Christianity 201

June 16, 2016

Losing It

No, I didn’t lose it with somebody, but I heard a story today that got me thinking...

But the fruit of the Spirit is…self-control.  (Galatians 5: 22-23)

Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless…not quick-tempered… (Titus 1:7)

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.  (James 1:19)

Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him. (Proverbs 29:20)

Control your temper, for anger labels you a fool. (Ecc. 7:9)

But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.  (Matthew 5:22a)

“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry (Ephesians 4:26)

Some of you reading this are fairly even-tempered people. You don’t have a problem with controlling your temper. But for some of us, all types of situations can trigger a rise in blood pressure which results from an undercurrent of anger.

Your trigger might be handling long line-ups. Dealing with bureaucracies. Interacting with service-industry staff. Frustration over your own incompetence in a particular situation.

What gets you riled? Can you avoid those situations? Do other people or family members see you at your worst?

Today’s thoughts continue with an article by Lisa Harper at Christian Bible Studies on a similar topic, righteous anger:

What is “Righteous Anger”?

How can I know whether I’m feeling that or just being a hothead?

I grew up believing anger was a “bad” emotion. So I’ve needed several years of Christian counseling even to admit I get angry, much less to learn I can express those feelings righteously! Thankfully, God’s Word sets clear parameters for getting peeved.

What does God say about this? The bad news for hotheads is that Scripture contains many more verses warning believers against blowing their cool than verses advocating such behavior. The writer of Proverbs connects anger with foolishness: “Fools quickly show that they are upset, but the wise ignore insults” (Proverbs 12:16, NCV). And the apostle Paul recommends letting our heavenly Father fight our battles: “My friends, do not try to punish others when they wrong you, but wait for God to punish them with his anger. It is written: ‘I will punish those who do wrong; I will repay them,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19, NCV).

Sometimes, however, God allows his people to fuss and remain faithful. Such is the case when King David furrows his brow and huffs:

God, I wish you would kill the wicked!
Get away from me, you murderers!
They say evil things about you.
Your enemies use your name thoughtlessly.
Lord, I hate those who hate you;
I hate those who rise up against you.
I feel only hate for them;
they are my enemies (Psalm 139:19–22, NCV).

Or when Nehemiah gets upset after learning about the wealthy Israelites’ exploitation of the poor: “Then I was very angry when I had heard … these words” (Nehemiah 5:6, NASB).

What’s noteworthy in these situations is that David called down curses on sworn enemies of God, and Nehemiah directed his irritation at the “haves” repressing the “have-nots.” Both men were angry because of ungodly people or activities.

And Jesus expressed anger—at the Pharisees who exhibited such hard hearts (Mark 3:1-5) and at the crass commercialism that sullied the temple (Matthew 21:12-13; Luke 19:45-48)—to convey extreme displeasure over sin. Those reasons are the key to righteous anger.

How does this affect me? As Christ-followers, we’re totally appropriate getting upset over sin, too. Evils such as abuse, racism, pornography, and child sex trafficking should incense us.

But no matter how reprehensible the people or activities we’re condemning, we still aren’t justified to sin in our responses…

…continue reading the entire article at this link


Going deeper:

 

 

January 28, 2016

Why “I Couldn’t Help Myself” is Often Untrue

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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2 Samuel 3:26 Joab then left David and sent messengers after Abner, and they brought him back from the cistern at Sirah. But David did not know it. 27 Now when Abner returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside into an inner chamber, as if to speak with him privately. And there, to avenge the blood of his brother Asahel, Joab stabbed him in the stomach, and he died.

Earlier today we discovered a new devotional site that some of you might like to join for the current series on 2 Samuel. (You’ll have to backtrack a few days to start at the beginning; we’re going to be in chapter 3 today.)

Read it and Do It is written daily by Tennessee pastor Todd Stevens. Friendship Community Church’s statement of beliefs would make a great devotional here on its own.

As always, read this at source by clicking the title below. To start at the beginning of 2 Samuel, next click the header at the top of his blog’s page, and then scroll down to the start of the series.

Did your parents say these crazy things to you?

READ IT
Today’s chapter: 2 Samuel 3

When I was a kid, my parents said certain crazy phrases to me over and over. I swore I’d never use say of those clichés with my kids. “Don’t make me turn this car around!” “If you don’t stop making that face, it will freeze that way.” “Would you jump off a cliff just because all your friends did?” I think I’ve already said them all to my kids at one time or another.

There is a phrase I also remember my mom saying to me many times when I was angry. “You better just cool your jets, mister. Cool your jets.”

I hated it when she said that. First of all, I didn’t have any jets. Second, if I did have jets, why would they need to be cooled? But I knew what she meant. She was telling me to control my temper. I would get so mad when she said that because I was sure it wasn’t possible. How could I be expected to control my temper when I had every reason to be angry?

Joab felt the same way I did when I was a kid. His brother had been killed by Abner and he wanted revenge. He had every reason to be angry, so why should he be expected to control his temper? He let his anger consume him and got vengeance by murdering Abner.

Although his anger was justified, his actions weren’t. It wasn’t his place to exact justice. David was his king and he alone had the authority to decide whether Abner should be punished. Since David had sent Abner off in peace, Joab was out of bounds to kill him. He should have cooled his jets.

The idea that we can’t control our anger is a myth. Let me prove it to you. Think about the last time you got angry and lashed out at someone. Imagine that just before you lashed out, an angel appeared and offered you a million dollars if you could wait at least 10 minutes before responding in anger. Could you do it? (Please don’t get hung up thinking I’m suggesting this is something an angel would ever do. It’s just a hypothetical scenario…)

Here’s the point: if you could control your anger for 10 minutes for a million bucks, then clearly you could control your anger. Each time you’re in a situation that makes you angry, you can decide whether you’re going to allow your anger to consume you.

Nobody can make you furious without your permission. With God, you can choose to respond to anger in a way that demonstrates His love. Even if your anger is justified, you can still decide to cool your jets.

DO IT
At some point today, things aren’t going to be the way you expected them to be. You’re going to be angry and will have an opportunity to decide how to respond to it. Choose to demonstrate God’s love. Do something kind for someone who has done nothing to deserve it.

How will the situation change because of your choice?

 

May 7, 2015

Come Apart and Rest

Mark 6:31And He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while.” (For there were many people coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.) 32They went away in the boat to a secluded place by themselves.…

Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

At first, with its “Five things…” approach, this practical article may appear more like something that should run at Thinking Out Loud, not Christianity 201; but I believe it’s a message that we need to hear. This is by Benjamin L. Corey, and to read it at source, click the link in the title. (There’s also an internal link to a previous article.)

5 Things You Need To Take A Break From To Avoid Spiritual Burnout

Yesterday on the blog I wrote about how I had spent much of this winter suffering from spiritual and emotional burnout, and that I had a hunch I wasn’t alone. Judging from your comments and emails, it turns out my instinct was correct- a lot of Christians are feeling burned out these days. As part of my own process in sorting out how I got to such a dark place, and from the wonderful insight and advice from many of my peers, I was able to identify some behaviors that I absolutely, positively, needed a break from– because that was the source of my burnout.

As I processed this further, I came to realize that even Jesus himself was aware of the potential for spiritual burnout, and made a practice of taking steps to prevent it. Jesus was on a mission to change the world, and the key avenue he chose to do it was through pouring his heart and soul into a small group of 12 friends while simultaneously kicking up against the walls of the dominant power structures of his day. I can only imagine that this led to moments of fatigue and discouragement, since scripture affirmed that Jesus was tempted in all the same ways that we are tempted. So what did Jesus do to avoid spiritual burnout?

Well, it seems that Jesus had built into his life a habit of getting away from whatever things existed in his life that could have led to spiritual burnout. In the book of Luke we find a very important statement:

“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places to pray.” (5:16)

I personally really like the rendering of the International Standard Version of this verse, which words it: “However, he (Jesus) continued his habit of retiring to deserted places and praying.”

While there is a host of good stuff one could glean from this verse (such as the aspect of prayer which is not covered by this post), what I appreciate the most is that Jesus knew when he needed to take a break from some things. And, if even Jesus– the Son of God– had to take a break from life-draining things, why would we buy the lie that we can chug along indefinitely without taking a break ourselves?

While I can only guess what sorts of things Jesus needed to take a break from, I think I have a much better grasp of some things that led to my own spiritual burnout, and perhaps did yours as well. So, here is a tangible list of things that I think we need to take scheduled breaks from to help avoid another bout (or come out of your current state) of spiritual burnout:

1. Things that make you angry.

Speaking of money, the Bible says that it makes a good slave but not a very good master. I think the same thing could be said of anger– when it consumes us it masters us, and it makes a horrible master. If there’s a certain topic or issue that is constantly making you angry, take a break from it– in our era of outrage and culture wars it is likely that there will never be a shortage of things to piss you off… so just take a break from the things that fuel your anger.

2. Situations, roles, or people that/who only drain but never replenish you.

Your emotional tank isn’t any different than a bank account– there is a limit as to how much you can spend before things go really bad. Remember: Jesus is the savior of the world, you are not. Yes, let us invest in changing the world and building the Kingdom- but if even our king himself takes a break and steps away for quiet moments where no one is draining him, why would we think we should live differently?

3. Things that worry you.

Jesus warned us that not a single person has added a minute to their life by worrying- but yet we do it anyway (I myself am especially good at this). One way to address it is by a more holistic approach to sabbath keeping: for myself, I’ve been trying to practice “no work, no commerce, and no worries” on the day I practice sabbath keeping. What’s the thing that worries you most? Set aside one day a week where you purposely do nothing about it and do your best to avoid thinking about it.

4. Social media/the comment section on some blogs.

Thankfully, I’ve been blessed with some great readers- but this isn’t the case everywhere on the internet. The comment section in many places can be one of the most toxic environments on planet earth. If there’s a certain place on the internet (or a certain person on the internet) where reading and engaging the comment section is making you question the future of humanity– take a break and don’t go to that particular blog or comment section. Or, you can even use the “unfollow” option to remove toxic people from your FB newsfeed without the more obvious gesture of unfriending them.

5. Being in-doors.

When Jesus withdrew to take some space, he did it outside. I think far too many of us are cooped up in cubicles and need time in nature like Jesus did– plus, there are tremendous health benefits to exercise, and even some vitamins you can only get through sun exposure outside. For me, I realized that I started to turn the corner as spring hit and we started taking the dog for walks by the lake. Whether you live in the country or in the city- find a way to get outside, go to a park, or even just go for a short daily walk around the block– but get outside and take in some fresh air, because that’s one of the things Jesus did.

I think in some ways seasons of spiritual burnout is inevitable, but I think there are some concrete things we can do both to avoid it, and to pull out of it. These five things were crucial to helping me begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

What about you? What frequent practices have you found to be helpful to your emotional and spiritual health?

 

January 14, 2015

When You are Angry

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Time for our weekly visit from Canadian pastor Clarke Dixon.  (Watch for gratuitous Canadian reference below!)

When Anger Flares

anger-mYou find yourself in a moment of anger. You are not a happy camper, and worse yet, the person that offended you is either oblivious to your hurt, or doesn’t care. And to make matters seem much worse, ringing through your head comes an expression you heard in Sunday School: “do not let the sun go down on your anger.” You hope it is not in the Bible, for then you may feel obligated to do something about your anger. But it is:

26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not make room for the devil. (Ephesians 4:26-27 NRSV)

To make matters worse still, you are a Canadian, it is winter, and the sun goes down very early indeed. What do you do?

Before you do anything, pray.

Then, ask this question: “Are my expectations of the person who offended me reasonable?”

It was at a pastor’s retreat that I first heard the concept that anger often comes from unmet expectations. We can see this in Jonah who expected that God should have judged the enemy of Israel, the Ninevites, with no chance for repentance. God did not meet that expectation which was great news for the Ninevites, but a great disappointment for Jonah. God responds to Jonah’s anger by asking “Is it right for you to be angry?” (Jonah 4:4 NRSV). In other words, “are your expectations of how I should act appropriate and reasonable?” God goes on to use a rapidly growing, then declining, bush to teach an angry again Jonah a lesson about appropriate expectations:

9 But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” And he said, “Yes, angry enough to die.” 10 Then the Lord said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals (Jonah 4:9-11 NRSV emphasis mine)

Jonah needed to adjust his expectations of what God would do and how God would act. Now back to your anger toward someone who has offended you. Before you do anything with it, you can ask that same question God had of Jonah: “Is it right for you to be angry?” Are your expectations of the person who has offended you reasonable and appropriate? If the answer is ‘no, I have been expecting too much,’ then go back, adjust your expectations and your anger will subside even though the sun may yet have a long way to go.

But suppose you have prayed and reviewed your expectations, and you have discerned that, yes indeed your expectations are reasonable, and yes, the reason for your anger lies at the feet of the offender. They have messed up, and you have the right, some might push it here and say obligation, to be angry. Now what?

You now have two options before the sun goes down. 

The first option is to go and talk with the offender about how you feel offended.

This is in keeping with a Biblical principal given to us by Jesus:

15 “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. (Matthew NRSV)

We do not have room here to go into Jesus’ instruction on the involvement of church family in verses 16 to 17. That is for another day. But for now, here is some wisdom that may help you in your chat with the offender:

1. Read and commit to living out the rest of the passage:

25 So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. 26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not make room for the devil. . .  Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. 1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2 and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (from Ephesians 4:25-5:2 NRSV)

Then read and commit to living out the rest of Ephesians. In fact you may as well read and commit to living out the rest of the Bible. By the time you are done this, you may forget why you are angry! All joking aside, when you go to someone you are angry with, go as someone who who is Jesus-following, Spirit-filled, and Bible-informed. My Mum’s daily advice growing up rings through well: “Remember Whose you are and Whom you serve.”

2. Make it easier for your offender to get into putty mode than potty mode. That is, you want to communicate in a way that makes it easier for your offender to consider their offence and how they might have done better, and do better, rather than putting them on the defensive and getting them all angry too. This can be done by beginning with ‘I’ statements, like “can we talk about how I felt when something happened?” rather than ‘you’ statements such as “you did this to me.” Not only will beginning with ‘I’ be less likely to put the offender on the defensive, but it also starts with something the offender cannot deny; your experience. It is also good to avoid words like ‘always’ and ‘never.’ It is better to keep the discussion to the one offence that aroused your anger rather than make the offender feel like they have always been losers and never been good enough. That is how your offender may receive “you always” and “you never” statements.

The second option is to let it go.

This is not the best option if the offence is serious, or if the repeating of the offence will make it serious, or if this offence will be serious when repeated in the lives of others. But it sometimes can be the best option. We can be so easily offended and so quick to take offence. Perhaps we might benefit from growing a thicker skin? You might object and say “this is impossible, I could never let an offence go!” It might seem that way but like everything else, this gets easier with practice. We should note here that because God is holy, He can never let offence go unpunished. Instead He offers to pay the penalty for us, through Jesus Christ at the cross. When we are angry we do well to remember that amazing grace! Our offender may need grace. We might need it too.

July 2, 2013

Bitter Roots

Bitterness and Unforgiveness

Bitterness can prevent people from making progress in ministry and in life in general. This article appeared at the blog of Kevin Rogers who blogs at Orphan Age: Loners Learning About Community, and is pastor at New Song Church in Windsor, Ontario. This appeared there just a few days ago under the title Taking Out Your Bitter Trash

Bitterness causes problems.  No matter how intelligent or crafty a person is, there is no escaping the consequences that follow a life of bitterness. It will not surprise you to learn of great thinkers, artists and power brokers who succumbed to the deadliest disease of the spirit – bitterness.
Their end is misery and spiritual pollution.
Sigmund Freud died at the age of 83, a bitter and disillusioned man. Tragically, this Viennese physician, one of the most influential thinkers of our time, had little compassion for the common person. Freud wrote in 1918, “I have found little that is good about human beings on the whole. In my experience most of them are trash, no matter whether they publicly subscribe to this or that ethical doctrine or to none at all” (Veritas Reconsidered, p. 36). Freud died friendless. It is well known that he had broken with each of his followers. The end was bitter. 
 
Discoveries, Summer, 1991, Vol 2, No. 3, p. 1 quoted in Unfinished Business,
Charles Sell, Multnomah, 1989, p. 121ff.
Sigmund Freud was wrong.  Most people are not trash, but they do need to take out their trash.  Something that this father of psychiatry was unable to do for himself.
What trash is stinking up the house of your heart?  How can God help us to deal with situations and people that embitter us?
Hebrews 12
15 See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.
·        It is possible to miss out on God’s grace.  Holding unforgiveness puts your spirit into jeopardy.
·        Bitterness roots itself in us and continues to grow.
·        Its end is trouble and causes a stench that sticks to others.
Some will say, “I have a right to be angry and I’m not ready to forgive.  No one else seems to understand what I’m going through, so back off!  Don’t tell me to let go of this hurt!”
Of the 7 deadly sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back–in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you. 
 
Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking Transformed by Thorns, p. 117.
Read more of Kevin at the blog Orphan Age. Here’s another recent post on the passage in Matthew 15, “What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth…”  with the provocative title, The Healthy, Politically Correct Pervert.  (Really!)

October 31, 2012

Pivotal Circumstances Bring Greatest Life Lessons

This month I was privileged to meet a fellow-Canadian blogger and writer, Diane Lindstrom in person.  Last week she shared a very personal post at her eponymous blog aka Overflow, under the title, Where There’s A Front, There’s a Back.  I thought it should be shared with more of you here, but you’re encouraged to click through and get to know Diane.


Jesus Prayed

Much of life is spent getting out of bed.  Fixing lunches.  Turning in assignments. Changing diapers.  Paying bills. Routine.  Regular.  More struggle than strut.

You thought marriage was going to be a lifelong date?  You thought having kids was going to be like baby-sitting?  You thought the company who hired you wanted to hear all the ideas you had in college? Then you learned otherwise.  The honeymoon ended.

But at the right time, God comes.  In the right way, He appears. So don’t bail out.  Don’t give up.  He is too wise to forget you, too loving to hurt you.  When you can’t see Him, trust Him.

So what does God do while we’re enduring the pain?  Mark 6:46 says, “Jesus prayed.”  He prayed for His disciples when they were in the storm.  And when He heard their cries, He remained in prayer.

He’s praying a prayer right now that He Himself will answer at the right time.
“Jesus is able always to save those who come to God through him because he always lives, asking God to help them.” (Hebrews 7:24-25)

~Max Lucado from A Gentle Thunder

Life just doesn’t go the way you think it’s going to go…

…but there’s a front and back to everything – the bigger the front, the bigger the back. I truly believe that the most painful trials can yield the deepest healing and the greatest joy. When I think back on my life, I recall five extremely painful, long lasting struggles, yet each experience changed me because God was there and He heard my prayer.

1. When I was in university, life was “rolling along like a song” until my nineteen year old and healthy friend died in his sleep. It was the first time that I truly understood the fragility of life and I became very fearful about death. I had never experienced such anxiety and I wasn’t equipped to deal with the intensity of my feelings. I ran to the Lord. I prayed, I cried out to the Lord and I began to memorize scripture to replace the lies that I was telling myself. Eventually, I knew His peace,  I was able to accept my mortality and live each day more fully.

You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!   Isaiah 26.3  

2. My biological father left our family when I was two years old. My mother got married two more times but I never felt close to either man – I wanted to meet my real father and I spent the next twenty years, thinking of and looking for him. My mother cut my father’s face out of all the family pictures and she refused to talk about him. She was given my father’s address but she chose to withhold this information from me. My father died and my mother made a choice to never let me meet him. I had never felt so angry in my life. I ran to the Lord. I prayed, I cried out to the Lord and I memorized scripture to replace the lies that I was telling myself. Eventually, I knew His forgiveness and I was able to forgive my mom. 

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4. 31,32

3. My third child was born at 11:00 pm. on August 22nd, 1988 and from that night on, for fourteen months, I experienced profound insomnia. My life fell apart. I wasn’t able to cope with three young children and I needed help. I went for counselling and slowly, I surrendered to the truth that I was not in control of my life. I ran to the Lord, I prayed, I cried out to Him, I memorized scripture to replace the lies that I was telling myself and I came to understand that I desperately needed God’s help every minute of the day. Eventually, I knew His faithfulness and I was able to surrender and trust Him. 

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55.8,9

4. In 1988, my husband left our family and threw our lives into turmoil. It was the most unexpected and painful time of my life. I was devastated.  I felt like a complete failure. I felt lost. I felt angry and  sad. I ran to the Lord, I prayed, I cried out to Him, I memorized scripture to replace the lies that I was telling myself and I stopped allowing my feelings to direct my life. I began to live according to His Word, not my feelings. Eventually, I knew His strength and I was able to persevere through trial. 

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1.2-4

5. When my daughters were in their late teens, they went through a time of great rebellion and deep suffering. There were many dark nights for me. I lost perspective  – I couldn’t see a way out for them or for me. I ran to the Lord. I prayed, I cried out to Him, I memorized scripture to replace the lies that I was telling myself and I was able to step back and wait on Him. Eventually, I knew His hope and I was able to  give my daughters’ lives over to the One Who loved them more than I did. 

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.  Hebrews 10.23

PEACE

FORGIVENESS

SURRENDER

STRENGTH

HOPE

I’m a different person now and I am forever thankful that the bigger the front, the bigger the back. God hears my prayers and I know, without a doubt, that the greatest victories come out of the darkest times. The glorious truth is this:

Jesus is able always to save those who come to God through him because he always lives, asking God to help them.            Hebrews 7.24,25

~Diane Lindstrom

September 25, 2012

Allowing Anger to Diminish

NIV Matthew 5: 21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

James Bryant Smith currently has three of the top ten titles at InterVaristy Press: The Good and Beautiful God, The Good and Beautiful Life, and The Good and Beautiful Community. I discovered this excerpt in the July 7th issue of the Salvation Army magazine, The War Cry (U.S. edition).

The very first issue of the heart Jesus addresses in the Sermon on the Mount is anger (Matthew 5:21-22).  Many people believe that righteousness is determined by external actions, and therefore if we have not outwardly broken a commandment (e.g., struck or killed someone) we have kept the law and are therefore considered righteous.  But Jesus goes deeper, into the heart, the place from where all actions spring.  he says, “If you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment.”

Why?  Is He making it harder to be righteous?  Is he raising the bar so that no one can make it?  Is He more strict than Moses?  No. Jesus understands the human heart – and the heart is His primary concern, not merely outward actions.  The heart full of anger, the heart that hates, is not far from the heart that would murder.  In fact, it is essentially the same inner condition.  All that is missing is the actual act.  Jesus understands that an angry person would actually harm someone if he or she could get away with it.

When Jesus commands His apprentices not to be angry, He is showing us the way to a good and beautiful life.  His command implies that we can actually do it.  Many people cannot imagine living without anger.  But it is possible, otherwise Jesus would not have instructed us to live without it.  Unfortunately, if we hear the command “do not be angry” and think we must do this on our own strength (i.e., in the flesh) we will fail and begin to resent Jesus for commanding it.  For an explanation of how we learn to live without anger, we have to look at the rest of Jesus’ teachings, His overall narratives.

The narratives of the kingdom of God are quite different from our own false narratives.

These kingdom narratives are based on the reality of the presence and power of God.  For Jesus, the kingdom was not simply a nice idea, but a very real place – life with God, which is available to all.  Outside the kingdom we are on our own.  We must protect ourselves, fight for our rights and punish those who offend us. Inside the kingdom of God, life is much different.  God is with us, protecting us and fighting for our well being.  Knowing this, much of our anger will diminish.

James Bryant Smith
In The Good and Beautiful Life

June 23, 2012

Freeing Yourself From Anger’s Poison

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Today we introduce you to the ministry of Allen White, who ministers through the blog Galatians419. This post was originally entitled Churning Up Anger: How To Free Yourself. You’re encouraged to read at source and then visit the rest of Allen’s blog.

For as churning the milk produces butter, and as twisting the nose produces blood, so stirring up anger produces strife.Proverbs 30:33

The Slow Food Movement is gaining momentum across the U.S. and around the world. People are making the connection — treating plants with poison leads to eating poison, and giving antibiotics and hormones to animals leads to people eating the same. Our food is making us sick.

Now, if you have some great argument in favor of Food Inc, please send your comments to eatmorepoison@galatians419.com. (This is not a real email address, but please feel free to send your complaints there.)

The Slow Food folks believe what we put into our bodies affects our bodies. They prefer organic, grass-fed, free range, cage free, hormone free and overall more natural foods. Don’t be mistaken. They don’t advocate eating cardboard – those are the weight loss people. (Please send your complaints to the email address above).

When it comes to food, we are what we eat. If we put the right things into our bodies, we tend to be healthy. If we put the wrong things in, we can become unhealthy. It’s simple cause and effect.

Solomon applied this principle to other common practices. If you churn milk, you get butter. While we may be eating healthier, few of us are back to churning butter…yet. If you can get milk worked up enough, it will produce butter – not margarine, not fake butter, but the real thing.

If you twist your nose, it will bleed. If you don’t believe me, then go ahead and try this at home. Have a towel handy and maybe some ice. If you try this on another person, then you’ll end up with two effects from this verse – blood and strife.

Anger produces strife. According to the dictionary, strife is “vigorous or bitter conflict, discord, or antagonism.” Strife is getting someone stirred up for sure.

Now, milk is not volatile. If you stir chocolate syrup into milk, you get chocolate milk, not chocolate butter. If you twist your nose slightly, you might look funny, but you probably won’t bleed. But, keep the towel handy. When you continually activate anger, you antagonize the other person and cause on-going conflict.

I say “active” anger, because I learned from Dr. Archibald Hart years ago that anger is only a present emotion. We don’t store anger up in some vast reserve to be released. If that was the case, we would feel better after we lashed out at someone. That just doesn’t happen.

The Bible tells us, “In your anger do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26) and when we do get angry we need to resolve things before sunset. We shouldn’t carry the results of anger over into the next day.

Anger isn’t sinful. Anger is an emotion just like happiness, sadness or any other emotion. How we use anger can result in sin.

If we continually keep ourselves worked up over something that happened long ago, we are probably entering into sin. If we can’t get past an issue or forgive someone, we’ve also violated some Scriptural principles like Colossians 4:32.

Much of our anger comes from fear. We become upset when we’re afraid. So, here’s the exercise for today. Set aside a few minutes and ask yourself these two questions:

  1. What am I angry about? 
  2. What am I afraid of?

If you can’t come up with a few answers right off the bat, then pray and ask God to reveal these answers to you.After you have the answers, then begin to ask God to help you work through these issues. Read Scripture to give you a truthful perspective on your anger and fears. It can be transforming.

~Allen White

June 8, 2012

The Right Kind of Family Fight: Fight For Your Family

Mark O. Wilson, author of Filled Up, Poured Out, which I reviewed a few weeks ago, posted this at his blog the week after Mother’s Day under the title Kilkenny Cats and the Home Squabble.

“The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands, the foolish one tears hers down.” Proverbs 14:1

I used this verse in my sermon last Sunday, reminding the mothers to build up the house. Of course, this doesn’t apply to mothers. Anybody who lives in a house is responsible for the upbuilding.

Wisdom builds the house. Foolishness tears it down.

When we fail to think before we speak and act, we’re likely to tear the house down. We’ve been given two ears and one mouth, and they should be used in that proportion.

Sometimes, in a passion to say right things, we say things wrong and hurt people. We’re wrong in our rightness, and unwilling to budge an inch in spirit. I think this is at the heart of the polarization in our state and nation. People are eager to share their opinions, but few are humble and patent enough to take the time to listen and understand others.

Too many homes are marked by unhealthy conflict and misunderstanding. Sometimes, it’s just a slow simmer of frustration. Frequently, it leads to checking out, and giving less than one’s best. Occasionally, it erupts into full-scale, brutal warfare. In the squabble, hurtful and destructive things are spoken that can never been undone. Rash words in a fit of anger can destroy the very fabric of the relationship.

As the old rhyme goes:

There once were two cats of Kilkenny.
Each thought there was one cat too many.
So they fought and they fit,,
And they scratched and they bit
‘Til excepting their nails
And the tips of their tails,
Instead of two cats there weren’t any.

Perhaps this is why Proverbs 19:11 reminds us it is “to one’s glory to overlook an offense.”

It’s very possible to win the battle (argument) and lose the war (relationship.) Here’s a question: Is what we’re fighting over worth the fight?

Occasionally, it is. Sometimes, there is a significant principle or human right at stake, and only a good fight will set it straight. However, most of the time, our conflicts are over lesser things. We let our selfishness stand in the way, then hold stubbornly to our opinions as a “matter of honor.” Little issues become major eruptions when we stake our significance on them.

Conflict is an emotional state, and the issue will not be resolved when either party is in that state. You can’t argue someone out of it. The only way to help another person move from the state of conflict is through kindness and patient understanding.

Argument may force the other person into a corner, forcing him to agree – but it will only be a surface agreement, and definitely not be an agreement of hearts. As the old adage goes, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”

Here’s an idea: fight FOR your family instead of fighting against them. What dreams and hopes to you have for your family? What actions can you take to gently move in that direction? If you don’t do anything different, you will keep following the same path with the same patterns. I appreciate Andy Stanley’s observation, “Direction, not intention, equals destination.”

Weigh your words. Bite your tongue. Think twice. Then, as Colossians 4:6 says, “let your conversation be full of grace, seasoned with salt so that you ay know how to answer everyone.”

~Mark O. Wilson

June 10, 2011

Putting It On The Altar

This is probably one of the most extreme examples of wrenching something out of context from an entirely different type of online source, and a much longer series of articles;  but I hope a few of you will pursue this and check out the ministry of George Hartwell, especially if you’re hurting or currently ministering to someone who is hurting.  I first met George last month when he was taking a few days apart from his schedule to do some writing and studying in a kind of informal rural retreat.   The article is from the website, HealMyLife.com.  George is a Christian counsellor in Toronto, Canada.

A Multi-Purpose Prayer of Release

“Put it on the Altar” is versatile: a prayer of release, a prayer of commitment, and an act of worship. It is a prayerful way to release stress.  Any work can be put on the altar: the week’s work, a life’s work, one’s ministry, and one’s investment in a person.  By doing so you are making it clear that this work has been done “as unto the Lord.” Putting one’s work on the altar frees one from concern of what people think and concern about the results of your effort. So it clears your heart from the fear of man and your mind from lingering on the project.

A person can be put on the altar. It is a prayerful way to release stress. By doing so you are making it clear that you don’t control this person. You have taken your hands off and put them in God’s hands. Putting a person or relationship on the altar should bring a sense of freedom and release. We were made for freedom and when one person clings or controls neither is free.

You can put your heart on the altar with the meaning of putting it into God’s care. This is a good idea. It is especially good when we are heart broken. When we let God hold our broken heart He keeps if from becoming hard. In His care our heart can love again.

Putting on the altar the things that we want to control can free us from tension and anxiety. It we are pushing to control, striving to manage, wound up about things it is not good for our health. Letting go of wanting to control is a way of relaxing. The theme of letting go of our drive to over control as a way of reducing stress is fully explained in “the Power of Letting Go” by Patricia Carrington (1999).

Mental over control can dampen the spontaneous enthusiasm, creativity and wisdom our heart and spirit. When we learn to live more from heart and spirit and less from our head we enter a zone of excellence that the Bible calls “the rest” or “life in the Spirit.” Using more secular language, Timothy Gallwey explores this interesting theme of getting out of mental over control in his books which include “The Inner Game of Tennis”, ‘The Inner Game of Golf” and “The Inner Game of Work.”

You can put your plans (goals, vision, mission, programs) on the altar to surrender them to God and find God’s will for you. To find out if God is calling you to some project surrender the project to God by putting it on the altar. When you picture putting something on the altar the message at the heart level is about taking your hands off, letting and stepping back. God’s response, or non-response, can indicate whether God is in it. God may confirm with the still small inner voice, by an increase in inner joy and enthusiasm, by inner peace about moving ahead, with a clearer vision and creative ideas coming forth. With God’s confirmation and the sense of God’s wind in your sails you can move ahead with confidence and with the sense that you are in partnership with God.

Sometimes pleasing people is a stronger force in our life than pleasing God. That means we fear men more than God. This means that man’s thinking can control us. In fact, others have become our God. We are in idolatry. It could be liberating to put these others that we fear on the altar. Sacrifice them and their approval to God. Let God do a work in your heart. Be free of the fear of man. Be free to serve God alone.

“Put it on the Altar” Prayer of Release

The following steps are instructions for a healing encounter with God through a prayer of release – a let go and let God kind of prayer. Adapt the outline to your purposes as seems appropriate.

You start when you have identified what it is that you want to put on the altar.

Choose some image to represent what you are putting on the altar. For example, your physical heart represents your love and the center and source of your life.

Tell God what you are doing. For example, “Take my heart, loving Father as I put it on your altar. I put my broken heart in your care.”

Picture the altar and the action as you put what represents your concern on the altar.

Stay attentive to this drama as it unfolds. As you put it on the altar what happens? What else do you see and hear? At the end of this symbolic inner action notice how you feel.

You can enter into a dialogue with God. For example if you have trouble letting go you may want to ask God if it is in His hands now. For example: “Heavenly Father, do you have my heart in your hands?” Listen for His answer.

When something significant happens, when something encouraging is heard in a prayer encounter, you will usually have a good feeling inside. It is important to soak in this good feeling, this encouragement and comfort. Take time to receive. Be still and let this feeling soak in. Let your heart feel good.

Let you heart be thankful. Let your spirit rejoice. Thank God. If your putting something on the altar represents a meaningful release and loss then it is health if you are experiencing some grief. See the next topic on Grief and Comfort.

(Optional extension) Ask yourself what implication this has for your life. How does this change your life? How would your life be different now?

Picture how things can be different in your life. What is one thing that would be different? Imagine how that would be. How does that change feel?

Thank God for how this went, for how you feel, and for this can change your life.

Make notes: write down a record of what happened, how you felt and what God said and review this later for discernment and encouragement.

 

Click this link to learn more about George Hartwell’s counseling ministry

Click this link for a directory of online articles at HealMyLife.com

 

May 7, 2011

Taking it to the Next Level: Stress Relief

When you write a blog named Christianity 201, you expect each day to post items which will dig a little deeper for devotional or Bible study content.  But taking it to the next level for many people involves digging a little deeper in terms of the work that God wants to do down deep in our hearts; dealing with our own spiritual deficiencies and allowing God to do a work of inner healing in our lives.  Ideally, a blog like this would be a 50-50 split between deeper teaching and encouragement toward a deeper revolution in our hearts.

I was thinking about that tonight when reading Jeff Leake’s piece on Stress at his blog, The Launch Pad, which he called What’s Stressing You Out.

Yesterday, I was asked a question about staying healthy in ministry over the long-haul.  Basically the question was, ‘what have been the keys to dealing with stress and sustaining personal health in ministry over the past 20+ years of your life?’

There are two sources of stress:

EXTERNAL STRESSORS – some of these things can can attempt to control – our schedule, our pace, our priorities.  Some of these things we cannot control – our circumstances, the response of the people around us, the impact of events and happenings in our world.  There are some keys to managing external stressors:

  • Learning good time management skills.
  • Scheduling in a date nite, exercise, family time.
  • Keeping a sabbath (a day set aside unto God every week).
  • Developing a consistent devotional habit.
  • Learning what and how to delegate & how to manage people and systems.

INTERNAL STRESSORS – my sense is that it is the internals not the externals that stress us out the most –

  • What we believe about ourselves and about God
  • How we process criticism, failure, perceived rejection
  • Learning how to choose joy in the midst of trials
  • Giving ourselves time to grieve when loss happens in our life
  • Being able to forgive ourselves when we fail and access God’s forgiveness
  • Maintaining purity and accountability so that we are not unnecessarily weighed down by guilt and sin

The first ten years of my ministry I worked primarily on trying to master the management of the EXTERNALS – but I never really worked through some of the stress on the inside.  Several years back after the stress in my life caused boughts with migraines – I took the time and did the work to deal with the INTERNAL sources of my stress.

Both are necessary.  But I think my choice to rigorously deal with what was going on – on the inside has produced in me a greater degree of peace and the capacity for sustainability over the long-haul.  I say that with an awareness that this is something that you can never stop paying attention to and must continually depend on God for his sustaining grace.

~Jeff Leake

March 30, 2011

Healing Power of Forgiveness

As of tomorrow Christianity 201 will complete a full year of daily devotional writing and deeper Bible study.   There has been a mix here of original pieces and “reprints” from across the Christian blogosphere.   There is no shortage of sources for devotional material; anyone with a need simply has to look.  Today I discovered Daily Enounter, a ministry of ACTS International, which you can read by subscription.  This sample devotional appeared there under the title, Forgiveness: The Power to Heal

Some years ago during a visit to Yellowstone Park, one writer observed that the only animal that the grizzly bear would share his food with was a skunk. It wasn’t that the grizzly wanted to share his food but rather that he chose to. With one swing of his powerful paw he could have crushed the skunk. So why did he allow the skunk to eat with him?

Because he knew the high cost of getting even. Smart bear!

Undoubtedly he learned the hard way. Strange that we humans often aren’t as  smart. Sometimes we carry grudges for years, often repressing them from conscious memory, and end up hurting ourselves more than the ones we would like to get even with. We fail to see how damaging an unforgiving spirit is.

In his book, None of These Diseases, Dr. S.I. McMillen says, “Medical science recognizes that emotions such as fear, sorrow, envy, resentment and hatred are responsible for the majority of our sicknesses. Estimates vary from 60 percent to nearly 100 percent.”

I read one report of an astonished patient who was told by his doctor: “If you don’t cut out your resentments, I may have to cut out a part of your intestinal tract.”

Fortunately, the man took the doctor’s advice. He had been nursing a bitter grudge against a former business partner. He went to see this man, resolved their differences, and forgave him. When he returned to the doctor, his physical condition had cleared up.


That advice isn’t new of course. The greatest physician who ever lived, Jesus Christ, pointed out 2,000 years ago the importance of forgiveness. When he encouraged us to “forgive seventy times seven,” he was thinking of our physical as much as our spiritual well-being. As Dr. McMillen says, he knew that a forgiving spirit would save us from “ulcerative colitis, toxic goiters, high blood pressure, and scores of other diseases.” including ulcers, asthma, arthritis, neuro-dermatitis, and heart ailments—all possible effects of resentment.

The Bible’s advice is therefore just as relevant today as it was when written 2,000 years ago: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”1

“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.'”2

“Suggested prayer: “Dear God, thank you God that you have forgiven me for all my sins, failings and shortcomings. Help me to forgive others as you have forgiven me. Gratefully in Jesus’ name. Amen.”

P.S. “Failure to forgive is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die!”

1. Ephesians 4:32.
2. Matthew 18:21-22, (NIV).