The Danger of Anger

Numbers 20:1-13

The potential for anger to destroy our plans and dreams comes through very clearly in the above story. God gave Moses straightforward instructions about how to call water from a rock for the thirsty Israelites. Instead, in his frustration, Moses whacked the rock twice with his staff, making a self-righteous declaration in the process.

God provided the life-giving water anyway, but Moses’ harsh action cost him the opportunity to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land.

Moses had reasons to be angry. The people were stubborn and ungrateful, and no doubt he grew tired, listening to their complaints day after day. Today, we might say he needed to vent.

Such emotions cannot get the better of us, however. It is an easy thing for anger to cause us to focus on our baser desires (“I’ll show them”) rather than God’s plan, and in such moments we make ourselves into idols.

If I’m preaching right now, I’m preaching to myself more than anyone else. I know how my own self-righteous anger can distract and confuse me, particularly if I’m tired or feeling betrayed in some way. (You might be surprised how often pastors feel tired and even betrayed.)

My solutions are almost kindergarten simple. First, recognize what’s rising up inside. Breathe; take a time-out. When the emotion subsides, pray for guidance about how to inject some grace into the situation.

No doubt, at least 50 people who know me and are reading this can cite examples of when I failed. And they would be right. Managing anger is part of the human experience, and I am quite human.

The trick is to not let anger destroy our plans and dreams. We should never let anger position us in such a way that we never fully recover.

If you find yourself going down that path, get help. Talk to a pastor or a counselor, someone rooted in Christian concepts of grace and forgiveness, before it’s too late.

Lord, when we are red-hot with anger, hose us down with that peace that passes all understanding. Amen.

The Donkey Said What?

The Rev. Chuck Griffin remains on vacation through Sept. 20, but LifeTalk goes on. Devotionals this week are repeats, items written in the early days of the pandemic while he was pastor of Luminary United Methodist Church.

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Okay, funny story, or at least I think it’s funny. I’m almost afraid to attempt humor these days—who knows what might happen between my clicking this blog’s “publish” button and sunrise—but I need to think about something funny.

You know the one about Balaam and his donkey, in Numbers 22? First of all, if you were raised on the King James Version of the story, your Sunday school teacher, without the slightest smile, likely referred to the story as “Balaam’s Ass,” or even “Balaam’s Talking Ass.”

When you are 12, that alone is funny.

So anyway, without going into a lot of background, Balaam was a prophet who displeased God by saddling his donkey and heading on a journey, apparently with improper intent in his heart.

“God’s anger was kindled because he was going, and the angel of the Lord took his stand in the road as his adversary,” we are told in Numbers 22:22. “Now he was riding on the donkey, and his two servants were with him. The donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road, with a drawn sword in his hand; so the donkey turned off the road, and went into the field; and Balaam struck the donkey, to turn it back onto the road.”

Now, I should clarify, beating an animal is wrong. That is not the funny part.

Also, the donkey gave as good as he got. When the angel cornered Balaam and his donkey in a narrow part of the vineyard where the donkey had strayed, the donkey hugged the nearest wall, scraping Balaam’s foot in the process. The move did win the donkey another whack, though.

Finally, confronted by a heavily armed angel that only he could see, the donkey lay down under Balaam. Picture that, if you can.

Donkeys are typically short beasts of burden; most people riding them can almost touch the ground with their feet. When the donkey went prone, Balaam either had to remain standing, a reluctant donkey between his feet, or remain seated, his knees near his shoulders.

Once again, Balaam whacked the donkey.

The Lord intervened, allowing the donkey to speak. (This causes me to wonder if our pets have a lot to say, but just no means to say it.) “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” the donkey brayed.

Balaam, apparently so distressed that he forgot he was talking to a donkey, said, “Because you have made a fool of me! I wish I had a sword in my hand! I would kill you right now!”

The donkey replied, “Am I not your donkey, which you have ridden all your life to this day? Have I been in the habit of treating you this way?” Balaam admitted the situation was unusual.

At this point, God allowed Balaam to see an irate angel, sword still in hand, standing before him. The angel berated him for beating the donkey, noted that if the donkey had not turned aside, Balaam would be dead, and gave Balaam precise instructions regarding what he was to do.

Scripture does not record the rest of the donkey’s story, but I’m guessing he got a heaping helping of oats later in the day.

The lessons here are pretty simple. We don’t always fully grasp how God is at work. God can use any part of his creation to accomplish his will.

Also, if you’re stuck at home with pets of any kind, don’t be surprised at their behavior if you start sinning. Yowling, barking or talking—well, anything’s possible.

Lord, keep us mindful of your will, and may we watch for the signs you give us. Amen.

Means of Grace, Day 1

By Chuck Griffin
Editor, LifeTalk

Acts 1:8 (NLT): “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.”

In my Sunday sermon at Holston View United Methodist Church, I mentioned what are sometimes called the “means of grace.” That’s a very Methodist phrase for spiritual practices that create an encounter with God.

An encounter with God should bring about very positive change, of course. I would compare the offer God is making us to a rich man saying, “Any time you come to the corner of Church and Clonce streets, I will give you a bag of cash.” We likely would go to that obscure intersection quite often.

God is offering us much more, saying, “Meet me in these spiritual practices, and I will mold you for eternal life, letting you experience its joy now.” All the cash on the planet cannot match the value of eternal life! If we can better grasp what is being offered, we will regularly engage in these spiritual practices.

John Wesley talked about many different ways we can encounter God, but I’m going to focus the rest of the week on what he called “works of piety.” We will begin with the tremendous impact Scripture can have on our lives.

Paul told a young pastor in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.” And Paul was referencing just the Old Testament—remember, as he wrote this letter, he was creating an early piece of what would become the New Testament.

Bibles used to be hard to come by, but that’s no longer true in our digital culture. We can carry multiple translations on our phones, and if you have a little trouble reading—for example, I have friends with dyslexia—there are audio versions.

We also need to be sure we are working from a plain-English translation we can understand. Again, there are many options. I’m particularly fond of the New Living Translation, and Bible Gateway will let you explore a huge list of translations.

With all the resources we have available, encountering God in Scripture mostly is about taking time out of our too-busy lives.

The Bible is a library, meaning you cannot read it the way you would read a novel, but if you’ve never read it from start to finish, I would encourage you to do so. It helps to start with the big picture, understanding the library and its broad themes. Read just three chapters a day, and you’ll finish in a little more than a year. Don’t get bogged down on the lists, like the census data in the Book of Numbers. Where necessary, skim!

You will walk away with a deeper understanding of some basic truths. God is our creator. Creation rebelled by sinning, rejecting God’s will. God loves his creation so much, however, that he began to work to restore us, despite our sins. Through a particular people, the Israelites, a savior eventually came into the world, God among us in flesh. He died to free us from sin, and then rose from the dead to prove his victory. The Spirit of God sustains us now, until such time as God completes his work and we are restored to him in full.

Once you have those concepts in mind, you can dive into the individual books and letters, developing a deeper understanding of these life-changing truths. We are talking about a lifetime of study—you just keep going deeper and deeper.

It does take a little work to learn to process Scripture. The chapter numbers and verse numbers, which are not in the original manuscripts, make the Bible look like a book full of rules to be cited, but don’t be misled. There are powerful stories and mysteries to meditate upon. God wants to use all of Scripture to reach deep within our souls, helping us understand there’s so much more to life than what we simply have experienced.

It also is good to come alongside more experienced Christians. Find a small group of people committed to continuing the great traditions of the church as they delve into the gift God has given us all.

The other means of grace we will consider this week are prayer, fasting, the Lord’s Supper, and participation in the life of the church. Stay with me this week. I pray we will see how all of this comes together to give us a much fuller experience of God.

Lord, may your word work in us in new ways, making us better equipped to be citizens of your eternal kingdom. Amen.