes see the consequences of his anger (that’s why God gives us consequences). The evil man sees only another opportunity. Your mother cautioned you about your choice of friends. Perhaps that applies to enemies as well.

Lord, how seldom we see ourselves as we are seen. Perhaps the sight is so unpleasant that we choose not to look. Thank you that you allow even the fools to repent; thank you for giving the wicked what they deserve.

September 13

Water Hazard

2 Kings 5:11-12

As we see here, some of us are very important—at least to ourselves. If God doesn’t see it that way, we court humbling at his hands.

The Wrath of Offended Dignity is a well known phenomenon. Namaan is an important man, a counselor to the king himself. At the very least this prophet could spare the time to do the job personally—hopefully in a rather showy manner. But the equation comes out differently: High expectations plus mundane delivery equals wrath. (You will note that modern faith healers at least give you a good show.)

But is expectation important to those of us who are not the king’s counselors? I submit that it is. Consider these three drivers:

· First, there is the SUV driver. Handicapped by the lack of turn signals (have you ever seen them used by an SUV?) and no idea that someone might care, they perform “no look” lane changes. Shocked when they hit something, by the time the police arrive it’s all the other driver’s fault.

· Next, there is the BMW driver. If you didn’t want someone cutting in front of you with, say, one millimeter to spare, why were you out driving next to a BMW?

· Finally, there is the Mercedes driver. The long standing suspicion is that in the glove compartment of every Mercedes there is a deed of sale for the right of way. If you didn’t know that, surely you flunked Drivers’ Ed.

God deals with our expectations as well. If you are a Christian he will soon make things clear:

· Have you seen these drivers before? Well, you’re going to see them again—so expect it.

· If you are one of these drivers, be sure your insurance is paid up. God will humble you.

Expectations—it’s all about how important we really are. Look at Christ: no more important man ever lived—and his expectations included the Cross. If His expectations were such, then you can handle the expectation of arrogant drivers—or the humbling God will give you if you are one. Whom God loves, He disciplines.

Lord, sometimes our expectations just creep up on us. You are a loving Father; be gentle with us but hard on our expectations.

September 14

Sam, Yosemite Sam

Proverbs 14:29

Among the memorable characters turned out by Termite Terrace (the cartoon studio at Warner Brothers) is Yosemite Sam. Mike Maltese says that he based the character on that of Friz Freling. If so, it’s likely that Freleng didn’t recognize himself in ink.

Part of the charm that is Sam is his hot temper. He conceives himself as master of the situation, which is a very poor conception when Bugs Bunny is in the film. It takes approximately nothing to set off Sam’s temper. Once that has exploded, the audience feels that anything Bugs does to him from then on is simply what Sam deserves. And Bugs is capable of doing a lot to him.

Sam would not have the appeal he does were it not for the fact that everyone can see a Yosemite Sam somewhere in life. Some of us can find him at work; others find him at church; some, if they look hard enough, can find him in the mirror.

This is why the book of Proverbs was written. Sam, we expect, will probably never get over that temper—but with some help his counterparts in real life can get the insight Sam never does. Watching a blustering idiot is funny; being one is not.

Proverbs cut both ways, sometimes. It’s pretty clear, for example, that if you are wise you will be slow to anger. Wisdom tends to cause restraint. But isn’t it also clear that if we simply stop flying off the handle, we will be able to learn wisdom? Those who work through emotional problems to find a solution might just try that technique again. Wisdom, sometimes, comes in bite size chunks.

By the same process, we can safely reason that Yosemite Sam is a cartoon fool. He’ll never gain wisdom for the simple reason that his mouth is open and his brain is closed. Seems to happen that way with people, too.

With Yosemite Sam we can laugh; it’s intended to be comedy. But if we live with such a person, it’s not very funny. Worse, if you are that person, you will know the frustration of being a fool to everyone you know—and we do not treat fools very well at all, now do we? But for such the book of Proverbs was written. Maybe your psychiatrist can’t figure it out. Maybe you just need to stifle that temper, keep cool—and gain wisdom along the way.

Lord, of all fools on this planet none is more laughable—and more sorrowful than the man of hot temper, whose mouth is open and brain off. Grant such a man forgiveness, Lord. May he next ask and receive your holy wisdom.

September 15

Beauty Contest

Esther 1:12

For those unfamiliar with the story, Vashti is the name of the queen of Persia at this time—a time when Persia was a mighty empire. Kings of this time kept the empire together by the distribution of royal favor; in this instance, a party that lasted better than six months. At the end of this, the King throws a banquet of the most superlative size and luxury. As was the custom of the time, only men were invited. So the queen held a parallel banquet for the women of his household.

To put it simply, everybody got roaring drunk. In such a fit, the king decided to parade his trophy wife in front of his drinking buddies (and you ladies thought “beer and more chips” so bad.)

Vashti responded the way I hope your wife would. She’s a queen, not a stripper. She refused.

So the king decided to replace her. Her conduct was modest and chaste, dignified and thoroughly befitting a queen. For this exemplary behavior she was severely punished.

Does it ever seem to you that this parallels your life—that someone else gets mad, and the penalty never seems to wind up on that idiot? Someone else cleans up after his banquet? In this instance the king would argue that she brought it on herself. Indeed she did—by doing what was right. So where’s the happy ending? How does the king suffer in this?

He doesn’t. It’s not fair—life is not fair. It even goes so far as this: he replaces her—by a beauty contest. This set a royal example, didn't it?

We hear no more of Vashti in the Bible. The exact circumstances of her term as queen are unknown. We do see that Esther, her replacement, was equally scrupulous in her banquets; perhaps the king was sober by then. But the circumstances were set by God. For though his name is never mentioned in this story, the providence of God is well shown here. It was through Esther that the Jews were saved from annihilation.

Sometimes, when we do the right thing and get only someone’s wrath for it, it’s tempting to think God missed it. It is not so; you may be Vashti, preceding God’s Esther. He does not forget his own; nor does he explain his ways.

Lord, so often we ask “WHY?” It seems the anger we receive could never be turned into blessing. Lord, increase our faith! Teach us to know your hand is on us, even in the storm of rage.

September 16


Proverbs 15:1

It’s not a matter of life and death. It’s more important than that.

Vince Lombardi

Football, according to the dictionary, is a game. Its adherents see it differently. It is the conventional wisdom of the game that players must believe that the game they are playing is the most important part of life. In particular, anything that provokes anger (and thus extra adrenalin) is welcome.

But did you ever notice who gets “pumped up?” It’s not the coach; it’s not the quarterback. It’s the linemen. It’s the wide receivers. It’s the players whose job is mainly physical—how hard, how fast—who want that extra adrenalin. The quarterback needs to keep his cool under pressure; even more so the coach. A coach out of control is bad; a quarterback out of control is soon replaced.

Have you ever watched a fight in a schoolyard? Two boys will taunt each other until one of them cracks and begins punching. The school authorities look the other way; boys will be boys. Getting angry and punching each other is a way to grow up to be an adult. An angry, out of control, brutal adult.

Consider, then, another kind of argument. An argument in which one party is calm and tender; the other angry and vile. The taunts that would have led to a schoolyard fight are turned aside by that gentle answer. Soon all around know that one boy is out of control; the other knows what he is doing.

You do not often see such wisdom today. Films do not portray it; a soft answer sells no tickets. Schools do not promote it; fists are preferable to old-fashioned virtue. (Everything is relative, you know). Television portrays the soft answer as weakness. Dirty Harry has replaced the Lone Ranger.

So it seems that anger is now a virtue; calm patience a fault. But do not fear; there is at least one person to keep the trait alive. That person is you. You may not have a choice about the anger you receive; you have a choice in the gentleness of your reply.

Lord, it is hard for a young man to avoid rage; old men who have practiced it long find it even harder to give up. Bring those old men to their senses, so that they may both teach the gentle answer and model it in their daily lives. For those who are weak in this matter, lead us not into temptation—but deliver us from evil.

September 17

Doughnut Holes

Esther 3:5

Keep your eye on the doughnut, not on the hole.

Father-in-law’s oft-repeated advice.

My father-in-law is very fond of repeating that advice. It has worked well for him; he is by most standards a wealthy man. The man in this passage, Haman, was also a wealthy man. But there was a big difference with him.

Psychologists should have a name for this. Lacking such, we shall call it “perfectionist rage.” It is the rage of those whose world must be perfect—and is justly slightly lacking. He who lacks perfection, lacks proportion.

Consider the penalty that Haman thinks appropriate for Mordecai’s failure to kowtow to him. Not only is he determined to kill the man, but he also intends to get rid of his entire people. Not just the family, the entire Jewish race. In this we see one of the characteristics of perfectionist rage—the ever expanding scope of what must be done to provide the proper penalty. It’s as if the smallest of things is held accountable for the failure of all. Indeed, the smaller the failure, the more the rage.

This is not a case of one thing lacking. It’s a case of unreasonable expectations. Because it concerns God’s people, Haman will soon find out how God teaches the lessons to kings. His method is simple: he allows them to rage up until the last moment—when their self-imagined greatness collapses into mortal humanity.

There is a lesson here for God’s people. One such lesson is that we should be on our guard against this. We are sinners; nothing we do can be perfect. We should not expect perfection of others. If you find yourself outraged at the little things which are lacking, especially if you think the world is conspiring to frustrate you, look at Haman here. Consider what God did to him.

Another telling point is this: do you imagine in your mind that some vicious, horrible punishment will overtake your annoyance? If the dog next door barks out of turn, do you see yourself exacting gruesome vengeance? If so, consider what God did to Haman.

It is God’s good pleasure that annoyances will come. It is his desire that you overlook them, as they come from sinners like you. Be merciful; God will be merciful to you.

Lord, sometimes we rage at the smallest of things. It is tragic. Take that tragedy and turn it to divine comedy.

September 18

Going Nuclear

Proverbs 15:18

At one time in my career I had an assignment working at US Borax. You might recall the 20 Mule Team, their trademark. When I arrived, I asked what Boron (the element) was used for. I was surprised by the wide variety of industrial uses. One in particular caught my ear. Boron is used, along with graphite, to make the rods used in a nuclear reactor. When these rods are removed from the nuclear pile, the reaction heats up, generating more energy. When they are inserted, the reaction slows down.

Solomon describes two people who are like that. There are those who heat things up when they’re in the reaction. They like to stir up trouble. Why?

· They’re good at it—lots of practice.

· It works very well for them. It gets results.

· It pleases them to be the bully for once (or more).

· People work hard to keep them from flying off the handle.

Note, please, that the one who is angry doesn’t really suffer, except on the inside. But the people around him are constantly working to keep him out of another argument.

There’s also the person who cools things down. Why would this be better?

· He’s always welcome in the meeting where things happen.

· People tend to agree with the agreeable.

· When you need a favor, it’s easier than the angry man’s way.

· People work hard for you—because they know they’ll get a pat on the back, not a knife in it.

It’s a very pragmatic point. You get to choose which of these two people you’d like to be. Even if you’re the one who is always angry, you can change. But it is a long term thing to change a reputation. So if you’re new to the place, try to be the one who is calm when others are angry. It will make you welcome much more than anger will.

There is a certain beauty to those who are calm when others rage. Perhaps this is from within. God knows your heart. If you yell and scream enough, everyone else will too.

Lord, hear your children when they are angry, and give them a calm spirit. May they be evidence of your peace.

September 19

Youth Culture

Job 32:3

Nothing so distinguishes our culture from all others as much as our worship of youth. Our television shows portray teenagers as having the wisdom their bumbling parents so obviously lack. This, of course, helps sell acne creams, which is the major purpose of television, evidently. I once had a co-worker who told me that he was now beginning to enjoy “older women.” I asked him what his definition of older women might be. “Over twenty-five.”

While my doctor is not a paleontologist yet, I can remember a time when youth was not so honored. Indeed, that is the way of most civilizations. This explains why Elihu (who is quoted here) kept silent for thirty-one chapters. He was the young kid. It wasn't his turn yet.

But for the next six chapters of poetry, he lets them all know that he can talk. What finally burst his bubble of silence was this: Job’s three friends couldn’t get Job to confess his sins. Those sins obviously must have been severe—and here you old guys can’t persuade him to confess.

We still see that concept today. When we are confronted with suffering—especially severe suffering, we tell the sufferer not to blame God, because:

· It’s obviously his chastisement for something—which you had best confess immediately.

· Or, it’s obviously God preparing you for some special work.

The one answer we don’t usually consider is this: maybe you’re just a small part of some grand design of God.

It is interesting that Elihu is angry at Job’s three friends. It tells us that he has jumped to the same conclusion that they have: such terrible suffering must be God’s punishment upon some horrible sin. (And you’d best confess it quickly, so I can tell everyone else about it). And so Elihu gave his thoughts.

What does the Almighty God say to the angry young man? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. At the end of the work God tells Job’s three friends that they are to make a sacrifice to Him, and Job will pray for them so that the sacrifice will be accepted. But of the angry young man he says nothing. Perhaps it is better to be old and wise; at least your mistakes count.

Lord, many of us have been angry young men. Help us age gracefully into wisdom rather than into repetitious folly.

September 20


Proverbs 16:14

The problem described in this proverb would have been familiar to the ancients; it was a king’s prerogative to whack people’s heads off—quite literally. Whether this was a perquisite of the job or a peril I do not know; it would tend to keep the staff attentive. For the most part we are unfamiliar with the situation—unless you work for the Mafia. (If you do, how on earth did you come to read this devotional?)

The word translated “appease” in this passage actually has a literal medical meeting. It meant to cover a wound with bitumen—an oil product about the consistency of Vaseline®, with the same healing properties. Even today we use the phrase, “put a Band-Aid® on it” to mean something like it.

The closest we get to such a king today is the office bully. This is usually someone in middle management—not high enough to be visible to the outside world (where he might embarrass the company) but not too low—enough staff to absorb the bullying.

I worked for one like that once. A man who had no desire to hear anything to the contrary of his brilliant ideas, he often would task me with proving (mathematically) that he was right. I became fairly good at making “adjustments” that I hoped wouldn’t leave him too angry. Mathematics is rather a black and white process.

Everyone on his staff had one fear: that they would be the one to cause him to fly off the handle next. The character assassination that followed was brutal.

For some time I tried to swallow my anger—which had the usual results. It was not until my wife suggested that I try a different tactic that things changed.

Her suggestion was simple: make the man your friend. Ignore the bullying and be his friend, to the best of your ability. This strategy was so extraordinary that he was completely defenseless against it. He knew how to be angry. He didn’t know how to deal with friendship. It took over two years to blossom, but it was worth it.

He is likely enough still the office bully. He enjoys making people jump. But once in his life he met a man of wisdom (well, of his wife’s wisdom); there his knowledge failed.

Lord, the office bully seems so trivial compared to a king who could literally take your head. Yet the stress is much the same. Teach us wisdom; lead us in humility; shelter us in you.

September 21


Daniel 3:13ff

It is clear from the passage that the king, Nebuchadnezzar, had this golden image made for a purpose. The purpose is not hard to discern; it is yet another example of the conflict of church and state. He reasoned that if someone bowed down to your idol, he was committed to support you (since it was your own personal god). Over the centuries the conflict has come again and again; in that time many faithful followers of God have died because they would not declare the state supreme.

Should you happen to be in such circumstances, I would point out to you the reaction of these Hebrews:

· They are calm. Obviously, the peace that comes from a daily walk with God has had its effect. The life of prayer is the preparation for the battle with the world.

· They are decisive. They don’t need to huddle and talk about it, seeing if they can strike a bargain. They knew the answer going in.

· They are confident in God. It is not a swagger; it is the humble confidence of those who know what God can do—and are humble enough to know he is not obligated to do it.

· They are willing to die for their faith. It doesn’t matter what God will or won’t do in their particular circumstance; they fear the One who can kill the soul.

All this comes from preparation

· The time for prayer is before you come to the crisis; therefore, every day should be a day of prayer..

· Nor need you face such a crisis alone. It was no accident that there were three Hebrews in this fire; one alone might have wavered. Three together will commit themselves first to God and then to each other.

· Remember: God’s solution is better than yours. (And He delights in showing you that). Commit yourself to His will every day.

It is difficult in our time to think of the need for martyrdom. Those days may not be far off. The message of these three heroes is still powerful today—if we will learn it.

Lord, martyrdom seems so far off in comfortable America. Open our eyes: our enemies are on the march.

September 22

Five Chickens

Proverbs 16:29

It happened during my days in the Army. I never fancied myself as a combat soldier; I had little desire to charge through the jungles spraying bullets. But I suppose that wearing combat boots then is something like wearing an eye patch now—easily misunderstood as an invitation to violence.

On this particular occasion my wife and I were among the chaperones for a high school winter retreat. For some unknown reason the swimming pool at the campground still held water. I was enjoying a game of chess (the antithesis and parallel of war) when five of the high school boys announced that they were going to throw me into the pool.

Five chickens, no matter how you arrange them, do not equal one lion. I had learned this the hard way in my youth. There was no hesitation; I got up from the game of chess (with a polite apology to my opponent) and announced that I would throw each of them, one at a time, into the pool. Now.

The five chickens split in five directions. I did toss a couple of them before cooler heads prevailed, but there was no doubt in any mind: the one man was the lion.

Now, I bring this to you as an example. The writer tells us that a man of violence entices his neighbor. I don’t know which of them was the ring leader, but he had four whom he had enticed. Evil in a man is like that: it seeks company. If enough company is gained, the imitation of courage may arise.

But consider, for a moment, the other four. By slick words and the dreams of raging sheep, they would be powerful and feared. Instead, they were consumed—for the target had no intention of cooperating.

Have you ever gotten yourself in trouble doing that? School teachers know full well how the class bully recruits other kids to do the work. It seems this is not much different in adult life.

Recollect; let your memory go back in time. Can you see those occasions where you gave in to the talk of violence? Do you remember the aftermath—the penalty if caught; the shame if not. It felt good to be so mad—at the time. The fire that sears the conscience is but the ignition of hell.

Lord, how often we are so quickly misled! We have time for television and no time for reading your Word. Lord, give us the spirit of reflection, so that we may see who and what we really are.

September 23

Moderate Expectations

Jonah 4

In the early days of the movie industry it was a common thing in Westerns to have the villains in black hats and the hero in white. Since the film was in black and white, it seems they are the only choices—and white hats produce a brighter image. Color eliminated this, but we still speak of white hats and black hats.

In those Westerns, the hero always got the girl, and the villains were done in. But in our lives, things can be more complex. It is our expectation that the black hats can’t change, they cannot repent. This makes it easy: we can hate the sin and the sinner. After all, we need villains to make our story interesting. But what if the villain repents?

That’s why the book of Jonah was provided to us. Anyone who has spent time in the sun in the desert can appreciate Jonah’s situation. The desire to be out of the direct sunlight (and therefore cooler) is perfectly normal. Cactus give but little shade, so we can imagine Jonah’s pleasure with this vine. His expectations were disappointed in the Ninevites; God should have toasted them. But he quickly got his expectations up with this shade vine. He felt entitled to it, and became angry when it died.

We sometimes fall for the same thing. My wife, sweet soul that she is, often brings me coffee in the morning (bears do not spring out of bed; they crawl, rather grouchily). But that cup of coffee was not in the wedding vows; when it doesn't appear, I have no case for complaint. Similarly, we often get our expectations set high by advertising, or someone’s imagination with mouth running, or just because we got it once.

Here is a key to defusing your anger. When you feel entitled, act like Joe Friday: “Just the facts.” Are you really entitled to that, or was it simply something you came to expect? Does the person you’re mad at really owe you anything? Or is it just your expectations, set too high?

Treat such anger as if it were a railroad crossing. Stop—don’t let your mouth motor on. Look—see if you really have a reason for your expectations. Listen—to the anger building up in your own head; is it really justified? Ignore these signs at your peril; this is where train wrecks happen.

Lord, how often we make fools of ourselves, and all for no cause! We so much need to follow your example: kind to the sinner while condemning the sin. Sometimes, that includes us.

September 24

Slow on the Draw

Proverbs 16:32

It is a classic theme of the Western: the fastest gun in the west, and no self-control. Will his anger ruin him?

The theme is classic because it shows one of the great struggles for the soul of man. The world cries out that force and violence are both sovereign and good; the Scripture tells us to the contrary. At the very least we should look at this struggle with the eyes of those who live forever. Consider it this way: pick any of our current crop of dictators, then ask: what will be their reputation in a seventy years? Three score and ten, the span allotted; most will be but a footnote in an obscure history text.

Consider what it means to be “slow to anger.” Here are some of the characteristics of such a man:

· He is said to have “great understanding.” Think of the people you know of whom you can say that. Is this someone you’d imitate?

· He is a man who calms disputes—even those he’s not concerned with. The slow to anger prize their peace.

· He is a man of discretion. Think about it: the last time you flew off the handle, who would you trust most: the one you are angry at, or the one who calmed the dispute?

· For the Christian, it is commanded. Being slow to anger is expected of the Christian, for it is Christ’s command.

· It is Christ’s command for one supreme reason: the Lord God Almighty is slow to anger, too.

It seems desirable, but it often seems out of reach. It is a form of self-control. That should give you the secret of obtaining it: it is a fruit of the Spirit. The problem is amenable to prayer; yours, and those who love you. It is a matter in which accountability to Christian brothers can be a powerful force.  

One bit of caution on this: self-control can be very irritating to those who don’t have it. Paul discovered this in speaking to Felix, the Roman governor. Those without self-control are occasionally embarrassed by those with.

Slow to anger, with self-control—virtues to take into eternity. But you must acquire them now; sometimes “later” never comes.

Lord, it is easy to deal with one who is self-controlled and slow to anger. May we become the person we’d like to deal with.

September 25

Slaughter of the Innocents

Matthew 2:16

In the 16th century in Holland painting was a flourishing art. One of the more prominent artists was Pieter Bruegel the Elder. He took this passage as an inspiration for his painting.

You cannot but look at the painting and see the eye he had for human misery, with all its elements:

· Dressed in red, the officers preside on horseback over the slaughter. They are haughty—and faceless. The minor functionaries of a bureaucracy, they strut in this hour.

· Backing them up are the lancers, clad in black armor. Most are in a group at the edge of the village, lending the weight of authority without actually being involved.

· You see fathers begging; one, on his knees beside one of the officers—who is ignoring him.

· You see the women, in grief. The loss of a child is a terrible thing; how much more so when sacrificed to the political wiles of a king!

· The henchmen, with their dogs, are running everywhere in the town. All the other players in this drama look down on them; they are not on horseback. Dismal—but very useful.

All this tells you the tale, except for one thing. Bruegel transplanted the scene from Palestine to his homeland, Holland. The point is clear: this is not something restricted to a mad king 1500 years earlier. The capability of human beings to sink so low as to slaughter all the children two and under is always with us. This is not just a historical painting; this applies to us.

You think not? Consider the politicians in favor of abortion. Do they not strut as if righteousness was their invention? The carnage is at their direction, while our police forces (who once would have arrested any doctor that did this) stand by. Worse, where are the fathers pleading for mercy? The courts will not hear them; the mother alone decides. The mothers do not cry; it is politically incorrect to talk of guilt after abortion. Policy says it doesn’t happen that way. The henchmen? They are now bold and heroic.

Herod was half insane at best, murderous (to his own family) at his worst. At least he had some excuse.

Lord, the slaughter of the innocents was a horror until our generation came. Give us back our sense of shame.

September 26


Luke 4:28

The scene seems rather contradictory. All the people speak well of him; he is favored; but when he announces himself, all those same people reject him and try to stone him to death. These are deep waters theologically; we shall stick to the shallows of example. Let us consider how God, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, dealt with people’s rage and rejection.

First, we must examine what he did not do:

· There is no sense of Jesus raging right back at them. Indeed, in a similar situation where a village rejected Jesus, he had to rebuke the disciples’ desire to call down fire from heaven. The evil of Sodom had that effect; but the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.

· You do not see anything like a vow to “get even.” Retribution, even in a calm tone, has a bite to it. The Son of God seeks their repentance, not his retaliation.

· Interestingly, there is also no sense of hurry. Jesus walks right through the crowd; he does not run to get away from them. The utter confidence of the man is revealing.

What, then, does Christ do? We must remember that God will bring greater good from evil—if we will let him. For example:

· The rejection of the Christ by the Jewish nation—which Paul considered temporary—let to the message being preached to the Gentile world. From rejection comes evangelism.

· Indeed, the rejection of Christ is so much a part of his character that we are taught to expect our own rejection. It is a model for us.

· Because rejection is a part of the faith, we can accept as Christian brothers and sisters those who are rejected by the world. Bikers, barbers, baldies, beggars and beauty queens can all be brothers and sisters in Christ.

More than that, God adds to this the grace won at the Cross. The purpose of these people was murder; the purpose of God is to win them over, so that they might accept His mercy.

When we fly into a rage, we try to be judge and jury. God seeks goodness out of evil in his mighty grace.

Lord, give us a spirit of contemplation; looking back at our rage and forward to becoming more like you.

September 27

Fire Department

Proverbs 17:14

It may seem like a tall tale, but I once put out a wildfire. It happened this way: I was driving along some of the roads that run through the Monterey Peninsula—very scenic. As I rounded a turn, I noticed that there was a brush fire, not much bigger than my van. I took out my fire extinguisher and wasted it on the fire. Then I got serious, took out an entrenching tool (a military shovel) and started covering the fire with dirt. It worked.

When the firemen arrived they finished the job. One of them thanked me for doing this; the forests were very dry that year; this could have been serious. His remark stuck with me: “The first two minutes of a fire are worth the next two hours.”

I submit to you that the same is true in dealing with the fire of anger. The people of this time would have been very familiar with the problem. It was a common thing to irrigate your fields by putting in irrigation ditches and then breaking the wall to direct the water to a particular field. When your neighbor thought that it was his water irrigating your field, trouble brewed. Cutting through your neighbor’s dike set more than water in motion.

Do you recall Christ’s advice about settling with your adversary before you go to court? How about Paul’s sentences on how wicked it is to have a Christian sue another Christian? We’ve read them; but do we heed them?

One reason we might ignore them is that we are angry. When anger prevails, the mouth says, “This situation is different.” The situation is different; you are Christians.

· Don’t you see that the damage you might suffer from the physical consequences can last no longer than a lifetime? If agreeing with your adversary costs you money, what is that? Is not your Lord capable of giving you more than you need?

· But if you let your anger triumph, the damage done is eternal. Your wallet is of no use after death. But your character, your deeds and indeed your very soul affect you eternally.

So, we should make up our minds—before we get angry—that we will not let anger out of control. To do this, we must watch our emotions. When anger flares, seek for a swift solution. You know how to lose; practice winning instead.

Lord, we are angry with our Christian brothers over the smallest things. Teach us to be peacemakers, as your children should be.

September 28

The Bosom of Fools

Ecclesiastes 7:9

Solomon lived in happier times than we do. In his day he could say that anger resides in the bosom of fools. In our time it does not merely reside there—it thrives there.

The eagerness with which we seek to be angry can be seen in our motion pictures. Studios, anxious to court the “young male” market, have settled on a formula. The “hero” is an angry man, thirsting for vengeance. And—a few car chases, explosions, shootings later—he gets it. We have fallen to the point where vicarious rage fills movie theaters. We no longer call such people “fools” when the word “customer” is available.

Why do we seek such anger? It’s because we enjoy it so much. If we can enjoy our anger without getting hurt, so much the better. If it causes no pain, anger—especially self-righteous anger—is very much enjoyed. We like to think that such anger is harmless—after all, the victim is really just an image on the screen, right? True enough. But the first and greatest victim of anger is the one who is angry. Rage builds upon rage, and sooner or later it ceases to be harmless.

But do you not see that this is not a universal characteristic? It is decidedly masculine as a rule. Why is it that some men are fools and others are not?

· Some men enjoy the role of “rebel without a cause.” Without a cause, with a temper.

· Some see it in a sporting light. I get angry, everyone else rushes around, and look what fun I’m having.

· Here’s a big reason: the fool simply does not ask for, or take, good advice.

· He not only won’t take advice; he won’t examine himself.

· One common cause is this: he is the center of the universe, and loves to show off.

That last is important. The athletes of our day consider it necessary to let all others know how great they are. Is it any wonder little children have mastered “trash talk?”

There is a solid reason why anger resides in the bosom of fools. Wise men won’t have it.

Lord, give us the gift of reflecting on our anger, so that we might apply wisdom to it—and gain peace from it.

September 29

Stephen, the Martyr

Acts 7:54ff

Little is said of the character of Stephen before his death, other than this: he was a trustworthy man. Some of us are sure that we need not be diligent in small things—when the real test comes around, we’ll do fine. Stephen shows us that God has a differing view of that.

The mob provides us with a view of how the world really would like to deal with Christ and his disciples. Verbs are action words, Miss Hornbuckle said:

· “Cut to the quick” - an old expression, but it means that they felt very guilty. When the angry feel guilty, they lash out at the one who brings the message.

· “Gnashing their teeth” - a sign of that intense rage that blinds us to the truth while it commits us to action. Even if that action is murder.

· “Cried out in a loud voice” - under the general theory that he who shouts the loudest is in the right. (This may explain any number of fire and brimstone preachers.)

· “Stopped their ears” - what they heard made them feel guilty. As repentance was not an option, they shut off the message and the messenger.

· “Drove him out and killed him” - as Christ foretold, persecution and even death await his followers.

Compare the blind, furious rage of the mob with the calm serenity of Stephen. There is no sense of compromise, nor sense that he is afraid. Only one action is written of Stephen: “he gazed intently into heaven.” Turn your eyes upon Jesus; the path leads home.

Gazing? Consider his sight:

· Into heaven itself. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

· Seeing the glory of God. Our God is an awesome God; what comfort this was!

· Seeing the Son of Man standing. In his position as advocate before the Father, hearing Stephen pleading for his accusers.

Calm courage comes from seeking and seeing God.

Lord, lead us not into temptation. We ask not for Stephen’s martyrdom but for his courage, which is only found in you.

September 30

The Righteousness of God

James 1:19-20

James is an economical writer. He puts great meaning into few words, leaving the reader to puzzle out the many possibilities in those few words.

Consider, first, the phrase, “Quick to listen.”

· Above all else, should we not be quick to listen to the Word Himself? When Christ speaks we should be listening.

· Next, should we not be quick to listen to the words of the preacher in the pulpit? It is not his task to entertain you but to move you closer to Christ. Listen, and ask God to reveal His message within the message.

· We are not done with places to listen. There is the counsel of the wise. Is it not strange that most of us can identify someone we think of as wise—and listen to rather seldom?

· Listen, too, to the pleas and cares of your family. Every barbershop quartet knows that for harmony you must listen as well as sing.

· If you listen to your family, should you not also listen to your Christian family as well?

This is coupled with the phrase, “Slow to speak.”

· Consider the test of Xenocrates: Have you ever regretted opening your mouth? How often? Have you ever regretted being silent?

· As one rabbi put it, “the righteous speak little and do much.”

Which brings us to the virtue of being slow to anger. God knows that some of us are blessed with a hair trigger temper; but this is just something we inherited. God knows that; what he wants to see is just what you’ll do with it. This is why James makes it clear that the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. Therefore, we should understand that God has no reason to be pleased with your display of temper. Your temper is not something cast in stone; if you seek God’s grace and spirit this can, over time, be changed. In the meanwhile, remember that your anger does not work his righteousness. Do not come before him with excuses and explanations. Come with a contrite heart, asking him to heal you of the folly of anger.

Lord, so often the temper flares; it seems that nothing can be done. Not so; you are Lord of all—including my temper.

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