December 2009

H/T: Kevin DeYoung


[You may not identify with Thabiti Anyabwile, but then again, you might.]

Calvinist Confessions, 4

by Thabiti Anyabwile

I am a Calvinist.  I love the glorious truths of God revealed in His word.  I praise God for His mighty works in creation, redemption, and providence.  I live, I trust, for the glory of God in all things.

I am a Pharisee.  I shouldn’t be.  How can anyone claiming to be a Calvinist living for the glory of God also be a peevish, joyless, and fearful little Pharisee?  It’s a shame.  But I’m a Calvinist and I’m a Pharisee.

Narrowness for the letter and not the spirit, suspicion of joy, and fear are not the only things that make it possible for me to be a Calvinist and a Pharisee.  There is a fourth reason why these two things blend together more often than they should, and why they blend together in my heart.  Anger.

I’m an angry man.  I don’t want to project on anyone else.  This is about my heart.  But I think there’s a lot of anger among us “Reformed” types.  So much so, some of us–let me just say I–need to be sent to reform school.  No I don’t mean Westminster or some place in Scotland.  I mean we need to be sent to a school that helps us deal with our anger, that makes us “positive members of society.”  We need help.  I need help with my anger.

You don’t believe it?  I have one word for you.  “Blogs.”  That’s exhibit A for the rampant anger in Reformed circles.  What a naked display of raw and random anger splattered across the virtual world landing on anyone with a keypad.

I’ve had my part in that.  Oh, you couldn’t tell?  Or only occasionally?  You see, really, more problematic than the displays on blogs is the respectable anger I nurse.  I’m not given to loud outbursts.  If that happens, we’re at Defcon 1.  We don’t go there.  We try never to use the red phone.

But beneath the poker face lives a small volcano regularly seeping lava over the lip of its opening.  That’s in the heart.  While on the outside… the slightly reserved and seemingly dispassionate face of the Pharisee.

Anger comes in many colors.  There is red magma of violent outburst.  As I said, that’s not my style as a Pharisee.  Resentment is a kind of anger.  It’s the warm orange anger that comes from the blend of disappointment, self-righteousness, and entitlement.  The anger of stinging words wrapped in religious jargon.  There is the parakeet yellow of angry backbiting and gossip, tale bearing and kindling strife.  James tells us this is murderous.  There is the green of jealousy and evil eyes.  There is also the swooshing blue of those who run when angry.  That’s the flight response.  There is the indigo of depression, which is sometimes a symptom of deeper anger.  Next is the violet of grudges and “silent treatments.”  Then there is the icy white of “cold war” anger.  Violet is close to “cold war,” except “cold war” arms itself for more serious retaliation.  I’m a good Pharisee.  I think I hang out somewhere between violet and orange, silent anger and resentment with occasional depressive moods.  Any of these sound familiar?

Of course, resentments and silent treatments are the preferred combination because it maintains the semblance of respectability.  I am, after all, a Pharisee.  I’m wearing expensive robes, long tassels, wide phylacteries, and I sit in the best seat in the house, where I may be seen.

I know there is such a thing as righteous indignation.  I know we’re to be angry and not sin, neither let the sun set on our wrath.  But the Pharisee that I am has lost count of the sunsets.  And isn’t there a difference between righteous indignation and being indignant because our “rights” have been trampled?  Too often, I don’t always see that difference.  That’s what makes me a Pharisee.  That’s what makes me angry.

recovering pharisee

As a Pharisee, I know it’s not polite to talk about anger.  Even now, there’s the sense that admitting anger is unpleasant.  Respectable people don’t get angry.  They’re cucumber cool, calm, and collected.  But Pharisee-ism is about wearing masks that hide inner realities.  It’s about pretension and show, being seen and applauded by men.  There’s no way to stroke that beast without becoming victim to it.  The voice in my head screams, Don’t tell on us!  Don’t remove the mask! But the High and Lofty One says, “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite” (Is. 57:15).

If the truth were told, I’ve been angry for a long time.  I’ve been angry about a lot of things and angry about nothing in particular.  I grew up in an angry-sounding house.  With eight children, somebody somewhere was always angry.  I was angry when my father left the family.  I was angry when arrested as a teenager.  I was angry with “friends” who distanced themselves after my arrest.  I’ve been angry about all the “racial” mistreatment I’ve experienced.  Then I was angry that so many people denied it.  I was angry as a Muslim.  I played basketball angry–but we called it “intensity.”  I’ve been influenced at points in my life by angry men, some of them prominent political and historical figures. Worked for a while in state government, where many of the longest-serving people were simply masters of anger.  That patient, slow boil, I’ll-out-live-and-out-scheme-you-because-I’m-a-civil-servant-and-you-can’t-fire-me anger.

Would you be surprised if I told you that somewhere along the way, Anger became a companion?  Not the kind I’d walk with in public.  Most of the public can’t handle angry black men.  I’m angry about that, too.  Instead, Anger became a secret confidant.  The friend I’d call up when threatened.  The friend most ready to reassure me when I felt inadequate or insecure.  The friend that kept others at a distance or bullied them into submission.  A body guard of sorts.  I could control Anger; summon him at will.  I could justify Anger.  Someone did this or someone did that.  This was threatened or that injustice committed.  Something had to be done.  I had to strike back.  Pharisee.

There is such a thing as righteous indignation.  Absolutely.  We must oppose injustice, of course, because God uses means.  Pharisee.

God uses means, not mean people.

God is sovereign.  He even uses mean people.  Of course he does.  Pharisee.

But is that justification for your anger?  The anger of man does not work the righteousness of God.

You can control your anger.  Everyone gets angry.  ‘Tis true.  Pharisee.

Wouldn’t it be more godly to conquer your anger rather than coddle it?

I’m aware of the conquering presence of God’s Spirit in my life.  When the Lord saved me, one of the things He graciously did was rid me of so much anger.  He freed me from so much bitterness and even hatred.  It’s one Ebenezer I raise in remembrance of God’s gracious redemption.  Yet, sanctification is progressive.  He’s still working.  And the Pharisee is kicking and screaming, “Leave me this little anger!  Let me hold onto this grudge, this charge, this resentment!”  Old friends tend to stick around the longest.  They’re often the most difficult to ditch.

But I’m reminded of another Calvinist Pharisee (speaking anachronistically, of course) who did battle with his Pharisaical anger.  He writes to me: “In this [new birth, coming salvation] you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  These have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Pet. 1:6-7).  What is greater than the trials of this Pharisee’s anger?  The glories and power of my God’s salvation.

Oh Lord whose anger is holy and righteous, make us more aware of and dependent upon the great power of your salvation.  Nail afresh the sin of my anger to the cross of your wrath, that I might be freed from its power, pull, and guilt.  We need Thee every hour.  Amen.

Almighty God became incarnate – took on human flesh – and came and lived among us, submitting Him self to us, suffering at the hands of humans, and dying for the sins of those He would choose to be His children.

That’s humility.

Consider now the universe that He created by the power of His word, and which is held together by Him, this God-Man.

H/T: Justin Taylor

by Russell Moore

There’s a reason the “Cousin Eddie” character in the movie National Lampoon Christmas Vacation resonates with so many. We’ve all got a Cousin Eddie, or two, in our extended families. Some of us are Cousin Eddie. Our families weren’t designed for a televised Christmas special.

And despite the idyllic picture in Christmas cards and carol lyrics, human depravity doesn’t go (more…)

(J. R. Miller, “Miller’s Year Book–a Year’s Daily Readings”)

About that time she became sick and died. The room was filled with widows who were weeping and showing him the coats and other garments Dorcas had made for them.” Acts 9:37,39

A good many people have to die–to be appreciated. They go through the world living quietly, devoted to the interests of those who are dear to them, seeking no recognition. They are merely commonplace people, and so are allowed to love and serve without appreciation.

But one day they are missed from their accustomed place–their work on earth is done–and they are gone! Then the empty place reveals the value of the blessing they have been. In their absence, people learn for the first time–the value of the services they had been accustomed to receive from them.

by Carl Trueman

Some weeks ago a friend forwarded me a link to the blog of an American Christian academic.  Now, at the risk of protesting too much, I must stress that I don’t read blogs – I really don’t read blogs – unless, that is, they are sent to me by someone else. Sufficient to my own life is the tedium and banality contained therein; I really have no interest in compounding such with the tedium and banality contained in the lives of other people.

This blog, however, caught my eye, not so much for the specific post to which I had been referred, but because, as I glanced in boredom at (more…)

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