Congregation on Call
FIRST GLIMPSE: Flying Under a Different Banner
The property catches my attention every morning on the way to work. A simple, country cottage with white shiplap siding framed against a grove of trees. Nothing remarkable there. I pass a dozen similar places during my commute.
What grabs my attention are the signs. Banners, flags, and streamers fill every available space. Hanging from the trees, lining the porch, and fluttering in the breeze down the length of the split-rail fence.
Each sign screams to be noticed. Angry political slogans. Expressions of dissatisfaction with the state of the country. An old van parked out front bearing a hand-lettered, profanity-laced rant on each side. And to top it off, a larger-than-life Uncle Sam sits perched on an old toilet in the middle of the yard. Every inch of the property communicates simmering rage.
The homeowner is not alone, though more uninhibited than most. The country is angry. And Christians are not immune.
Last week, my wife and I had lunch with a career missionary who recently returned to the U.S. She expressed her struggle to readjust to American culture this visit. When I asked what had changed, she responded immediately, “Everybody is so concerned about defending their own point of view. They are just so angry. This is a different country than the one I left.”
I get it. A pandemic stretching into three years. A nation split right down the middle on political and social issues. Centuries of unresolved racial tension at a tipping point. Inflation at a 40-year high. And the current price of gas! It’s the perfect, anger-producing storm.
But the storm shouldn’t come from us. Christians, that is.
Don’t get me wrong. Anger has its place. Jesus Himself made that clear. Anger at sin. Anger at injustice. Anger at the abuse of the helpless and marginalized. Anger at religious hypocrisy. All are acceptable objects of anger.
But we must be careful not to cross the line to selfish anger. Anger that feeds the sin-beast within. Anger that puts self at the center of the universe. Anger that places our own needs, preferences, and wants before others. That type of anger is simply not biblical.
Instead, our lives should offer a contrast. And the raging world around us presents a perfect opportunity. In John 13:35, Jesus told his disciples they would fly under a different banner. “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”
“But that was then,” someone protests.
True. Roman occupation and oppression. Taxes far beyond anything Americans have ever experienced. Poverty. Violence. Racial and socio-economic division. Thoroughly corrupt religious and political institutions. First century Judea was no picnic either.
So how do we move from anger to love? Truthfully, it types easier than it lives. Recall the simple acronym many of us learned as kids at church camp or VBS: J-O-Y. Jesus first, others second, and our own needs last. Simple, yes. But sometimes so hard. Yet, this simple formula squashes explosive anger.
I wish I could say I always live the J-O-Y way. I don’t. But I should. And you should, too. Let’s work together to change the angry face of the church to reflect the loving face of our Savior. That’s the face the world needs to see.
About the Columnist: Eric K. Thomsen is managing editor of ONE Magazine.