Outraging Ourselves to Death

Outrage can be a useful prophetic gift when used rightly and timely. Elijah, for instance, reserved his anger for the Ahabs and Jezebels of his world while bringing consolation to a widow and child. Jesus reserved his outrage to the false religious leaders while providing comfort to the weak and hungry in Israel. Outrage can be useful, but if everyone and every issue are worthy of outrage, we discern poorly.

H.L. Mencken was right when he noted that “Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.”  There is plenty in the world, the flesh, and the devil to demand our sacred violence. But Twitterdom has turned outrage into a gimmick; a cheap ticket to the best seats at the Superbowl. Outrage is the greatest rage out there. The problem with unremitting outrage is that while bringing out the crazies to your defense–after all, crazies love’m some outrage–it limits the Gospel to self-righteous angry outbursts.

But the Gospel is so outrageous on the topic of outrage that it outrageously limits our outrage. “Be gentle as doves and wise as serpents,” Jesus said as he sends us out to the wolves. I suspect wolves quickly devour doves, but gentle doves are subtle. They reserve their bows and coos for the right occasions. Their gentleness wins over the enemies. They disarm the wolves’ expectations.

Similarly, the serpent is cautious in its approach. The snake doesn’t attack without carefully studying the opponent. Calvin writes that serpents know that they are hated, so they do not rush heedlessly to danger. You may think your outrage is the noblest form of Gospel expression; you are bold enough to head on towards danger, but all the enemy sees is your “God Hates Fags” t-shirt.

Overused outrage diminishes our ministry. It shuts the doors of the enemies. It ends the conversation before it starts. It hinders our Gospel message. It’s unwise and unkind. The Gospel message is bold not because of its bullying, but because of its balance. Loud does not mean more effective. Just the opposite may be true.

The reason Fundamentalism lost their soul in the process of their proclamation is that they demanded speedy moral and cultural results without the careful, deliberate method of engaging, persuading, praying, hosting, and loving others. Most modern outrage is a form of addiction accentuated by social media which needs to be carefully analyzed in our day. We chastise evangelical groups who made their mission appealing to the masses through sexy ads and strategies fit for businesses, but now we are amusing ourselves to death one outrage at a time treating our sins as more dignified than “theirs.”

This is even more pronounced within Christian communities. We outrage first and ask questions later. A harsh word stirs up anger, Solomon says. The alternative to harsh words is not outrageous words, but a gentle answer. The Bible extols gentleness, careful pronouncements to those in the household of faith. The failure of our Christian conversations is that we throw mud at our own expecting our white shirts to be untouched by dirt. But outrage is vicious because it is addictive. And before we know it, our entire environment is composed of statutes of outrage. “Look, isn’t his outrage something worthy of admiration!” ‘Doesn’t he outrage with preciseness!” Thus, we create divisions on the basis of our indignation. Group A is not as holy as we are. Their outrage is a 1 in the Richter scale. How outrageously pitiful his holiness must be!

Lest one thinks I am in the contra outrage party, I actually like to walk across the aisle to speak with my friends. I like to think they hear me in the midst of their cacophony of outrage. But sometimes they are just too loud, and their points are clouded by their rage. I like a good dose of outrage. Like a fine single malt Scotch, it needs to be sampled slowly. Too much of it, and it no longer becomes a gift, but a vice. It can be a great prophetic gift as long as we don’t confuse Ahab with faithful brother George.

Jesus is the Resolution to our Paradoxes

In his book “All things Considered”, G.K. Chesterton writes that “some people laugh through their tears while others boast that they only weep through their laughter.” There are moments in life when laughter and tear flow paradoxically side by side. And I think this is a metaphor for life. Life is not divided easily into moments of laughter and moments of tears.

And without Someone who puts those tears and laughter into perspective, we are of all people most to be pitied. Life is incomprehensible without the Person of Jesus Christ. A world apart from Jesus, the Messiah, is a world where paradox reigns; but in a cross-shaped world, our dilemmas and enigmas find resolution in Jesus. We may not know why things happen the way they do, but Jesus invites us to taste the answer with one another in worship and life together.

The Call to Ordinary Justice

We live in a sad world. We turn on our TVs or read the paper, and we are bombarded by images that confront us emotionally and devastate our moods. So, we take action. We opine about the injustices around the world: orphans, widows, separated families, abuse, etc. We opine to draw attention to a cause, perhaps to our social warrior spirit, or even to a particular brand of politics.

Christians are justice seekers (Micah 6:8), but to what end does our justice-seeking apologetic hinder us from doing the basic and ordinary Christian thing? Just this morning I counted six items for discussion that would be considered heavy by any standard (and I am not counting the day-to-day horrors of abortion and martyrdom all over the world). Is it possible that we are justice fatigued to the point that the daily duties of praying, catechizing, singing, worshiping, dish-washing, diaper-changing, hugging, disciplining, reading, and everything else are relegated to a lesser domain? Are we creating a hierarchy of piety and justice?

“My cause is more righteous, and you should be ashamed of yourself for not caring or investing your time and keyboard to it.”

Before we apply justice, mercy, and humility to the major headlines of our day, we ought to begin right at our local kingdoms. Some will reply, “But we can do both. We can care about our homes and families and churches and also care about the national and international justice issues.” I submit that if you are an ordinary individual with an ordinary family with an ordinary job in an ordinary church, you will realize that the cause of justice most pressing is not starvation in Haiti, but your spouse in need, your fellow congregant who needs your call, or your close friend who just lost a child. Pursue justice by all means; carefully, wisely and prudently. But don’t let the “great” injustices blind you to those precious vessels nearest to you desperate to receive your mercy.

Answering Questions on the New Ruth Commentary

What is the point of the Book of Ruth?

I think there are two central points: a political and Christological dimension:

What we argue is that Ruth is actually a political tract making the case for the Davidic Kingdom…in other words, why Israel needs a faithful King who will be strong like Boaz, loyal like Ruth, and whose fortunes will turn like Naomi’s.

It’s Christological because it sets the stage for a kinsman redeemer who woos his bride through his generosity and strength, who covers his bride under his wings, who becomes this new land where God’s people can glean freely until the end of history. Jesus is this unending source of blessing to the foreigner and to the citizens of the land.

How do you preach through the book?

It’s such a compelling story that if I were a pastor who had not preached through Ruth, I’d go to Amazon and buy this commentary right now and start a series through it. I kid. But seriously, what are you waiting for? CLICK HERE!

I think the beauty of preaching through it is that you are preaching through a familiar story, which means the contextual dimensions are fairly known, but it also means that people have expectations for what you are going to say, but our goal in the commentary was to show just how nuanced the commentary is and just how the language of Ruth is filled with redemptive meanings from the names of Mahlon and Chilion and to the genealogy in chapter 4 which is generally overlooked.

The pastor can take his time working through each character and bringing out their significance in the larger story.

What is it like to write a commentary?

Well, I think we both have to preach through it first as pastors…we need to read and re-read the text. Lusk, who is the genius behind this, taught a Sunday school class on it and I both preached and taught through numerous times here in the US and in Brazil.

The process can be really slow because we both have full-time jobs, children and other concerns, but we have to find time whenever it is available.

So, the benefit of the Through New Eyes Series commentaries is that much of our theology is already developed. It’s based on the genius of James B. Jordan whose imprint is in every page. With that starting point, we are looking at two elements: first, what does the text say? We are operating on a section or verse by verse analysis of the text

Confession and Restoring our Humanity

We confess our sins because we need God’s forgiveness. There is a transaction that occurs: We confess, God forgives (I Jn. 1:9). This is of primary importance. But there is a second dimension to our confession that is not often stressed, namely, that we need to be restored to communion with our God-given humanity (Rom. 12:1-2). When we sin—and we do with frightening frequency—we are losing/weakening–qualitatively–who we are called to be. The goal of confession is to renew us in our earthly walk and realign our internal map. Confession of sins puts us in step with the Spirit of God. Confession is God’s way to call us back to the race. Confession is God’s gift to humanity in the path to maturity. Therefore, confess boldly.

Arguing for the Glory of God

When a married couple says to me “Pastor, we have a good marriage. We never argue,” I have three reactions to this: a) “You are absolutely lying,” b) “Surely the Adamic curse has made you one cosmic exception,” or c) “You all need to be in counseling immediately.” Even the most placid, introverted couples I’ve met argue with one another.

I am not talking about the shouting, throwing vases, or the verbal insults arguing. These are sinful and require immediate accountability and measures. I am referring to the differences of opinion form of arguing. These are necessary and expected in any happy marriage.

If a husband cannot accept the fact that his wife has a difference of opinion on some issue that does not violate biblical morality, that husband is likely making the house a difficult place to live. Husbands and wives ought to thrive in the honest conversations of life.

A spouse must not make arguing a habit or a daily routine of marriage. This can be a sign of deeper problems. But life is too complex, children too unique, and circumstances too unpredictable to avoid ordinary arguing.

Happy marriages are not made of avoiding differences, hiding feelings, playing make-believe, but embracing the necessary disagreements with mutual respect and love for one another. So, when differences arise, argue for the glory of God and the good of your marriage.

Ten Years of Pastorate

Ten years ago we arrived in Pensacola! I was an eager seminary grad about to assume the pastorate of my first church. We arrived on a U-Haul truck and Providence folks were there to unload us into our new life.

In previous months, I remember applying for all sorts of churches only to hear 2-3 months later: “Thanks for applying but we are looking for a pastor with ten years of experience.” Well, here’s your ten years! I am grateful that Al Stoutand the Providence tribe decided to hire a 29-year-old to lead a small, loving church into the future. It’s been better than I imagined.

In our day, pastors stay in a local church for an average of 3.6 years. In God’s grace, Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola,FL has loved me into a decade of service. I cannot begin to express my gratitude and the overwhelming hospitality of these saints to the Brito clan. It’s the only community my children have ever known and the most loving community I have ever served and learned from in my life. The challenges of the last ten years are easily overwhelmed by the immense blessings I’ve received and am continually receiving. Thanks be to God!

Prayer for a Wine Tasting Party

O blessed Lord, your riches abound far higher than the fortunes of Abraham and Solomon for you own the cattle on a thousand hills. Your majesty is adored by every square inch of creation for even the invisible things bow down before you. As we gather this evening to celebrate the wonder of the incarnation, we are celebrating the bond of peace you established when you entered the world.

We give thanks that we are not bound by Nazarite vows, nor the impositions of men that bind our conscience. We drink wine tonight for you are a God of absolute freedom and where there is liberty there is love and peace and truth and righteousness. Guard us against abusing your gifts, especially the gift of gratitude. May we see your gifts, enjoy them and give thanks to the giver of all good things. Far be it from us to turn our backs to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ whose name is blessed and worthy to be praised. So we pray, give us hearts that abound with thanksgiving.

May we drink believing that our very bodies and souls are in communion with you. We drink in the name of your covenant promises which are yes and amen. As we sing cheers with every glass of wine may our fortunes be passed down to our children and our children’s children, may gratitude overflow, may the laughter of the saints outlast and outlive the laughter of the oppressors and persecutors, may your church sing as choirs of angels in exaltation, may wine gladden our hearts, food fill our bodies, and carols fill this house with your presence.

We pray these things in the name of the Lord of glory, the Savior of Israel, the prince of Salem, the Lion of Judah and the One who exults over us with singing, Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Catholicity, Orthodoxy, and Lordship