Normal

In the Bible there is a tension that surrounds the word “normal”.  Moses stretched out his hand and the Red Sea returned to normal after the previously enslaved people of God escaped on the dry path which was created by the winds sent by God to hold back walls of water.  It was good that the sea had not been normal.  Then it was good that it became normal again.  Normal then meant that the enemy was crushed by the closing path (Exodus 14:27).  On the other hand, Jesus said to a man with a withered hand, stretch it out, and it returned to normal (Matthew 12:13).  Normal was good.  Abraham’s misguided and unfaithful answer to God’s promise resulted in the birth of a son who was born the normal way while Isaac was “born because of the promise of God” (Galatians 4:23).  In the Old Testament world, for a lamb to qualify to be sacrificed to the Lord it must be normal (Leviticus 22:23 NCV).  It was anything but a normal day when the sun stood still for Joshua’s army and did not set in its normal way that day (Joshua 10:13 NLT).  Because of the evil ways of humanity God adjusted the normal life span to be much shorter than what was normal before (Genesis 6:3). This was the “new normal” and it was not better.  David did not do what kings normally did in his day and ended out yielding to temptation resulting in great grief (2 Samuel 11:1 NLT).  Ezra lamented how abnormal Jerusalem had been in its history (Ezra 4:19 NLT).  Daniel reported that King Nebuchadnezzar repented, and then his mental health returned to normal (Daniel 4:34).  He had been acting like an ox and looked like a scraggly bird instead of a normal human being (Daniel 4:33).  Normally it took eleven days to travel from Mt. Sinai to Kadesh-barnea; but it took the Israelites forty years because of their sin.  Back and forth, normal is good and normal is bad.  

Ecclesiastes 3 is a commentary on what is normal, and normal is not always constructive (3:1-8).  The wise king’s solution is this, “God wants all people to eat and drink and be happy in their work, which are gifts from God” (3:13); but Ecclesiastes is a lament about how despairing life is in that whatever you do seems to make no lasting difference (3:18-22).  

In telling us what the gospel is and testifying about how his life was changed by it, the Apostle Paul wrote.  “Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I saw him” (1 Corinthians 15:9).  The translators of the New Century Version render it this way, “Last of all he was seen by me – as by a person not born at the normal time.”  Paul is illustrating the fact that he witnessed the resurrected Jesus at a time well after the eyewitnesses saw Jesus during the forty-day period before His ascension into Heaven.  He is comparing it to a late birth.  The pregnancy lasted beyond the expected birth date.  He didn’t come as soon as he should have.  Nevertheless, he witnessed the resurrected Jesus anyway.  It did not matter when he was born.

The idea of a state of being that is ideally normal is overrated.  There is no ideal normal unless normal can be used to identify a life that is squarely lived one day at the time, day by day, yielded to the guidance of Jesus.  One day that may mean that I am open to being directed to a path that is different from the one I traveled yesterday.  Another day that may mean that I travel the same path.  One day it may mean that things are different and the next day things may be the same.  Every day, I seek guidance from Jesus and follow in the direction that God guides.  Whatever condition that God grants for me, I offer thanks.  

“Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in everything; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Don’t stifle the Spirit.”  1 Thessalonians 5:16-19 CSB

Stephen Williams

A Drive to Church

The little buds and tiny leaves on the trees in the Spring are just small enough to allow the sunlight to flood all around their surface.  Bursting with virgin life, the forest barely hinders the beams from following their natural path through the tree.  They flash across my windshield.  Just like in winter when limbs are bare except for the residue of dark crispy brown blades of deterioration, you can see right through.  

There are always buzzards crowding the edge of the roadway.  Before being torn down and just before falling down, an old one room school house open to the elements had become their home and early in the morning they would be sitting in single file waiting to leave the blackboards for the cafeteria.  Among them were the elders ready to lead off on the next field trip.  

The alabaster dogwoods randomly dot the tangled labyrinth of bramble.  The purple iris and buttercup decorate an orphaned homestead now shrouded by a thicket.  The sinking pools left from Winter’s flooding is frequented by long-legged waterfowl fishing for stranded chow.  Deer graze in herds like Angus in the pasture.  Some have escaped their fences and glare me down as my truck passes them on the edge of disaster.  Sadly some lie waiting for the sleepy occupants of the schoolhouse down the road.  

A fat crow sits on a fence post daydreaming in the warmth of the sunrise.  A snake has located a spot outside the shadows where it hides in the evening to warm itself.  An owl clocks out from the night shift and quiets itself for a day of rest.  Nocturnal critters evacuate into their hidden havens of safety.  Morning songs fill the vacancy left by the orchestra of night bugs blaring their crescendos to forte blast.  On a front porch we pass, an old hound settles down for its long nap and a cat tired from chasing mice snuggles into a cushion on an old rocking chair in the shade. 

God said, “Let the earth produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds.” And it was so.  Then God said, “Let the earth produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that crawl, and the wildlife of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. (Genesis 1:11 & 24). 

LORD, our Lord, how magnificent is your name throughout the earth! (Psalm 8:1).

Stephen Williams

A Minute

My next-door neighbor offered me fifty cents an hour.  I suggested he ought to pay sixty cents so it would be easy for me to figure out how much he owed me at the end of the day — a penny a minute.  He smiled at the suggestion and agreed; and my first earnings came at a place where journeys end.  He owned the newest Haywood County, Tennessee cemetery, Memorial Gardens.  My first endeavors did not go down in the history books.  I remember filling a small lake at the gardens with a long four-inch black pipe.  It took days.  I was amazed at how long it took.   We watched and I earned a penny a minute.

My neighbor also owned a share in a camp house on the end of a lingering and winding rutted road.  Driving for the first time ever, and pulling his trailer which was perched on top of a single wheel, I learned that it is more comfortable to steer in the ruts rather than in and out and bouncing up and down and all around.  The tract was on a remote neck of woods that reached deep into a low forest spotted with dirty sloughs chock full of trapped catfish.  When the flood waters receded in the spring, those bottom feeders ended out hunting in the shallows of their new summer homes, now still-water prisons shared with venomous Water Moccasins.  They were separated from the large lakes where duck congregated unaware of spying hunter’s keeping vigil in tree-blinds camouflaged by bamboo harvested from the dense watershed.  My duties included gathering this foliage from the thicket to cloak the sportsman’s perch we placed in a tree overlooking the shimmering lake.  We carried the boards on our backs over leaf covered trails and loaded the bamboo on our shoulders as we hoisted them into the high limbs.  

On each trip to the bottoms we set up our homestead by sweeping the hard and bare ground which remained sheltered from the sun as if it were the open floor of a town hall.  Then the space became our kitchen for cooking Brunswick stew.  We managed its thickness with slices of light-bread poured from their packages into a huge cooker perched over an open propane flame.  The bread’s purpose was to soak up the excess juices so the consistency would not be just that of a soup.   The bread was later discarded.

Once our pilgrimage was too close to winter and we spent the entire day jacking up the car and building a portable road of plank underneath the tires only to immediately abandon it like a bridge to nowhere except into the next stretch of mud.  Then we did it all over again until we could escape the hundred-foot trench.  All this work was history by the following June.  

In the moment, it would seem that such adventures were diversions from the more meaningful endeavors that define who we are and become the structure that memorializes our name in the memories our families carry forward.  But this is basically all I remember of my first employer – these small adventures in meaningless work.  Think again!  In reality, these vignettes are the images that turn out to be captured by the mind when we think of people we have known.  We list these mediocre but memorable days as if they were monuments when the lives of our friends are over.  Could it be that we exist for such interaction and that these snapshots are fundamentally why we reside on God’s green earth?

We set out to change the whole world, but God intends for us to abide with those who live in our little corner of it.  God wants us to pour out our lives a drop at the time as patrons of those we are blessed to live among.  How can we approach living out love as defined in 1 Corinthians 13 without terabits of time well spent in the company of the souls for whom we are granted an audience on our watch?  While we forge our temporary paths – day in and day out – we spend the currency of life in measurements of minutes with others.  We either build structures alone that disappear into the mud or we build them with those with whom we show our love.  The currency is the treasure of minutes accumulated into the span of our life.  We cannot love well unless we are together and the loving of others with the time we have is more important than preaching, doing something supernatural, or dying the death of a martyr.   The value of a minute is  more than a mint full of little copper coins.  

(1 Corinthians 13:2-3 CSB) If I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so that I can move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give away all my possessions, and if I give over my body in order to boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Stephen Williams

Dove

I hear the sound of his cooing and the wind vibrating through his feathers.  The male dove is inviting the monogynous mate he’ll wed for life to come to him.  It is not the solemn sound of mourning or even the southing sound of restful dreaming, but rather the sound of what we humans call love.  

When two turtle doves were sacrificed in the temple of old, a little and new human life was being dedicated to the God who is love (Luke 2:23-24; 1 John 4:8).  The Latin name, “Turtur” was slurred over time into turtle, but the specific epithet turtur is one of the correct designations for the turtle dove.  Sometimes they go by their nickname, mourning doves.  This nickname was for a sound associated with sadness and is not satisfactory to me.  I do not hear the sadness in the calls they make every morning.  They do not mourn every morn.  That’s not what they are doing.  I hear a call to life because I know that the response to the dove’s coo will be a new dove when the egg cracks.  I hear an appeal to the shalom of God through Jesus because I choose to pray when I hear it.  It is a reminder to me.  I hear an invitation from the Holy Spirit to draw near and meditate on the Bible.  I hear a proposal to enter into the discipline of study and ruminate on the substance of the Word of God.  It beckons.  The cooing is like a beacon of life.  It is like the morning light.  The mercies of God are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23).  

I hear God’s promise in the cooing.  His entreat is for me to endorse Him with the signature of my movements and the engravings of my thoughts.  It is like it casts a spell when the echo reverberates from tree to me.  When it resounds across the moist morning air, the Holy Spirit uses its tone to petition my heart to commit my way to the Lord and to trust him with my minutes and months.  It raises up the remembrance in me of God’s commitment to cover my days from dawn to noon to eventide (Psalm 37:5-6) and to hold on to me with a firm relentless grasp (John 10:29). 

And then the cooing of the evening is a proposition to rest in the comfort of His presence.  It is a peaceful sound.  As the sun falls toward the western hills and is greeted by the early pale — almost translucent — moon, if the dove mourned for anything it would grieve for the shortness of the life that its trademark identifies as having ceased.  But it is neither mourning nor separated from its spouse.  Neither can we be separated from God’s definitive love for us.   When the day ends, we can take our last waking breaths in the confidence that we will continue to breath in our sleep until the day that has been appointed for us to join the shepherd of our souls (Psalm 139).  We can pray with the Psalmist, “If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me, and the light around me will be night’ — even the darkness is not dark to you.  The night shines like the day; darkness and light are alike to you (Psalm 139:11-12 CSB).  “In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for You alone, O Lord, make me to dwell in safety (Psalm 4:8 NASB).  

Jesus said to the disciples and it is true for every Christian today.  “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Comforter to be with you forever. He is the Spirit of truth. The world is unable to receive him because it doesn’t see him or know him. But you do know him, because he remains with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17).  I elect to use the hearing of the dove song with my ear to listen to the Holy Spirit sing to my heart.   You can select a constant sound or sight to remind you to pray; and I hope you will.

Stephen Williams

Yet

A few years ago when daddy died I was sitting in my car on the Natchez Trace Parkway exit between Jackson and Nashville, Tennessee.  Dad was in Jackson.  Every emotion flowed out wet with pain.  Each tear was heavy with nameless vitals that appear in no anatomy textbook, but are just as real in substance.  Only two other trials in my life compare to it.  To find my way through them — not unaltered, not unchanged, not unscarred — I had to learn to express my “yet” and affirm my faith.

“Yet” is a  kind of craving.  It is a brand of yearning.  It is a dry and desperate thirst that puts hands out and palms up to the downward pull of melancholy.  “Yet” reverses that shocking reaction to the ultimate adversity.  What you are facing is colossal in magnitude.  It draws from deep within and leaves a wound of emptiness which pressures your insides into an emotional knot like mental nausea.  Your insides are wrung through a razor blade strainer; but yelling out “yet!” puts on the breaks with a heavy foot.  The black streaks are laid out in parallel lines on the roadway.  The power of two hundred horses screeches to a stop so that the direction can begin to change.  The controls are manipulated into reverse and the conversion is acute with self-determination.   It takes everything you’ve got.  When you face the most severe of trials, grace is there and God is assisting; but it seems as though Jesus is calling on you to extend your energies to the point of exhaustion.  

That is “yet.”  Following it, an endowment beyond self governance begins to take hold.  The flow from the deep artisan well rushes to the surface and restores you — wounded and scarred — to the embrace and solace that, though spiritual, is more solid that brick walls and stone floors.  Though spiritual, this respite is an inexhaustible nest egg.  Though spiritual, this deliverance — this saving — is stronger than any enemy, army or illness.  

In slavery to a brutal enemy, far from the ravaged homeland confiscated by vandals, the lamenter wrote, “Yet I call this to mind, and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s faithful love we do not perish, for his mercies never end.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness!  I say, ‘The LORD is my portion, therefore I will put my hope in him’” (Lamentations 3:21-24).  

When the Levite part of the family entered the promised land they were not granted an allotment of land like the other brothers.  And so this saying became part of their language, “The Lord is my portion.”  The Levites had much to be thankful for in that they lived off the tithes of their brothers.  Cities were set aside for them with gardens outside secure walls.  Now all the family, a conquered nation, had been stripped of their every possession.  It is compelling to me that after crying “Yet” they could reach back and declare like the Levites, “The Lord is my portion.”  In the haven where the courage to have hope is born, they came to the view that their empty estate could not hinder God’s provision.  Like the Levites living off the tithes, it was spiritually abundant and would sustain them forever.  

Stephen Williams

Crabapple

When we moved to our Hickory Hilltop I expected to have deer eating out of my hands and rabbit running in and out from under the deck.  I was a little disappointed until I began to observe that the birds love this little acclivity.  I believe one of the reasons is the crabapple tree.  It just hit full bloom this week.  

It’s snarled branches offer no reason for their twists and turns.  Their departures arc in any direction without apparent outside forces hindering straight lines.  But birds favor it.  Wild cats don’t seem to bother trying to run those unpredictable routes unless they themselves are the prey and have fled the predictor for the same safety.  

Out the northern window the pink peddles are pouring out of the bramble-like branches like salmon stained snow in a blizzard.  The ground coverage is better than what wet winters offer most years.  The tree’s plumage will soon disappear but the nesting will still be hidden beneath the bountifulness of the camouflage of dense green coverage. Only the sounds of the mocking bird who rules the roost like a prince perched on an unknown throne will disclose its populated estate.  

To my delight, prettier songs break loose when that blandly colored chattering monarch is away on royal duties.  In stereo the civilians, the feathered creatures of the kingdom, sound out one serenade after another.  And when they go quiet, the silent stillness is so clarion that without sound, the message soothes my heart and calls to me like the Spirit of God calling out to Elijah in the middle of the drought and in the midst of the accusations that he is to blame.  God whispers to him and directs him to the Wadi Cherith where he will find a haven from the drought and the draconian dangers of tenacious seditionary captains out to persecute him.  Then peace filters in with it’s preview of heaven like a gentle rain prancing over my arms.  The sensation is like that of the warm sand on the golden California beach. 

Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah:  “Leave here, turn eastward, and hide at the Wadi Cherith where it enters the Jordan. You are to drink from the wadi. I have commanded the ravens to provide for you there.”  1 Kings 17:2-4

Stephen Williams

An Ark to Deliver the Family

I remember pies with strips of sparkling crust gracefully laid across the oval surface like soft fluffy lattice.  Underneath would be apple, cherry, or blackberry fruit mixed into a sweet warm blend waiting for giant scoops of snowy ice cream.  The melting milky flow would meander to the edges of that mountain of delight as it drew out delicious heat wet with savor.  With spoon in hand and gleaming eye, I would peer just over the lip of the porcelain counter top of the antique flower sifter kitchen cabinet.  My portion would peak, mushroomed above the bowl’s brim and barley visible from the low angle of my perspective glare.  I now pine with watering mouth at the remembrance and smell of what can no longer rouse my olfactory passion.  Those were the days.

But my grandparents came of age and the hands that moulded strips of dough were the younger hands of my parents.  Then they came of age and time has passed and holidays are taking on a character of their own that distinguish them from those that reside in my memory.  The deserts are different but what sustains the family is more than traditional rituals peculiar to my kin.  

What is important for family is not the craft of pie making or the setting of the table or the sifter built into the kitchen cabinet.  It is not the address of the home where we gather.  It is not the traditions that can replace what really is important if we lose our focus and allow the customary to take us out of the sanctuary.  The word of salvation is the central priority because it is in its nature to survive, so that what we commemorate is genuine in quality and passes from generation to generation unhindered and undiluted.  Not pies or settings or location, but eternal security of the heart.  It never passes away.  The important housing that we must construct is that which becomes an ark for the preserving of souls rather that rituals.  

“By faith Noah, after he was warned about what was not yet seen and motivated by godly fear, built an ark to deliver his family. By faith he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith” (Hebrews 11:7).  

Stephen Williams

The Battle for Spring

I remember visiting my son and daughter at Union University one weekend that first Spring when they were both students.  I was not prepared for two things.  First it was cold.  We were going to attend some intramural sports in the evening but not before a run to Sam’s Club to purchase a new jacket in order to keep warm.  The other thing was noticing a young man snooping around shopping for a wife just outside my daughter’s dorm room.  I knew what he was doing, and I knew he would be invited inside.  The kid’s name was Bob Sparks, my future son in law.  My antennas automatically rose out of the top of my head and I picked up on the vibes.  I am so glad that he was hanging around that day waiting for spring.  

Janine said to me this morning as I was lamenting April’s cold advent, “Be patient, Spring is in a battle with Winter.  Spring will surely win this time too.”  This statement drew my thoughts to a springtime a very longtime ago.  

You could see the battle raging on two fronts.  First Elisha, that mighty prophet was about to die.  But in death — in the grace that cannot be closed off to sunlight — something unusual happened.  Israel had a new king named Jehoash who was optimistic with the hope of a new season for the floundering northern kingdom.  The nation would not survive the reign of many more kings.  

The new king admired the prophet, Elisha.  Elisha had an illness that would soon end his sixty years of ministry to the nation.  The king visited him and wept, exclaiming that the prophet was responsible for the security Israel was enjoying (2 Kings 13:14).  History had shown that Elisha’s “prayers were better than horses and chariots” (The New American Commentary: 1, 2 Kings, 13:14-19).  Then Elisha asked the king to get a bow and arrows.  When the king raised the bow loaded with an arrow, the prophet put his hands on the king’s hands as he held the bow.  They opened the shutters that held back the sunlight.  The warmth filled the room with the glare of bright glory when the eastern window was opened.  

Elisha directed Jehoash, “Shoot the arrows into the ground.”  Elisha then predicted that Israel would defeat its enemy, but the victory would be limited.  The king was a mixed quiver of strength and weakness.  There was a battle within him that ultimately would shorten his success.  The symbolic gesture of shooting a limited number of arrows was the way Elisha predicted this.  Next, Elisha sub-comes to his illness and dies.  He is placed in a winter tomb.  

Spring was having its patient victory over winter.  Enemy raiders were on the prowl as they were apt to do.  As springtime brought invigoration to plants and flowers, it also brought warmth suitable for ancient wartime.  This is the defining attribute of the unbroken skirmish between Spring and Winter.  Some men happened to be about the grim task of the burial of a comrade when the invaders interrupted the graveside ceremony.  They hurriedly put the body of their friend in the nearest tomb.  It happened to be Elisha’s tomb and the body of their fellow in arms fell onto the bones of Elisha.  Then there was a stirring which must have been like the scattering of a flock of cardinals fluttering away, and this corpse of early spring sprang to life again and marched out of that tomb resurrected with the fresh breath of new life.  

God continues to grant new life by gracing his power over death every season from winter to spring and back again.  He never stops.  There is no mixture of weakness and strength in God.  There is no surprise about Winter’s demise.  This April first, we are waiting with chilled limb for the warmth of sun rays bright.  No one but a fool would question that spring is here — even though it be cool.  I am chilled to the bones; but this wind lies like a fool.  If you look around, anyone can see that resurrection surrounds us with red, lavender, yellow, and green.  It is Winter that is sighing its last breath.  God wins in the end.  

Donald Wiseman writes in his commentary on First and Second Kings that this story is “…perhaps a symbol of the need for God’s people to come to life again.”  I expect so.  The winter is waning, and new life is snooping around the door.  Jesus is portrayed in an artist’s rendering I have upstairs in my office as standing outside a door knocking.  There is no doorknob on the outside of the door where Jesus is waiting.  Open the door so Spring can come in.  It’s too cold outside.  Wait not one more minute.  

Stephen Williams

Overwrought with Anxiety?

Mom and Dad doubled the size of our house on Owen Avenue when I was in grade school.  Before that, the dining room was their bedroom.  We needed the space.  All the brick on the back wall were removed for the addition.  Construction debris lay all about the yard and provided for my serious attention for play.  For example, playing war, I busted sheet rock scraps with a claw hammer.  I remember swinging the hammer back so violently in my imaginary hand-to-head combat that I hit my own head on the back swing.  For real!  I immediately reached up with my bare hand to feel if there was a bump.  I took my hand down and it was covered with blood from the wound.  Frightening!  My head hurts right now from thinking about it.  Just now, I couldn’t resist putting my hand up there to see if it is mattie with thick wet vital fluid.  

The addon did not turn out to be all play for me.  Mom asked me to clean the brick so we might use them for a patio surface.  This produced my first callouses.  Chipping concrete off the old block with a chisel and hammer was hard work but I enjoyed it and threw myself into it with abandonment.  I had the ability as a child to become a part of what I was doing so there was no next thing in mind.  There was no tomorrow.  I would forget about meals and have to have the spell broken by parents nagging, “Dinner’s ready! I have called already!  Stop what you are doing!”  As a child I did not think about the next thing to do.  

There is a lot to do – self-imposed and expected by others and we create a list that can become like an army enlisted to charge toward us in waves of embattlement.  The regiments keep coming and we hang on by just doing all we can to stay in the battle.  This is anxiety.  This is a frightening wound to the head.  We can become overwrought with the things we know need doing and the tome becomes our tomb.  The repetitive nature of the suffering takes the life out of us and boxes us into a coffin of panic.  

Jesus taught that we should go about accomplishing our tasks in such a way that we still notice the pleasant and pleasurable things around us like flowers in the fields and birds casually scavenging for their food. When we hear their messages, then we find ourselves yielding to the beauties that surround and they take charge of our emotions (Matthew 6:25-34).  They provide context for living as opposed to those warriors coming at us in an endless line intent on draining life away.  Beautiful nature – sunrise, sunset, and everything in between – reminds us that we live not to complete checklists; but we check off items on our to-do list for higher purposes; and the highest purpose of all is to seek the kingdom of God and what is defined as right for us by God (Matthew 6:33).  Then like a little girl or a little boy we can abandon our busyness to the joy of each moment and each treasured day.  Then when we have reached those little goals of accomplishment, we can feel the reward that grows up out of the seed of achievement like a tree coming up out of its root first as a trig and then rising to its mighty fullness.  Then we move on to the next item of importance and experience the same pleasures all over again – one at the time all day long.  There are far less wounds left behind and very little blood spilt when we do it the way Jesus guides us with his great wisdom.  Take time to read this wise teaching (Matthew 6:25-34).  Your joy for life depends on it.  

Stephen Williams

Don’t Ask

My neighbor, Jimmy and I got into a disagreement over something or other and he catapulted a concrete chicken right at my head.  His yard was spiffed up with some concrete chickens that trailed the walk to his front door.  He almost crushed my head open with blood gushing out leading to the ambulance rushing me off to dying at the hospital – that is if he hadn’t missed by a mile.  I got fuming mad as an old mule would if he had been whipped by an angry master.  

Jimmy quickly retreated inside the house behind the skirt of his mommy.  I stalked that secluded scaredy-cat for nearly a week until the day of infamy finally dawned when Jimmy exited the carport door with his rifle aimed high.  I – bare-chested because of the blistering noon sun – pulled my shoulders back and stretched my chest out and shouted with red faced wrath, “Go ahead and shoot!”  

The projectile was propelled by squeezed trigger and the BB struck me dead center on the surface above the sternum.  I never would have thought he would have shot me!  I never would have though a BB could leave such a red welt.  I never would have thought there would be such lingering pain!  I started learning an important lesson that day.  It is better not to ask for what you really do not want.  If you act rashly in anger, you might end out with more than a rash in return.  

Last Summer, in the middle of the great frustration called Covid, I was in my truck taking a shortcut on the way home and came upon a couple workmen pouring a driveway.  A car was coming from the other direction and one of these guys was out in that narrow Kentucky lane.  The blue grass state has highways the size of small driveways.  I couldn’t get over, so I slowed to a stop right next to the guy.  He had something to say I am glad I could not hear as he raised a screwdriver over his head as if he were going to scrape my fender.  The oncoming traffic passed but this guy stubbornly stayed right against my side mirror barely not brushing my fender.  He refused to move one inch and his face reminded me or a yapping mad dog.  My blood pressure was creating steam and I just about blew my top like a boiler on an old locomotive.  I considered lowering the window to offer my contribution to the argument; but I took a grip and reigned in my ominous opinion.  I slowly backed up the truck so the mirror would not touch him, turned the wheel, and steered clear.  The emotions were powerful but I caste them off like an infectious pestilence.  

Anger can deceive you into believing that you will feel so good letting off the steam; but the wisdom of the Bible labels this kind of response as foolish.  “Control your temper, for anger labels you a fool” (Ecclesiastes 7:9 NLT).  Fools cannot hold their provocations back (Proverbs 12:16a NASB).  But if you express an insult to the wrong person, it can mean real trouble.  “The terror of a king is like the growling of a lion; whoever provokes him to anger forfeits his life” (Proverbs 20:2).  The last time I remember saying what I thought in a situation like this, I was soooooooo fortunate not to have provoked a response.  In hindsight I know how narrow an escape it was – by the skin of my teeth. 

The Bible offers a better response, “The wise are patient; they will be honored if they ignore insults” (Proverbs 19:11 NCV).  Jesus promises that he will give us wisdom to know what to say to our enemies; but sometimes He just wants us to quiet ourselves down (Luke 21:15; Proverbs 16:22).  God does not want us to provoke one another (Galatians 5:26; Proverbs 15:18).  If we speak at all we should speak softly and kindly.  “A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh (unkind) words make tempers flare” (Proverbs 15:1).  It’s best not to act like children fusing over something or other when the stakes can be so high.  

Stephen Williams