The Right Kind of Rightness

Good morning and welcome to Journey Church. My name is Phil Human and I’m the lead pastor here. Journey started more than seven years ago with a desire to help people to connect or reconnect with a God who deeply cares about them. And the deal is that no matter where you are on your journey, or where you are coming from, there is a place for you here as you discover the stunning life available to us through faith in Jesus.

Now if this is your first time here there are a couple of things that will help you get to know those around you. the first thing is this church enjoys a good donut. And for the first time since May we are going to have some in between services. And that’s going to be a big deal.

The other thing I notice about Journey, and I think I’ve come to the realization that it’s a Gretna thing, is that this town loves fireworks. I mean this town has like 12 fireworks tents all over town in order to meet the pressing demand – the thirst for things to blow up. We have one grocery store. And like 12 fireworks tent.

So I thought I’d start this morning with a litmus test to see if you will like Journey. It’s a montage of things getting blown up by m-80’s – and it’s available in stunning hi-def slow motion photography.

Want to see a video of a coke can getting blown up? I do!
Want to see an orange blowing up? I do!
Want to see eggs taped to an m-80 get blown up? Bring it! (This is your brain on the fourth of July standing in line to buy fireworks)
Want to see a minion chew toy getting blown up? I do!
This morning we are going to be talking about anger. And though it might be funny to watch a minion blow up – it’s never funny to be around someone who explodes in anger. And some of you are probably more like that minion than you want to admit – you are smoldering with anger. You have a short fuse – it doesn’t take all that much and boom!

Interestingly – when we talk about angry people in our language we often use words that sound like we are talking about fireworks – we say things like, that guy has a short fuse. We say that person is a hothead! Or that person has become uncorked! Or popped his top, or she blew a gasket! He went ballistic.

Anger is one of the most fundamental problems of life. If there were a periodic table for elemental problems with humanity – anger would be right near the chart – like helium – (I’m trying to reach out to you science nerds – you angry science nerds – by making the point.

The point is that if God is going to create a new kind of human, then something has to be done about anger. There has to be a way to remove anger from being a staple in the emotional diet of mankind.

You can’t be a new kind of human if you stay angry. That’s an old kind of human. Anger makes you a clone. You are just like every other angry person out there.

Anger isn’t new. It’s been around since the beginning of mankind. And it has been wrecking havoc in families, in lives, in humanity since day one.

There’s a story in Genesis chapter 4, which is like, one chapter after God creates mankind, where Adam and Eve have two sons, Cain and Abel. And Cain gets angry with God because he got called out by God for doing to wrong thing. We don’t even know exactly what the wrong thing that Cain did – we always want to know – well, it seems like Cain has a point. Who’s God to tell him he’s wrong?

The point is that Cain responds in anger – but not toward God – no he is angry with his goody two shoes little brother Abel who got a pat on the back from God for doing right.

So Cain becomes Angry.

Cain was very angry, and he looked dejected.
6 “Why are you so angry?” the Lord asked Cain. “Why do you look so dejected?
7 You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.”

Spoiler alert: 8 One day Cain suggested to his brother, “Let’s go out into the fields.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother, Abel, and killed him.

If Jesus is going to create a new kind of human out of us he has got to do something about our anger – because anger has been wrecking lives since Genesis chapter 4.

But – good news! I have some good news! Jesus is able to transform us – yes he is. He can change any of us for the good. He can remove anger as a staple -goto – reaction from our emotional diet.

Have you ever heard this term? Ever see someone – like I remember seeing Mohammad Ali towards the end of his life and hearing an announcer say something to the effect of, that he was just a shadow of his former self. Well, this week I head an author say that when we place our faith in Jesus, we are right now, a shadow of our future self.

We are a shadow right now of what God is transforming and changing us into. And there is hope for you today that one day in the future you will look back to these days today and say I was a shadow then of who I am now.

There is hope for transformation. Jesus delivers us from a dead and boring angry clone life. He can, he does, he will work on the inside of us to create a new kind of Human.

The promise of transformation is what the Sermon on the Mount is all about. It is the great promise of a remanufactured life.

This is one of the most important sermons ever delivered. It is within this Sermon that Jesus sets out to answer the questions that all of the philosophers through history have tried to answer.

If you are skeptical about Jesus – I am proposing that He is the greatest teacher, wisest philosopher who has ever lived. Since he is God in the flesh, Jesus knows the answers to all of life’s hardest questions. And in these three chapters in Matthew we find them. For instance, Jesus answers the question:

1. What is reality? God and the Kingdom of Heaven. We live in a God soaked world. Jesus invites us to join in the real world over and over again when he preaches – I have good news about an alternative Kingdom where God rules and reigns, Repent – meaning turn around, and walk into it. As Paul puts it in Acts 17:28, “For in Him we live and move and exist.”

2. Who is blessed? (Who has the good life?)  Anyone who has made the decision to walk into the Kingdom of God through faith in Jesus. The point of the beatitudes is that even you are blessable. Even people who presently feel they are somehow shut out of the Kingdom because of their past. The shocking part of this good news was to hear Jesus explaining to the religious leaders that drunks and prostitutes were entering the Kingdom ahead of them. Why? Because they were making a decision to turn their lives a different direction by placing their confidence in Jesus’ ability to govern their lives.

3. Who is a really good person?  We began to answer this question last week –
Shocker of shockers – it wasn’t the people who never did anything wrong. Just because you do nothing wrong, doesn’t make you a good person.

Jesus explained that unless our rightness surpassed the rightness of the Pharisees, we would never see the Kingdom of Heaven. 20 “But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!

What does Jesus mean? He means that there is a wrong kind of rightness. And the Pharisees were all about the wrong kind of rightness.

Here’s a cartoon version of the religious leaders of Jesus day, Rabbi’s called pharisees. And on the other side we will put up Jesus. Obviously!

Both of them are Rabbis. Both obey the letter of the law flawlessly. Remember Jesus said that it wasn’t the problem with the law. Jesus didn’t come to overturn it, he came to show what a life looks like who is changed by God.

So what was wrong about the Pharisee’s kind of rightness? It was based soley on the idea that “I am right because I haven’t done wrong”

So they devoted themselves to parsing out every possible kind of sin and not doing those sins. Which sounds commendable – until you see what was produced by this kind of rightness. You got as a result an – Externally focused, Rules driven, judgmental, condescending. Exclusive. Comparative. Religion. Get your act together or you will never be accepted. And the problem was – it was more than anything else, an act.

Their kind of rightness produced quite a show for the world to see, but it also created uncaring, unloving hearts of stone.

And to be fair to the Pharisees of Jesus day, this wasn’t a new thing. Which is why as far back as the book of Ezekiel – some 600 years earlier, had prophesied that a day will come when God will do a new work – and God promised

Ezekiel 36:26 And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.

Jesus on the other hand, is going to introduce the right kind of rightness. And that is the rightness that comes when God takes our heart and recreates in us a tender, responsive heart. Internally focused, relationally based, a new heart that overflows with love, joy and peace and as a result blesses the broken world in which we live.

Through faith in Jesus we undergo a renovation of our heart that results in a new kind of Human. The kind of human who loves others.

Jesus tells us he wants to turn us into the kind of people who others thank God are in their life. We ordinary people become the salt of life – we make life taste better.

Hard to imagine – that another might pray a prayer of thanksgiving to God and say – thank you for including you in their life. Not for our glory, but for God’s. They raise our father in heaven.

Now THAT is a different kind of rightness. And THIS is what God is up to. And Jesus knows that in order for this to become a reality he has got to deal with our anger.

And what Jesus is going to do is show us how powerless the wrong kind of rightness is to deal with anger – and then he is going to describe the right kind of rightness in relation to anger.

So let’s turn to Matthew 5 and read, and see what Jesus means.

21 “You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ 22 But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.

Okay – in your bible you can put a bracket around this paragraph and write, “The wrong kind of right”

Here’s what Jesus is doing – he is saying – its not enough to simply not murder someone. Because you are still left with a heart that is filled with anger and rage.

A few words about anger. First, what is anger?
Anger is a feeling that arises to alert me that something or someone is obstructing my will. Just last night we were sitting around a little campfire in my neighbor’s driveway and he was telling all of us about the frustration of driving home. He said, “I was in a rush to get home and wouldn’t you know it I got stuck behind this guy driving exactly 75 miles an hour in the left lane.” And you know what everyone did? We all went! Ugh! That’s the worst. What a moron! The audacity to drive the speed limit. And I’m not judging him – that is the worst that guy really is a moron – I mean you want to drive the speed limit get in the right lane with the trucks.

Anger is an emotional response – someone is obstructing my way – someone is impeding my will.

Is this the case for you? When was the last time you got angry? Wasn’t it because someone insulted your kingdom? No – it was because my kids didn’t do what I told them to do! (Tap on nose) You mean one of your subjects is unruly!

The unspoken prayer of every angry clone in human existence is “My will be done!” And if not! Exploding Minion time!

And that’s the problem. Anger in it’s initial breath of life is not in itself sinful. It’s what we do with our anger. And far too often we do the wrong thing with it.

Back to Cain and Abel. Was Cain’s initial feeling of anger sinful? Not necessarily – but what does he do with it? Does he take it to God and say, help me be the kind of person who can receive correction without blowing a gasket?

No, instead, he uses his anger as an excuse to hurt someone else. He uses his anger to justify his actions. And this is why anger is so very damaging – anger always feels justified in the moment. It always feels like you have every reason to explode in anger. Who would argue?

But the results of anger are catastrophic.

When I was a kid, there was a show on every Saturday called “Creature Feature” and it was always like black and white horror shows – the innocent kinds – like frankenstein and the creature from the black Lagoon – that show was the greatest show ever.

But one thing those movies introduced us to was a fascination with something that showed up often in those movies – something called quicksand. It was fascinating to us to imagine stepping into something that could just suck you down into the depths of the earth.

Anger is like quicksand. It sucks you down to the depths of human depravity. t causes us to wish harm on others. And our anger usually results in more anger back toward us, that often escalates. Anger is like quicksand to a soul – it will suck you down to the depths and it can be very difficult to escape.

There is a wonderful progression here Jesus starts with Anger – if you are angry – trouble for you because God sees what’s really going on and he sees that, if you could be sure you’d get away with it you would probably injure the person who injured you. And that’s not the kingdom life Jesus came to deliver us into. That’s not the abundant life. A life that has just enough self control to not kill another.

And the progression is that anger, if left unresolved, turns into contempt. And Jesus uses the word “Raca.” And what Raca is is that gutteral sound that one makes when they get ready to hock a loogie at someone.

Was that just a north east thing? I remember in our neighborhood we had a bunch of kids and we were fighting with each other all the time – but we knew things were about to get real when one of the kids would make that sound. People ran! Right? Because spitting on another human being is like the worst kind of contempt. Utter hatred, worthless human being!

Well then Jesus says, there is even one more level to descend to and that is when you find the person so contemptible that you can only utter profanities. And unfortunately there is no shortage of course phrases to describe that person you feel has wronged you.

And at the end of the day you have internally, degraded another person as less than human. In this short paragraph Jesus exposes the wrong kind of rightness. See? I’ve never killed anyone therefore I am a righteous person.

Instead, Jesus is going to illustrate the right kind of rightness. It’s a heart that has become so responsive and tender that it recognizes and responds to the leading of the Holy Spirit. It’s this kind of heart…

23 “So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, 24 leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.

The right kind of rightness? Is the kind of person who might be involved in something that is very meaningful to them, even God honoring. They are in a worship service, or they are praying, when God prompts their tender and responsive heart to the fact that Johnny has a problem with you.

In this case, it’s not that you have a problem with Johnny, it’s that you become aware that someone else is burning up with anger towards you.

And you know, there isn’t any lay of blame here. It doesn’t say that they are rightfully angry, or that you have wronged them. To this person’s tender and right kind of heart, it doesn’t matter. It bothers you – not that they are upset with you – it bothers you because you know it’s eating them up. They are sinking in quicksand thinking about you.

So you go and do what you can to release them from whatever it is that is bothering them. Why? Because you love them enough that you want them to be freed from the quicksand of their anger toward you.

Now let’s talk about the very difficult application of this text to our lives. And it’s truly difficult, though at first glance it would seem obvious. But the obvious thing here is not the main point. And in fact might work against the big idea.

The tempting thing would be to say, so, is there anyone in your life that has something against you? Go right now and make it right. And I would be adding another law for you to follow in order to achieve the wrong kind of rightness.

In other words, you can obey Jesus here and go and do what he says, but still have a hateful heart. And then we fall back into the wrong kind of rightness – this idea where we feel pretty good about ourselves for doing the right thing, even though inside the who time we were wishing that person we were reconciling with would die.

For me to make that the application would be to undermine the big idea. Jesus is not adding another law that we must obey to be liked by God. He is not adding yet another thing for the pharisees to totally be great at – with their stoney hearts.

The big picture is allowing God to transform our hearts so that we naturally are responsive to God’s leading.

It goes back to that third question that Jesus is answering on this sermon on the mount. Who is a really good person? And the answer is – a person overflowing with love for God and love for their neighbor. It’s a person overflowing with selfless love.

Jesus came to deliver us into this kind of life. Jesus came to unleash this kind of heart inside of the willing. He came to ignite – not the short fuse of your anger.

Jesus came to ignite the Kingdom heart – one that is overflowing with love – to make us the kind of human who actually cares about people and love them instead of killing them with our hatred.

And in it’s place he will give us a heart that loves.

So how do we apply this lesson? By answering that fourth great philosophical question – 4. How do you become a really good person?  Surrendering your will and life to Jesus. Daily. Moment by moment. Receiving from God His will for our life – with complete and utter trust that he knows what is best for us.

So if you are struggling with anger this week- here are some things you can do to help you surrender to God’s will.

1. Pray a surrendering prayer each morning when you get up. Jesus gives us a great example within the Sermon on the mount. Thy will be done. Memorize the Lord’s prayer and pray it before you get out of bed to remind your soul that His will is the will that prevails in your life today.

Begin to train your soul that it doesn’t have to have it’s way. You can’t always get what you want. Listen to the Rolling Stones.

2. Look for training camp opportunities. It’s football season – as so football players have been going through training camp. Running drills and plays so that when game time comes they have practiced – they know how to respond.

Well, when it comes to a transformed heart – we are going to look for training camp opportunities.

Some of these situations will come from God himself – small, minor irritants.
You may be inclined to put yourself in some situations that would normally frustrate you. Waiting for your kids to come of school and they are in there gabbing it up? Keep a sharp eye out for the minor irritations that you can begin to let go of.
Purposefully don’t share your opinion unless someone asks you to share it. This is really hard for me. But how will the world know I am brilliant unless I share!? Shhhh. The world will get along fine. Relax.

3. Be open to the idea of talking with a counselor.
4. Don’t beat yourself up for stumbles. But don’t you dare quit cooperating with the Lord in the process.

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