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Part 18

16 Jun 2021

Matthew 5:21-26

This is hallmark Sermon on the Mount stuff this, Jesus’ classic “you have heard it said, now I say to you” statements.

Reading this time though, it feels like Jesus has really pulled a bait and switch on His hearers as well as on us.

“You have heard it said… you shall not murder, and whoever murders will be liable to judgement”.

You can imagine the crowd nodding their heads in agreement and murmuring their approval.. We nod along too, don’t we. “No arguments here Jesus, murder bad. We should hold those awful sinners accountable for their detestable actions.

But wait… there’s more.

“But I say to you that everyone who is angry at his brother will be liable to judgement”.

Whoah! Hold the phone. What??

Did Jesus really just put an angry person on par with someone who commits murder?


But who hasn’t been angry - exactly.

“But that means me, surely He can’t possibly mean me… does He?”

Anger is like a cancer that eats away at your heart. It taints your attitudes to everything, the way you see yourself, the way you see the world, and as such it impacts and even drives your actions. In short anger breeds hatred bitterness, self-righteousness, a victimhood mentality, and a thirst for justice to be done, for that person to get what they deserve. For everyone to see that I was justified in my anger and to be publicly vindicated.

Anger taints everything including our worship.

This again brings to mind the relational nature of the Gospel and the Christian worldview as a whole. Our relationships, how we relate to others, are an integral aspect of our worship before God.

This of course should be obvious to us, after all, think of Jesus teaching on the greatest commandment, to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself.

Our relationships are integral to our worship. Remember the parable of the Good Samaritan?

Anger taints our relationships and as such taint our worship.

A few years back I went through a prolonged period of some pretty intense battles, which included a High Court battle with TVNZ and a well known documentary maker, several confrontations with churches, being ambushed at conferences, as well as a sharp disagreement with a professor from a Christian educational facility.

Many of those battles were around my stance on the nature of truth, and I was often attacked by individuals, groups, and the professor, at Churches, and at conferences, publicly, and by email. On more that one occasion I was invited to speak as an ambush so that the inviting group could attack me with regards to my view.

Apparently I am one of those antiquated modernist thinkers, a relic of the past who still believes in things like objective truth. We now know better than to believe such foolishness, we’re all post-modernists now you see. Or so the story goes.

Anyway, this period of time culminated in a very public and painful disagreement with the Pastor of a church I was attending.

After completing my studies at Wycliffe Hall in Oxford England, Jodie’s Dad was diagnosed with cancer. The prognosis wasn’t great, and the doctors didn’t believe that he had long to live, perhaps a few months.

We rushed back to New Zealand to be with my father in law in Christchurch so that we could spend whatever time he had left with him. Turns out that we had three years in Christchurch before he passed away.

After he died, Jodie and I took our son, who was a toddler at the time, and moved south, to Dunedin. Jodie and I had met there and lived in the city through the time we were dating and for the first year of our marriage. It was also my home from the time I was in my teens.

We were part of a local church there, however, I was travelling regularly as a speaker in those days, spending a good deal of time on the road somewhere around the country or through Asia and Australia. As such, I wasn’t exactly in regular attendance at the church, and not as much a part of the congregation as Jodie and our kids were (our little girl was born in Dunedin around that time).

After a period of time, the leadership of the church approached me and asked if I would speak in the Sunday morning service as there was a leadership retreat on and the pulpit would need covered. Of course, I agreed.

I spoke that morning from Ephesians chapter 1. My theme was ‘The Gospel - To the Praise of His Glorious Grace”.

The sermon was well received by those who were there, however, the Pastor of the church was less than impressed.

As I was mostly itinerant at that time, I had never had a chance to sit down with the Pastor and get to know him at any level. I had tried to arrange a coffee meeting with him on numerous occasions, however we had never made anything stick. You can then imagine my surprise when the next time I was in a Sunday service he asked if I’d be free to catch up for coffee.

We set a time, date, and venue, and I duly arrived expecting to have the meet and greet and getting to know you session that I’d been trying to organise for some time.

Our time together began by me asking him lots of questions about his family, life, experiences, all the stuff you would expect to ask of someone you were there to get to know for the first time.

In due course, when my rate of questions had slowed and there was a gap in the conversation, the Pastor slammed his Bible down on the table in front of me and proceeded to go after me with regards to the content of my sermon.

His particular issue was not so important as what happened next.

After laying down some challenges for me with questions he wanted me to consider, I went away and sought some advice from some trusted advisers. I gave them audio copies of the talk as well as the questions that the Pastor was asking of me and the challenges he made against me.

The fact is that the Pastor and I had very different, irreconcilable theological positions. We met for a follow up discussion and talked more, however, we were too far apart in our positions to allow us to come to an agreement.

In response to our discussion, the Pastor changed his entire preaching programme for the summer and spent the next several weeks attacking me from the pulpit. He never used my name publicly, however, all in attendance knew what was happening. It very nearly caused the church to split.

Jodie was sitting in the pews each week weeping at the pain of the attacks being levelled against me and it was painfully clear that we could not remain as a part of that congregation, so we left.

After the battles I had been through, this was a bridge too far for me. I was argy, furious actually, as well as worn out.

One Sunday night I told Jodie that I was going to go for a walk and I headed down to a local beach which was in walking distance from our home.

I stood there in the sand and let God have it. I did my best Jeremiah, you know, ‘it would’ve been better had I not been born!’. I even gave it some Elijah ‘I am the last of the prophets’.

I was angry and poured out my rage Godward. However, instead of the comforting word from God and promises of imminent rewards in compensation for my suffering in faithfulness, I heard God say “The sin is yours.”

That was not at all what I was expecting to hear, that’s for sure.

“What’s that supposed to mean? Didn’t you see the way I was treated?”

The Lord answered me that He had, and that I had indeed been treated badly, but He also pointed out that the Pastor was His to deal with. I had however, allowed those experiences to rob me of the joy of serving the Lord in His ministry - the sin was mine.

He was right, of course. My anger had led me to bitterness and had tainted everything, including my worship. The sin was mine.

I left the beach that night having been freed from something. He had set me free from my anger, bitterness, resentment, and my need for justice. I rejoiced in the Lord because of it.

You will too.

Devotional Study Part 3

10 Mar 2021

  Mark 1:14-20.   Jesus comes out of the wilderness experience and comes to Galilee preaching the Gospel with power and authority. He then calls His disciples.   What has this to do with overcoming the flesh you might well ask? I did, however, I think it is important.... continue reading...

Fragmented Lives, Fragmented Hearts: Who, Where, Why Part 2

18 Mar 2013

  ‘Post-Modernism breaks up lives!’   Sounds like a radical headline, but the reality is that it’s true. Think with me for a minute. In today’s world we are a people driven from pillar to post by the demands of life.... continue reading...

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